A crowdsourced guide to successful community engagement

Some months ago I was asked by Matt from @commsgodigital to write a blog post about the basics of community engagement with top tips on making it successful. Easy I thought, with almost 13 years’ experience in the field and teaching engagement as a training module in my last role I thought I could knock this one out in an hour. Wrong.

Even with all my experience, what I wrote would still only be one person’s view on how to do community engagement successfully which is not what community engagement is about. Having been part of a crowdsourced blog before through Bang the Table I decided to try and seek views via my social media platform of choice; Twitter.

So one Saturday morning in mid-November I picked up my tablet device, flicked on Twitter and sent out a message asking for my followers, many who work in community engagement across the world, to tweet me back one tip on what they thought made community engagement successful. I thought I would get at least 10 responses.

On 15/11/2014 at 8:53am whilst still lying in bed I sent out this tweet aimed at two large community engagement based organisations — IAP2 Australasia and IAP2 USA.

‘Weekend challenge for all Community Engagement types. #onetweetonetip Tell me 1 tip for engaging the community successfully @IAP2A @IAP2usa’

Two minutes later I got my first response from @LizNield of Lura Consulting in Canada. (Yay!) I thanked Liz and gained her permission to use the response in a blog. I said I wanted to get at least 10 responses but would like to aim for 100. Little did I know I would be quite close to the mark with the latter part of that prediction.

Results of my #onetweetonetip experiment

At the end of my #onetweetonetip experiment, this is what happened:

• About 350 tweets in conversation were received
 • More than 100 accounts actually engaged
 • 8 countries are represented in the tips. Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, England, Wales, Scotland and South Korea (plus a claim one was also from Ireland via Canada)
 • 127 actual tips were received from 94 separate accounts
 • Tweeters included Individuals, Organisations, Businesses, Councillors, Community Members and a local government association
 • Some people sent more than #onetweetonetip — they were obviously excited
 • First tweet 15/11/14; last tweet 25/11/14
 • Not one person asked why I was doing it
 • There were at least 4 versions of the hashtag spotted (#onetweettip etc)
 • Neither of the two organisations invited in the first tweet responded

Rather than compiling a top 10 list I had more than 120 tips to review as a result of my Twitter experiment. I had a dilemma. What do I do with all this information? I wanted to use everyone’s contribution but didn’t just want to list the responses.

Drawing on my experience, I recalled a past project where I’d categorised ideas sent in by community members via postcards on the redevelopment of a playground. I had grouped the comments by theme and then used the themes as recommendations. That way you could see the most popular theme and everyone’s views were included. In the case of #onetweetonetip, some tweets did cut across more than one theme and others only loosely fit a given theme. For the purpose of the exercise I tried to categorise each tip with its best fit given my understanding.

So — without further ado — what follows are the top tips for engaging the community successfully.

A. Plan properly

  1. Start with the positive. What is working? What assets do U have? http://www.ketso.com/resources-downloads/available-resources/ketso-workshop-plans — @KetsoLtd 
     2. Think of the expectations management formula: satisfaction equals results minus expectations (S=R-E) — @participatory 
     3. Spend time…and plenty of it, getting your topic clear…it’s worth it! @emilyjenke 
     4. Always #engage on process before content. How are we going to think and decide together? — DELANEY + ASSOCIATES

