Tired of Faking it? Real questions for effective engagement

Part One: Setting the Stage – Identifying Goals and Participant Roles

Written by: Katherine Masleid-Rivard


Transparency. Engagement. Value.

More than buzz words, these are real concerns for any public project and ignoring them can create costly road blocks and detours. I’ve seen neglected stakeholders bring a project to a grinding halt; community members wondering if their leadership is even listening; and countless resources wasted on ineffective meetings. Effective engagement is critical to project success and this series walks through how to do that.

While success at these goals may seem elusive, there are key steps and questions you can use to create a clear path forward. I’ll walk through specific areas and the questions I ask to help achieve these goals in these five posts:

At the end of this five-part series, you should be able to:

  • Develop a clear strategy for smooth and effective engagement
  • Communicate engagement goals and expectations clearly
  • Setup a process for effective decision making

Part ONE: Setting the Stage -
Identifying Goals and Participant Roles

Effective engagement begins with asking three big picture questions:

1. What are you trying to achieve?

Keep it simple and allow yourself to focus on one thing. You may be able to combine multiple goals into one process plan, but this will be easier if you begin by focusing on one at a time.

If you don’t answer this question, you are guaranteed to waste people’s time, including your own. It also makes answering the next questions much easier. Know what your goal is and why; then can you stay on track.

2. Who needs to be involved?

Identify all of your stakeholders, decision makers, experts, and interest groups. Identify your challengers and your advocates - anyone that can help or hurt your chances of success. By identifying everyone now, you can approach their involvement proactively and strategically. You may discover more later, but this is where you start.


3. What will their role be?
There are five basic roles a participant can have in a process:
  • Approve: These participants are the ultimate decision makers. They bear the greatest responsibility and no project is complete without their say so. A process should be designed to give them the critical information they need to make a decision.
  • Recommend: These participants are intermediate decision makers or gate keepers. While they don’t make the final decision, the Approval Bodies rely on their wisdom and guidance to vet solutions before they come forward.
  • Work: Behind the scenes of any project, there is lot to get done. These participants are doing research, managing logistics, generating solutions, and asking questions. There can be a lot of people helping get the work done, but it is easiest if you can identify a core group of 3-6 people that leads this part of the process.
  • Input/Review: Most of your participants will be in this role. You need to hear their perspective. The Approval and Recommendation Bodies will want to know they were involved. Early on their input will inspire your solutions. Later it will help refine them.
  • Inform: All participants will need ways to be kept informed. But for some participants, this is all they need: a clear plan that keeps them in the loop at the right times.

Each of these questions is key to an effective process. If you don’t know your goal, who is involved, or what everyone’s role is, confusion and doubt will reign. In contrast, having these answers establishes a solid foundation for engagement and builds stakeholder confidence in the process and outcome.

Key takeaways: An effective engagement process begins by setting expectations including goals, participants, and each participant’s role.

In the next post, I’ll explore the different ways you can interact with your participants.



Posted July 28, 2020

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