KJA Associate, Joanna Quilty, provides eight tips for engaging with vulnerable communities, based on her experience of running the community and stakeholder engagement on large redevelopment projects in New South Wales.
The extensive engagement program undertaken as part of the visioning phase for the Waterloo redevelopment project has provided us with useful insights for engaging with communities that could be considered socially disadvantaged. Below are some of the insights gleaned from the team involved in delivering community and stakeholder engagement programs on projects across New South Wales. Much of it is self-evident but worth restating - as it is often the basics that can get overlooked on complex, sensitive projects.
Invest in community consultation and input at the design phase of the project – this can add upfront costs and extend the timeframe, but the payoff in terms of building trust, gaining buy-in and developing a process that is suited to the particular community, is worth it.
Recognise the needs of different groups and consider that some may feel uncomfortable attending a formal workshop – in these cases go to them, meet on their turf and structure the engagement in a way that feels natural, not forced.
Demonstrate authenticity, an open mind and preparedness to listen - you won’t win everyone over and there will always be some who remain sceptical, but being genuine and respectful (not patronising), and showing empathy goes a long way. As someone once said “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”
Diversity is great – appearing slick and sophisticated isn’t as important as having facilitators and others involved in the project who are young, old and drawn from different backgrounds, bring varied experience and expertise, come from different cultural backgrounds and generally represent diversity in all its glory.
Expect that things won’t necessarily go to plan - be prepared to adapt and go with the flow.
Sometimes people need to vent – letting them do so and not trying to quickly shut them down or manage them can allow them to ‘get it off their chest’ and move on. Setting up a process to deal with a person’s specific circumstances or issues separate from the engagement event can also help. At the same time, it should be made clear that abusive or threatening behaviour isn’t acceptable.
Make it fun and provide good food – people enjoy coming together to share their views and ideas so capitalise on this by making it interesting and fun and supplying tasty snacks.
Provide timely feedback – if people have given freely of their time and input, they deserve to know what’s happened with their feedback, how it has or hasn’t impacted the project and what the next steps will be.
If you are interested in hearing more about how we structure our community and stakeholder engagement programs, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
10th September 2018