Perhaps it’s my training from Journalism school, or maybe being an Aries, or just being the first born, but I have a knack for worst-case scenarios. I sometimes call it “putting on my black hat”. It has served me well: If I can anticipate the worst, I can plan for it. Then, if I envision the worst-case scenario and it doesn’t happen, I can be pleasantly surprised.
So as much as I am trying to be optimistic and “white hat” about an engagement outlook for 2018, I’m mostly seeing black-hat predictions for the coming year. Having said that, I also do believe that light, love, kindness, patience and humility can change the world.
- “There are important decisions that need to be made… there’s no time to engage”
I anticipate that in 2018 there will be governments at all levels, and organizations as well, that will argue there is no time/resources/value in engaging, because decisive action is required. This argument will likely be shrouded in the language of leadership, taking a stand, and doing what is required. Engagement will be positioned as the enemy of efficiency, effectiveness and swift action.
A high degree of skepticism should be taken when leaders make unilateral decisions, particularly when municipal elections in B.C. are on the horizon in 2018, there is a minority government in B.C., and a federal election is on the books for 2019.
Individuals, communities, non-profit organizations and all those who value civil society must fight for good process and send a clear message to elected officials at all levels: Delivering meaningful process is effective leadership.
- Social networks can change everything, including the narrative
While governments and organizations have an important role in the engagement realm, I also believe that social networks can create real change – specifically in the narrative. We are witnessing this right now with social network-organized protests across Iran’s 12 largest cities. We saw it in 2017 with #MeToo and the dirty secret/non-secret of Hollywood’s culture of harassment and sexual assault.
When people feel that there is a big, wicked problem out there, they will galvanize and organize, and they will use any and all tools available.
This trend will continue in 2018, and likely spread, given rising calls for social justice and, hopefully, peace in our communities and amongst nations.
- Creative process design and techniques
The painful, old open house is increasingly a mark of a dinosaur organization. It’s fine if that’s what’s legislated, but who said you had to only do what was legislated?
Gamification, hundreds of online platforms, deliberative processes, and techniques that bring creativity and design together are increasingly what will be required to get quality input and build meaningful relationships. Open houses, town halls and other antiquated processes that primarily meet the needs of the decision maker (if they even do) are going to become increasingly less cool, acceptable and engagement worthy.
If people aren’t showing up, maybe it’s time to up your organization’s game in terms of the overall process, and the techniques within it. Not sure where to start? Check out: https://www.iaf-world.org/site/global-flipchart/9/communication or http://iap2canada.ca/events
- Narrowing of the scope of engagement
Increasingly, we are seeing that some organizations are looking to really narrow the scope of the engagement (the things that are open to public influence), and limit the engagement to a few relatively minor objectives. Sometimes there is good reason for this – the givens are set and non-negotiable, it’s a highly-regulated environment, etc. –but sometimes it’s just because they only want to have the conversation they want to have, and not the one their stakeholders or publics want to have.
This will only fly for so long, and, ultimately, we believe that organizations will be shamed into having broader, more inclusive and likely more meaningful conversations. Receiving feedback on the proposed design of a condo building is a very different conversation than engaging communities on the kind of neighbourhood they want to live in, or what trade offs they are willing to make to improve their quality of life.
In 2018, organizations will likely continue to want to narrow the scope of the engagement (or the conversation), and they do so at their own risk. See #2 for a reminder of just one of the ways this can and will backfire.
- Evidence-based decision making
Maybe it was the Trump administration banning the term “evidence-based” that made so many more people aware of it. In 2018, stakeholders and the public will increasingly demand to see the evidence to support the decision being made. Disclosure of information, evidence and data will be a key requirement for good public process in 2018.
Perhaps because trust in public institutions is so low, and the rise of fake news is so high, engaged publics want to see all the evidence that decision-makers see and use in their deliberation. So, disclose proactively and be as open a book as you can be.
When stakeholders feel they have to use legal means to access information that affects them, you’ve already lost social capital.