Engagement design

Last modified: 23 August 2022

The design part of your engagement planning involves selecting approaches and methods (to meet your objectives), identifying in detail the people you want to engage with, and designing your overall engagement program (generally involving several different engagement activities connected in series), including considering budget and resourcing. These don’t have to be done in this order, and this part will be interactive and iterative, e.g. choice of methods will be influenced by participants you want to reach, and will be constrained by budget.

Engagement approaches and methods will vary depending on who you are, who you’reengaging with, why and when. The table below may provide some tools and methods you could use to engage in different situations. These include tools for consulting, co-designing and deliberating, but also tools for ongoing sharing and support, and for informing and activating, which is an essential pre-engagement step (see below).

One possible engagement approach is to set up an advisory or reference group. This is also a way of establishing relationships with contributors and potential beneficiaries and can contribute to project governance and oversight. Obviously, selecting who will be in this group is an important part of its success. You want to have diversity of representation and perspectives, and people who will give you thoughtful and candid feedback, but a size conducive to good group dynamics (and meeting scheduling!). It’s a good idea to include people who you really need to keep on board, but it’s also worth considering inviting some of your critics. They might make you work hard, but will prepare you for criticism from the wider community, and will probably make the decisions and solutions you come up with more robust. An advisory group could also play an oversight role in relation to your engagement strategy.

Informing and activatingMedia postsPosts in newsletters, neighbourhood sites, social media, magazines
Informing and activatingNewslettersEstablish a regular newsletter in print and online format, establish a mailing list
Informing and activatingLetter box drop or door-knockingDelivering a flyer by hand allows you to meet and chat, but develop an etiquette of respectfulness, regardless of people’s responses          
ConsultingExhibitsSet up on a potential site for the battery, perhaps with a mock-up of the battery, encourage people to leave feedback
ConsultingWalking toursGuided tours of potential sites allow discussion of pluses and minuses, raise potential issues
ConsultingPublic meetingsPresent your business model or feasibility study, allow questions and feedback, use an engaging approach such as a world café or station rounds session
Planning and co-designVisioning workshop
Planning and co-designBusiness Model co-design
Sharing and supportingKitchen table conversationsThese are run by community members, drawing on and building existing social connections
Sharing and supportingEnergy cafeA regular forum to learn and discuss, invite speakers on topics chosen by the group, can also be run by community members
DeliberatingScenario workshop
DeliberatingCitizen panel
Engagement approaches for different situations

Your choice of participants will be influenced by your objectives, your understanding of the community and context, by the decision you’re engaging on, and by your resources and budget.

In general, you will want input from people who reflect the diversity of your community. You can try to reach as many people in the community as possible, for example with a letter box drop. But you may also need to do targeted engagement with leaders, representatives or advocates of your hard-to-reach groups. Don’t forget stakeholders like local business people. As part of design, it’s important to also consider how these diverse voices can be supported to engage together (e.g. translation, accessible venues, transport or financial support).

For some decisions, it will be important to engage in a really targeted way. For example, when considering noise and amenity issues, you need to engage with the people who live closest to the battery. When developing customer participation models, you may run targeted engagement with different segments, such as renters, apartment dwellers, and solar and non-solar house owners, who will have quite different perspectives on these models.

Your engagement program goes beyond a specific engagement activity. This is where you think about:

  • What comes before your engagement activity, e.g. how will you inform and activate your community in order to encourage their participation.
  • How will you sequence your engagement, to build participation with the project, and to connect with your decision making. You need a schedule of activities, but one that is flexible and can adapt to changes in the progress of your project.
  • What is needed to make your engagement run smoothly, including logistics such as venue, catering, facilities, materials and information sources, and people including hosts, facilitators and support people.
  • How will you find out about and support special needs of your participants, which may include mobility or dietary requirements, hearing, sight or language support, or support from a carer or counsellor.
  • How will you capture feedback and communicate the results back to participants and the wider community
  • How will you evaluate and learn from the activity
  • How all this will fit into your budget

Your engagement program can encompass your entire engagement plan, but you may also want to consider an engagement program for a particular engagement exercise, for example an engagement about the core values of your battery project.

When you think about budget and resources for engagement, think about your social capital as well as the money you have. Particularly for community energy groups, who may not have a lot of cash, your contacts in the community can help you with outreach, information sharing, and encouraging participation. When it comes to community groups run by volunteers, people won’t expect flash venues and fancy catering. You’ll find that people are prepared to volunteer time, to present their expertise, to help with design, facilitation and support. You will start to unearth various kinds of expertise in the community, and people will likely appreciate doing something in a good cause. As above, your engagement strategy is intimately connected with your strategy for building and sustaining your group.

Having said that, engagement is always constrained, because you’re always working within a finite budget and resources, you can never reach everyone anyway, and to engage with your project or not is a choice each community member must make in the context of all the other pressures on their time and attention. So you need to do the best you can with what you have. This means being strategic in using your limited resources, but open and generous in your interactions.

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