Last year, our team travelled all around the country – to Cardiff, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester, Southend, Wolverhampton, and many more – sitting down with people to hear their views. We spoke to over 1,300 people at 80 events, covering topics that included creativity and culture, the future of energy, handling concerns with nursing and midwifery practice, and organisational strategy.
After such a busy year, at the end of December, we asked everyone to share their biggest learning or takeaway from the engagement work they had been involved in during 2019. We’ve pulled together some of our reflections below.
We want to be conscious about taking forward what we’ve learned into 2020, so we’ll be coming back to this list in a few months’ time to reflect on how well we’ve been able to make these lessons count.
Lesson: With the right approach, there is no subject you can’t engage people on.
Challenge: How can we be more ambitious about the methods we use so that even the trickiest and most abstract topics feel accessible?
Lesson: Reframing is a really handy way to help people see things from different perspectives.
Challenge: How can we better use reframing techniques to support our team’s, our clients’, and our participants’ understanding?
Lesson: It’s scary trying new things. People tend to be more comfortable with what they know, even when they have said they want to try something new.
Challenge: How can we better support each other, our clients, and our participants to try new things?
Lesson: The benefits of formalising informal processes. When talking to our clients, we often find that they think they don’t do much engagement with their customers / public / service users, when actually they are doing a great deal, but just not recognising it as such. While there is a balance to be struck to avoid heavy processes killing creativity and relationship-building, just introducing simple objective sharing, data capture and documentation techniques can mean that it’s possible to gain insights without having to undertake resource-heavy engagement projects.
Challenge: How can we take a more asset-based approach to the advice we provide our clients and partners, ensuring that they build on existing relationships, and work already being done?
Lesson: The terms “research” and “engagement” are sometimes used interchangeably, when they’re not in fact interchangeable! It is important to be really clear when you need to gather and analyse for specific insights, and when the focus is more on involving people in a process.
Challenge: How can we support our clients to further reflect on their goals for involving people in a project to ensure that the method is fit for purpose, and the participants understand in what context they’re being approached?
Lesson: The value of empowered stakeholders. Reconvened groups who have developed their understanding of a subject area and a confidence in their ability to create and share their opinion can add huge value to decision-making processes (and the process can have a significant value to the participant as well).
Challenge: How can we better demonstrate the value of working with reconvened groups, and advocate for more of this kind of participatory democracy?
We’re always keen to learn from others and to work with our partners and clients to improve out practice together – so if any of the above resonate, do let us know!