5. Time: to plan; to communicate; to listen; to reflect. #engagement — @IntFutures
 6. Know why you are engaging and be clear about what the community can influence. Thanks for invite to — @Gail_Fairlamb 
 7. Focus on outcomes not just outputs, it’s not how many but to what depth and relationship development — @CommunityAsset
 8. Don’t parachute people in with no local knowledge! — @CommunityAsset
 9. Always remind participants that civic tech is not synonymous with civic engagement. The former is platform; latter is process — @CivEngagement
 10. On social: Ask, listen, provide results and feedback, tell them what you’re going to do with feedback, close the loop — @mattbrisvegas
 11. Ask an open and grounded question. Instead of “do you like our plan?” try “what is your experience with…?” — @What_if_we_did
 12. Needs to be intentional — consider who to engage + develop a strategy b4 U dive in — @weaverworks
 13. Get agreement upfront on what your engagement promise to the community will be and then keep it. — @innovateKI ‘
 14. Engage at beginning of process, not part way through — @jamiebillingham
 15. Being Present. In all senses, listening, giving the opportunity, physically present and mentally present and open. — @nwynn
 16. And spend time getting the question right! — @helenchrstnsn
 17. Understand the needs of decision makers + community + involve the community in designing how they participate — @3pikasdev
 18. Tip: Choose a feeling for your post. E.g. Inspired/amused/surprised/moved. If you don’t feel anything, nor will anyone else — @HelReynolds
 19. Pessimism: think of all that could go wrong and don’t let it. And be ready for it anyway. — @MJLawie
 20. Be clear on what can be influenced by the community (open doors) and what is not open to influence (closed doors). — @biancawylie
 21. Remember when you’re engaging the community that you’re a member of it, what would make you want to participate? — @jamesaiken78
 22. Plan & design with the end in mind. #digitalengagement — Tim Bonnemann

B. Build relationships

23. Find out what’s important to them first! — ‏@ACH_Group
 24. Use social media to increase audience, engage the disengaged and get feedback from the “silent” majority. — @TamirBerkman
 25. Find your change agents in your organisation who are willing through their values to embrace community human resources. — @ajbisherenow
 26. My #1 tip & objective for engaging esp sensitive issues is to build rapport/be honest/patient — @traceybtbc
 27. Each community is unique. Find out what yours is really passionate about and begin dialog there. — @MikeWolfeCP ‘
 28. Firm believer in power of smiling and saying hello too. Not easy for some! — @ShirleyA_Brooks
 29. A nod to #hellomynameis knowing names and people knowing yours is powerful — @CommunityAsset
 30. I agree so important to invest in the skills & assets within local communities — @shirleyayres
 31. In the areas I work in, when out delivering leaflets etc I always chat in the street — @CommunityAsset
 32. In my street a smile, saying hello & stopping for a chat is the start of building a relationship — @shirleyayres
 33. Share generously knowledge, passions, connections & links to good resources written by others — @shirleyayres
 34. Stop patronising http://www.peoplehelppeople.co.uk/localism-enabling-voices-heard — @AnjHanda
 35. Engage yourself in the community and what it is engaged in. — @mikechitty
 36. Relationships build trust. Be a person not a title. — @tremblaynavan ‘
 37. Practice ways to introduce people that share great things about them in a natural way #assetbased — @HelenHSAUK
 38. Bring people together by introducing people with shared passions and mind sets; don’t be afraid to have fun — @WhoseShoes
 39. Regard community as an asset for everything you do/value their contribution! — @maxchardy
 40. Always remember art of invitation/hosting: engagement starts long before entering the room & a warm welcome has big impact. — @ashleighweeden

C. Use the right tools

41. Give everyone a means to engage, hands-on, visual approaches where everyone has a pen — @KetsoLtd
 42. ‏ Stop acting like online surveys are innovative community engagement, they’re antiquated. — @hughstephens
 43. How about, don’t choose a tool just because it’s new, think about the engagement objectives first, then choose tools — @BangtheTable
 44. Is it too obvious to say “get online to get more people, more involved, more often”? — @BangtheTable
 45. Community engagement pro tip — walk tours — @GreaterPlaces
 46. Stories — @UnderwoodJulie
 47. New obsession –infographics — @LeagueWIMunis
 48. Use good visuals. — @kwyatt23
 49. Depends what the issue is. Avoid narrow leading surveys. Use local paper to inform & educate. Then talk to people (listen!) — @BurnsideResGrp
 50. (Use) — Best City to live rankings a motivator to do better 4 all people, equally. http://www.moneysense.ca/canadas-best-places-to-live-2014-full-ranking — @edmondsburnaby
 51. I have loads. and loads that don’t work too. (eg holding a big public meeting to get `views` — waste of time) — KirsteinRummery
 52. Create community events that people want to take part in! — @GleefulKaz ‘
 53. We all have our own stories. I chose to write about the stuff that didn’t work. Re hard to reach — @AnjHanda ‘
 54. Use the power of twitter to organise offline influencer get togethers in a flash #BringBackPowerLunches — @SimoneDouglasSM
 55. Use photos community can identify with or be motivated by — @samontheweb
 56. Check out Community Conversations @paulborn http://www.tamarackcci.ca 4 #communityengagement tips + tools — @weaverworks
 57. Use social media creatively — @FreerMary
 58. Use #digitalengagement to broaden the audience and face to face engagement to sharpen the focus. — @MattCrozier ‘

