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The Importance of Timing in Community Engagement



A new year, a new sense of motivation and a bunch of new projects on the horizon - the perfect time to whip out that schedule and start planning your year ahead!


Your project’s schedule could be dictated by many things, such as reporting deadlines or budgets. But it's important to consider something else alongside these factors when planning your next engagement activity, and that is the behaviours, preferences, and availabilities of your identified stakeholders.  


If you are wishing to genuinely engage your stakeholders in a way that provides them with adequate opportunity to be involved and the time necessary to consider any information to help inform their input, then you need to consider when it is a good time to engage with them,  and perhaps more importantly, when it is NOT a good time. 


From my own experience, I’ve picked up a few easy tips to help with this. Read on to learn more!


And of course, if you’d like to explore this more or need some assistance with planning your next engagement, please reach out – we’re here to help! 

 

Avoid timing your engagement with school holidays and other holiday periods 

It's a good rule of thumb to avoid running engagement activities when people commonly take time off and head away on holidays or have other commitments.

This is not a time that people wish to actively engage in consultation activities and participation can really drop.  Your well-intentioned engagement messages will get completely lost in people’s feeds filled with family snaps, new year's resolutions, and holiday festivities!  


There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. For example, if you are wanting to seek  people’s feedback on plans for the redevelopment of the local swimming pool, then the summer holidays would be an ideal time to have an info stand at the centre with plans on display and the opportunity for people to provide feedback. It’s about knowing your engagement purpose, and the key stakeholders. 

 

Check the weather forecast before booking your venue

Warmer weather is great for outdoor pop ups, but if its too hot you’ll melt, and likely not get many interested punters stopping for a chat. The same goes for wet or cold weather. While this isn’t always something you can work around, think about:

  • the time of day (it’s cooler in the early morning or later in the day)

  • venue (indoors vs. outdoors)

  • what materials you’re using (have a marquee to stand under, or umbrellas if you don’t have anything else!)

  • what you can offer to visitors (things like cold water or sunscreen is a great way to draw people in on a hot day and start a conversation).

 

Consider piggy-backing off other engagement activities

What activities or events are happening at the same time, in the same area, and/or targeting the same stakeholder group as your own engagement project? Tapping into activities where your target stakeholders will already be is a great tactic for boosting participation numbers and avoid the risk of contributing to consultation fatigue.


A few simple suggestions:

  • host a stall at a community event

  • attend a community meeting and make a presentation

  • partner with someone else running a relevant engagement activity

 

Think about your target stakeholders' schedules

You’re much more likely to get your stakeholders involved if you design your engagement to fit in with their schedules. For example, if your stakeholders are dog owners, it might be beneficial to run something in a park after work hours when people are out walking their dogs. On another note, sporting clubs will be busy on weekends when games are being played, so mid-week evenings might suit these stakeholder groups better.  

 

Ask your stakeholders for their availability

Rather than just assuming or guessing, check in with your target stakeholders and ask them when it would be best to run your engagement activities with them.


Here are a few conversation starters to help:

  • What significant events are happening in their community that you should avoid, or could leverage off?

  • What day of the week and at what time is it easiest for them to attend an engagement activity? 

  • What time of the year is busier for them so you know to avoid it?

 

Consider your overall project timeline

Don’t be tempted to squeeze your engagement activity in a small amount of time just to tick that box. Your stakeholders won’t feel they have had much opportunity to have a say, and this can result in poor project outcomes, community dissatisfaction and can damage relationships with your stakeholders.


Where possible, provide ample time for your stakeholders to get involved and time your engagement so that the community’s input can genuinely inform the project outcomes. Give your engagement activity the weight and significance that it deserves. 


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