Starting With Engagement Purpose

I have been a long-standing member of the International Association of Facilitators, and enjoy the benefits of the Group Facilitation Forum. This morning, I contributed to a thread related to my previous blog post on Stakeholder Engagement and Purpose. One of the contributors, Penny Walker from England, had offered this distinction which was very helpful to the IAF thread on Deliberative Events:

  • Broadly, the market research gang are interested in understanding the group so that they (the consultant / client) can better design the product / service / policy and better communicate it to people once it’s been designed.
  • The participation & involvement gang are interested in helping the group to develop its understanding, share perspectives, air differences and find ways forward, so that they (consultant / client AND stakeholders/public) can jointly design the product / service / policy and better implement it.

(Here is my posted response) This thread underlines the vital importance of understanding one’s broad purpose for engaging stakeholders, and then adopting the appropriate method to support it. Our sister organizations, the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation in the USA, and the Canadian Community for Dialogue and Deliberation have been examining these issues for some time. Building on their work, I have developed a table that may further contribute to this conversation, see Best Methods for Engagement.

Following Penny’s categorization:

  • The “market research gang” as she refers to them, often have as their purposes for engagement: to tell their story and to obtain input. Certain methods are more appropriate here such as Focus Groups, Town Hall Meetings, Open Houses, Public Hearings, Surveys, Websites. The methods that fall under these forms of engagement in general tend to be one-way and to some extent can be viewed as initially transactional in that they mainly serve the convening organization, though ultimately, the resulting products, services, policies should be better, if in fact, they have listened well.
  • The purposes informing why the “participation/involvement gang” may engage stakeholders (including citizens) are various, from building awareness and trust, learning together to build common ground, resolving conflict, collaborating, and working together over time. The methods that may be appropriate here are quite numerous and diverse. For example, the 21st Century Town Hall meeting that Gary spoke of is appropriate when input from large groups of people is desired to help formulate and decide upon the best course of action. Methods such as World Cafe, Open Space, Appreciative Inquiry, Charettes, Future Search and so on, are all exceptional in the results they can produce when chosen with care to serve the purpose, context and needs of the engagement.

A high degree of transparency about engagement purpose, how the results will be used, and whom they will serve is vital in my view to the success of any of these endeavours. As facilitators, the more we know about how various methods serve different engagement purposes, the more helpful we can be in assisting our clients create appropriate expectations with participants, and also in understanding the role that we may be called upon to play.

Two useful additional resources on this topic of engagement purpose may be found at:

Finally, for anyone interested in learning many of these engagement methods, including when and how to apply them for better outcomes, please visit Facilitating Wise Action for Lasting Impact: Engaging Groups in Meaningful Conversation Around Complex Issues for an upcoming learning intensive in January, 2009.

Author: myriamlaberge

M.A. (Economics), Certified Professional Facilitator Founder & Managing Director