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We know community engagement is necessary in delivering projects and council initiatives that matter to the community. As community engagement professionals, we believe that a crucial part of delivery is sparking the community’s interest and involvement from the ground up. Yet, we acknowledge that capturing the interest and involvement of diverse community members can be challenging. 

Apart from the usual methods of engagement (e.g. developing an engagement and communications plan for the project period, coordinating pop-ups), how else can we maximise the community’s interest and involvement in a project?

1. Pre-promotion through communications prior to the project launch

Oftentimes, we develop and only release communications once a project has been launched. However, pre-promotion ahead of your project and/or engagement is equally important in getting the community involved and aware. Starting your promotions ahead of time will give you a great headstart and visibility, giving you the chance to build excitement and anticipation for your presence and increasing the likelihood of the community seeking you out. This will help the community understand what the project is about, ask questions they may have surrounding the project (which can help in the development of your FAQs), and give them the opportunity to create buzz for you through the sharing and tagging on promotional materials.

Ways to kickstart pre-promotion:

  • Create a social media page and/or posts with initial information the community can already know and pass on. It does not need to be comprehensive, just enough for them to know and to create awareness and buzz (e.g. project overview and purpose, location, timings, 5W1Hs).
  • Send an email blast informing your relevant stakeholders of the project, how they can get involved and what to expect when the project launches.

2. Planning the appropriate engagement activities and props relevant to the project, and including activities for children and older people whenever possible.

Example: Engagement props for the Perceptions of Safety, City of Casey

Conversation Co recently worked with the City of Casey to understand the community’s perceptions of safety. In order to engage with people across the age spectrum, we utilised a variety of engagement methods and props including:

  • Hard copy posters where people could add their feedback
  • A colourful ball drop system where people could vote
  • An online survey
  • A children’s colouring sheet

Example: Yarra Playspace Strategy, City of Yarra

For projects that impact the wider community, it is important to ensure all voices are heard, even the littlest ones. Children bring a unique perspective to projects, and may have different standpoints on issues like safety, landscaping and design of public areas, and activations. Supporting children and taking the time to present information in an easily digestible way is paramount to be able to bring this feedback to light.

For example, kindergarten children may be at very different stages in their learning journey, but often are capable of communicating their ideas with the right prompts. Many of these children are great little artists, so we find incorporating drawing activities to be a great way to extract information, you’ll be surprised about the level of detail these can contain. Recently, as part of a Play Space Strategy consultation, children were asked to draw their dream play space. Some of the drawings included things like:

  • Plants, including trees, shrubbery, and flowers for bees
  • Mobile food vendors
  • Themed play equipment
  • Shade sails
  • Use during different times of day or weather conditions

Keeping the energy up in the room is important to maintain focus with young children and not overload them with too much information. Rather than just verbally asking questions, we like to have a variety of ways to answer. Sometimes this includes using stickers to vote, having options around the room to get them up and moving, or even sitting with them during snack time for a relaxed chat.

3. Ensure information provided at panels and workshops are available in different formats to meet participants on their different learning styles (e.g. including a mix of videos, infographics, documents).

Some online tools you can use to facilitate participation:

4. Having translators present at pop-ups to ensure all communities are equally represented and understood, with different communities being able to understand the project and have their opinions heard.

The community lies at the heart of community engagement. Maximising your community engagement efforts to ensure high levels of participation from the community contributes directly to the success of an engagement project. What are some ways you employ to ensure involvement and interest?

Conversation Co

Conversation Co proudly acknowledges and celebrates First Peoples of Australia and their ongoing strength in upholding some of the world's oldest living cultures. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands throughout what is now Victoria – where we live, conduct pop-ups, and engage with our communities – and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present. Conversation Co acknowledges First Peoples' sovereignty has never been ceded. The strength, resilience and pride of First Peoples, their cultures, communities and identities continue to grow and thrive today despite the impact of colonisation and ongoing experiences of racism.

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