10 Tips for Effective Participation

I wrote this some years ago, but in the last few weeks i’ve had reason to dig it out and share it with people, so i figured it was worth posting here too….


It probably doesnt tell you anything you don’t know already…but hopefully serves as a useful reminder when thinking about involving people in a meaningful way.

I’d be interested to hear your own tips and hints on engagement and participation too, as well as any comments on mine.



Toby’s 10 Top Tips for Effective Participation   

1.   Built in not bolted on

Effective community engagement means thinking about it at the outset. Involving people at every stage of the process can greatly improve the quality and the sense of ownership with what’s happening.


2.   Kill apathy as a concept

Despite a widespread belief that people aren’t interested, the reality is that they do care about the issues that affect them. Start where people are at, not where you want them to be.


3.   Be clear about the constraints

Don’t promise the world if you can’t deliver it! It’s better to offer something small you can deliver than to offer something big that you can’t. Try to be clear where the boundaries are, who makes the final decisions and what resources are available.


4.   It’s a marathon not a sprint

Delivering change and regenerating communities takes a long time. Be prepared for the long haul; everyone gets disheartened if things take forever to happen, but try be realistic about how long things take too.


5.   Communication x10

Show what has been achieved – it’s not just about doing it’s about letting people know how things are going. Make sure you let people know what is going on—information is always the first stage! Two-way dialogue is critical to any change process.


6.   Have a champion

The most successful strategies have someone – or often lots of people at different levels – pushing them forward who really believes in the cause. If community engagement is important, make sure it’s included as part of people’s roles.


7.   Make it meaningful

Remember that any plans you make should lead to action. Everyone gets bored of participating when nothing is actually happening. As people see things happening, confidence in the process will follow and soon there’ll be no holding them back!


8.   Assess your goals at every stage

Keep asking yourself—is what we are trying to do realistic? Targets should be clear and achievable (SMART) and have milestones along the way. But don’t be afraid to change direction as you go along if that makes more sense.


9.   Be prepared to be unprepared

If you think you know exactly what’s going to happen, it’s probably not engagement. Don’t try to stifle or control the process too much. Be flexible and prepared to respond to what’s happening around you.


10.       Have fun!

Anything new can be scary but remember to have fun! Fun is not the F-word and if you want people to get involved it’s got to appeal. After all, well-being is important to us all.


3 thoughts on “10 Tips for Effective Participation

  1. TobyI like your tips and agree with them all. I’ve been working in public and stakeholder consultation for nine years now and feel that managing expectations is vitally important – all to often people are annoyed that they can’t change something/suggest a new solution etc when that is outside the scope of what ever is being discussed.I also agree with your tips that work should be seen as a marathon and not a sprint and that communication X10 is needed – I think people get fed up of feeling like their comments are not taken on board so it’s essential that there is communication about how public engagement has helped shape decisions.I’d add another tip to your list which would be to engage via all channels. This includes face to face dialogue, web based, social media, print media etc…. I think people increasingly want the choice and we all benefit from it – campaigners etc can be incredibly effective at running social media campaigns so I think it’s right that engagement practitioners are too.

  2. Hi Katethanks.your comments and experience mirror my own. i’ve seen too many instances of where the organisation doing the consulting have acted on what people said, but haven’t properly fed back. And other instances where, for entirely sensible reasons, they haven’t acted on people’s ideas, but this still leaves people frustrated. In both instances communication is key – being clear about the limits of what can be done (and what can’t) and ensuring that the action taken (or not taken) is fed back. It’s impossible, in my view to, overstate the importance of effective communication.And that links directly to your point (tip no.11!) on communicating through a variety of channels and platforms, recognising that people have different preferences. Social media, of course, has the added benefit of enabling dialogue in ways other forms don’t. And whilst it’s important not to overstate their value to everyone, they are increasingly offering exciting opportunities that we must take advantage ofHEALTH WARNING – too many organisations see social media as a way to extend their broadcast (single directional communication) rather than an interactive discussion….if you only want to broadcast, i’d say, don’t even go there! 🙂

  3. Ha ha! I agree with your social media comments too! I’ve seen to many local council Facebook pages covered with insults from the general public which have been left with no responding comment…. presumably all activity forgotten when the specific consultation/engagement is over.

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