Embedding engagement - what's all the fuss about?



Community engagement can at times be treated as an add-on to projects and as a way of dealing with outrage or conflict. There are inherent risks in doing this ad-hoc engagement including damaging trust, diminishing reputation and risking that significant projects fall through the gaps.


Organisations that have a culture of collaboration and the systems and processes in place to deliver quality engagement reduce these risks of ad-hoc engagement and maximise the benefits of their investment in engagement activities. When engagement is not part of the way that an organisation makes decisions, the practice becomes vulnerable to environmental changes, leadership changes and increasing pressure for cost reductions / efficiencies. This variability can cause significant damage to stakeholder and community confidence. Embedding engagement aims to establish engagement in such a way that it becomes ‘the way we do things around here’. This is a two fold process of: (1) creating a culture of engagement, and (2) integrating engagement into organisational systems and processes. 1. Creating a culture of engagement

Creating a culture of engagement means looking at the core values and beliefs in an organisation that drive behaviour towards (or away from) engaging people. It is about recognising that what you see, hear and experience (observable behaviours – above the waterline) are driven by underlying values, assumptions, beliefs, attitudes and feelings (unobservable drivers – below the waterline). To embed engagement the organisation needs to look ‘below the water line’ to the submerged part of the iceberg to understand why people do what they do and then work on shifting this towards a more collaborative culture 2. Integrating engagement

Integrating engagement means aligning or creating organisational systems and processes to enable engagement to occur. This is not about creating parallel processes but rather ensuring the consideration for engagement becomes part of the standard decision-making process. When this happens engagement is triggered at the right time in the decision-making process (as early as possible). This alignment is then supported by tools, templates and processes to guide engagement practice and there is capability to deliver engagement. Finally, there are clear mechanisms for measuring and evaluating engagement. A critical element for demonstrating the value that engagement offers an organisation. 3. Pace of Change

Practitioners who are passionate about engagement can at times try to push an organisation to change at a much quicker pace than it is ready to. ‘Bringing the organisation along’ means understanding the organisations readiness for change and then working with the organisation at this pace. This will be different for different organisations and will change at different points in time (such as when there are leadership changes, social or political drivers, etc.). Determining the right pace at which embedding engagement can occur is critical to the overall success of embedding engagement. Finally, there is value in having metrics and benchmarks to aim for and learn from. Our Engagement Dial is one such tool (see below). The Dial provides organisations with a way to assess the degree to which engagement is currently embedded and a target to aim for. Embedding engagement is about enabling organisations to put people at the heart of their decision making processes. Though it may take time, embedding engagement leads to enhanced engagement practice Engagement Dial