Your community engagement context.

If you offer free food you’ll get a crowd.

Engagement is not the number of followers on a social feed or a short term response to a price or product incentive. By definition, it means ‘an arrangement to do something or go somewhere’.

What this says to me, is that community engagement has a clear purpose of future actions for both the person or entity initiating the engagement and the recipient of that entreaty. Its a shared journey with a shared experience and destination.

Enter co-creation.

The rapidly expanding phenomenon of sharing ideas, knowledge and expertise – via traditional and online networks – to improve or create new products and services. To accelerate innovation or match an institution’s output to a consumer, voter or visitor’s need. To get the best minds around a social or economic problem, creating value for society.

Co-creation has as its platform strategic engagement.

I recently presented to a tired room at the close of the Evidence Based Community Engagement Conference in Melbourne. My bleary eyed audience clearly battered by case studies and metrics.

My job therefore was to bring some context. To lift this room of committed experts out of the quicksand – the granular detail – to consideration of human behaviour and the contextual challenges facing practitioners.

1. Expectations

  • People expect to be engaged – inaction is not neutral, it is a negative strategy.
  • People expect to be consulted – don’t tell me what I need or want, ask me.
  • People expect institutions to act in their best interests – just because no one says green is good, doesn’t mean they don’t expect you to make environmentally conscious decisions.
  • People expect services on demand – if I give you my thoughts, my money, my attention, I expect to see a response and soon.

Meet me in my world and we’ll share the journey.

2. Access
  • At a time that suits me.
  • On a device I use.
  • Using a channel I prefer.
  • No matter my age, location or ability.

Show me you understand all of the above and I will give freely of my mind and time.

“Engagement creates a market for services, a voter base empowered to shape good policy and vote well.”

3. Complexity

  • Every day we swim through a swill, a melange, a deluge of
  • But mainstream news content has narrowed to a handful of themes rehashed and distributed for days on end.
  • We have become adept at screening information via selected feeds, many not owned by news media.
  • So we can be hard to reach and engage if a company channel is not one of our select content streams.
 Good content -perhaps even good fun – and good intent means I’ll give you a chance, for a while.
4. Trust
  • I don’t trust political representation.
  • I trust my friends, family and colleagues (but they are not always well informed).
  • I trust specialists but I’ll get a second opinion from my peers.
  • I trust business that listens to get my needs right.
If you want my mind, vote or cash, you have to earn my trust.
Sometimes context seems so banal, so bleeding obvious. Why then, do we so often get surveyed in our short 30 minute lunch break (our one break from the desk in a long day). Why is a nailing a phone number for feedback to a park bench viewed as consultation?
I think it’s because policy makers, companies and research firms are missing the point.
Engagement creates a market for services, a voter base empowered to shape good policy and vote well. That means less wasted time, money and energy. It means products and services are in demand before they launch into market (that’s why crowdfunding works so well for musicians). And it also means less risk you’ll damage your brand and relationships – your trust – by ignoring expectations, by doing things as you always have – on your terms.