D. Listen

59. ‏ Listen, listen , listen and never underestimate the power of the public to make good decisions — @donaday
 60. Truly listen when asking for input — @UnderwoodJulie
 61. Be authentic; listen for understanding; follow up & let ppl know what you heard and how it was used. — @SusanBenedyka
 62. Three tips: Listen. Listen. Listen. — @MnstryofAwsm
 63. So important to understand all perspectives, insightful points made, thanks for sharing — @traceybtbc ‘
 64. Find out what matters to them — not to you! #makeitpersonal — @dementiascot
 65. Appreciate and respect your stakeholders before listening with an open mind — @VIVIENTWYFORD
 66. Prioritise listening and be open always to being steered in a direction you didn’t expect — @spokenli ‘
 67. LISTEN — @RayScanlan1
 68. LISTEN — @Cr_Hull
 69. Open early conversations and listening to what’s being said! — @claire23fuller
 70. If you ask be prepared to really listen! — @helenchrstnsn
 71. Understanding their needs, listen to their thoughts and plans, foster ownership within the community. — @GrasslandsMusic ‘
 72. Behaviour: All participants (citizens/elected/publ service) practice listening deeply to others, w/ respect. — @AnnPappert

E. Be meaningful

73. Make engagement a 100% thing, not something done when needed. — @johnnmorgan
 74. If you ‘are’ engaging then engagement happens. You can’t just do engagement — @philjewitt ‘
 75. Know the purpose of your process and be transparent about it. Best way to enabling safe + genuine dialogue. — @katemac22 of @OfCityGroup
 76. Make your questions count! And don’t be afraid to use socialization questions to get people in the right headspace — @CapireCG
 77. Don’t do engagement for the sake of it. Use the input that is given and be genuine when asking for it — @BBenn4
 78. Don’t do because you should, do because you believe. — @MandyHollis3
 79. Seeing £ms being spent on top down initiatives to promote community involvement wondering about ROI! — @shirleyayres
 80. Requires orgs to give up money, power & paternalistic approaches to engagement — @shirleyayres
 81. Asking them about something they care about, and responding — @KirsteinRummery
 82. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and not to tick a box! Otherwise the outcomes are pointless — @TripleB
 83. And above all know your purpose!!! — @helenchrstnsn
 84. #localgov If you can’t work out what value it adds, don’t do it — @jsbaxter_
 85. Hi. If I had to pick one, it’d be to make content engaging. People won’t engage if they don’t relate. — @Emotivate
 86. Demonstrate that you value people’s time and show them what outcomes their contributions have led to! — @fitweetshealth

F. Know who to engage

87. Know who the community are that you’re wanting to engage then fit your engagement for purpose! — @Arkellah1
 88. Always asking who is not here? — @mikechitty
 89. Asking ppl who actually have experienced the issue. Telling ppl how it will be followed up. Reimbursing costs. — @KirsteinRummery
 90. Intention be #inclusive #value all equally #host ‘conversations that matter’ #listen deeply, #humility #fun – @luckockp
 91. There’s a thought With right community involvement won’t cost the earth & would reap benefits! — @GleefulKaz
 92. At ‘Untold Stories’ event, refugee lady challenged why she’s ‘hard to reach’ when she’s at home 24/7 — @AnjHanda
 93. READ — Here is my Open Letter to ‘Those who would engage us’ http://realisedevelopment.net/2012/08/an-imaginary-open-letter-to-those-who-would-engage-us — @mikechitty
 94. Happy 2 connect, this is innovative #communityengagement — include those U follow on social media — @weaverworks
 95. Talk to people in the community, your neighbours, business owners, in fact everyone — @KateSwaffer
 96. Always consider who isn’t at the table — @ReginaUrbanEco

