In October 2019 we invited a group of our partners and clients together to discuss inclusive engagement practice. We are often asked about working with “hard to reach” groups, “seldom heard” groups and “people in vulnerable situations”, and we had been reflecting on all this really means, and how we can continually strive for more inclusive practice throughout the work we do. As such, we decided to create a space for discussion and collaboration in order to learn from a range of engagement practitioners and share our experiences of delivering this work across sectors and service areas.
Around 25 people participated from across local government, the charitable and voluntary sector, and regulated industry. Together, we discussed
- What changes do we want to see in the next 5 years?
- How might inclusive engagement practice better connect with inclusive decision-making and policy-making?
- What does inclusive engagement mean from a participant perspective?
- How might we overcome common barriers to inclusivity in public engagement?
From these discussions, and our own internal conversations, we have produced a set of recommendations to further guide our efforts. These recommendations are relevant to both commissioners and practitioners of engagement. We will be revisiting them next year to see what progress we have made and seen, and to reflect on what we have learnt.
- Champion co-production principles and upstream engagement. Involve participants in more of the process, giving them more power to shape the engagement throughout.
- Encourage pre-engagement analysis. Interrogate who should be engaged with and why, ensuring clarity on the value of the engagement to the participants. How will they be affected by the issue? What level of influence can they actually have?
- Work with reconvened advisory groups. Comprised of people with a lived experience of the topic, or general members of the public, or a mixture, and can be used to provide accountability, as well as give advice and input throughout the process.
- Build relationships between decision-makers and those who will be affected by their decisions. Developing understanding by bringing them together during the process and especially in presentation of findings. Use audio and video when in-peron isn’t possible.
- Consider the full experience for participants. Engagement has to consider more than just the point at which someone fills in a survey or attends a workshop. This includes (but isn’t limited to),
- Considering participants’ physical and emotional journeys through the process – what support might they need?
- Ensuring all materials are accessible (i.e. the initial invitation letter as well as the materials on the day)
- Following up after the event
- Leave open opportunities for further involvement if possible.
- Be mindful of participants’ full identities. Avoid labelling and expecting people to participate based on one demographic or condition. Discussions should be issue based, not identity based.
- Try and go to where people are, meet them on their terms. Be flexible in your locations and design to be able to engage with people where they feel most comfortable.
- Work more closely throughout the process with community and third sector partners.
- Address diversity issues in the engagement practitioner community. Review hiring practices and consider other mechanisms to support greater diversity.
- Don’t ignore the basics. Always use a variety of methods, make the event engaging, interesting, and tailored to your participants.
If you are interested in talking to us about inclusive practice in any of our service areas, please see our dedicated inclusive practice page, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.