G. Build trust

97. Always be #authentic. That’s my number 1. You don’t need all the answers but #trust is so important — @lgengage
 98. Don’t be afraid to show your personality. People will respond to an authentic voice. — ‏@LGAQ
 99. Engagement methods are authentic and transparent. — @itaPeKing
 100. Mutuality- sharing and respecting common goals — @communityUOW
 101. Important to recognise we can NEVER understand all perspectives — @mikechitty
 102. Ppl need to see comm engagement as an opportunity, not just an obligation #whatsinitforme #SadButTrue — @PredictiveTrans
 103. My advice — use professional a facilitator — facilitators are architects of trust. — @MoiraDes
 104. No.1 tip build trust — @TogetherSAOz
 105. Be genuine — really mean it — @BeckyBHC

H. Go to the community

106. Monday tip for successful engagement: go to where the people are! Find the “bumping spaces” where people naturally interact! — @deebrooks101
 107. Meet where people are http://bit.ly/1xsHoes — @LeagueWIMunis
 108. Go to where people gather — on Or off-line #iap2 #CE #themorethemerrier — @HaLeanne
 109. Meet in citizen places & spaces — @HaLeanne
 110. Go to where the people are and engage them onsite #communityengagement — @DanPopping
 111. Go where they go — @GVoelpelSeaTac
 112. Here ya go: Consider where and how people want to be engaged. Use technology but also remember to get out in the community! — @jlainvolve
 113. Get out and talk to people.. Go to where people are and focus on building lasting relationships — @communityconvo

I. Have fun

114. Make your community engagement fun — festivals, competitions, photography, art, cooking, role play, scavenger hunt, music! — @Engage2ActVIC
 115. Make it some forms of engagement take less than 20 seconds to participate — @KerenFlavell
 116. Remember it’s not a popularity contest! — @RayScanlan1
 117. Ask people about something stupid that happened to them: http://www.comms2point0.co.uk/comms2point0/2014/8/19/four-stages-of-comms-facepalm.html — @comms2point0
 118. How about a chai latte? All the café culture with none of the caffeine hit. — @MJLawie

J. Feedback

119. It’s feedback for me, or the community won’t engage again as they don’t see the impact of their efforts — @DyfrigWilliams
 120. Be sure you go back to tell them what you’ve done as a result of their engagement, it keeps them involved — @leecjones
 121. Feedback, Feedback, Feedback — to the decision makers, the staff and the community — @andrewecoulson

K. Communication

122. Communicate via multiple mediums #socialmedia #localmedia #website #doorstops #streetwalks — @01AmyJohnson
 123. People want info in a whole lot of ways, some like words, pics, music, mime… variety is the spice of life — @jaimeelewis
 124. Use a human voice — lose the #localgov jargon and acronyms; personalize government services. — @kowyatt

L. Make it easy

125. Everyday feedback can be as, if not more, revealing than special topic. Facilitate method for easy input — ‏@SWSchweikhart
 126. People must see themselves in the problem AND the solution. — @PredictiveTrans
 127. Make getting involved easy, not a burden — @melstarry

*Some tweets have been slightly edited for spelling and the removal of @names and #onetweetonetip and #communityengagement

Final thoughts

What you see represented in these themes is a list of tips and tricks from leading names in Community Engagement from across the world. This list ended up as twelve key themes that help leading practitioners successfully engage their communities.

I would like to say a big thank you to all those who sent me the tips, RT’d the challenge and got involved in the conversations that arose. Thank you to Ashleigh Weeden for being (in her own words) a ‘Word Bird’. I hope I have done you all justice in this compilation and theming of the tweets. I have included the Twitter account of each tip’s origin in the lists above, so if you feel like looking them up and giving the tipper a follow, please do.

If you’re interested and you may have missed it in scanning the tips but are now wondering what my one tip is, check out number 121. Happy Engaging.

Originally published at www.commsgodigital.com.au on November 30, 2014.