Types of Engagement

Inform | Consult | Involve | Collaborate | Empower

The following section explores each type of engagement from the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum, from ‘inform’ through to ‘empower’. It explains the underlying principles, provides examples of how they can be used and any addition considerations for each type of engagement.

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IAP2 Spectrum Excerpt - Inform

Inform

"… know who you are trying to reach and how they are most likely to access and understand the information …"

The ‘inform’ column of the spectrum describes the communication of information to the community or other stakeholders and is the foundation of all community engagement processes.

The general goal of this type of engagement is to provide stakeholders with balanced and objective information. This process can provide the basis for building knowledge and skills in the community in order to assist decision-making and change through:

  • Increasing understanding of issues, alternatives or solutions.
  • Increasing stakeholder/community ability to address issues.
  • Increasing community compliance with regulation and other requirements associated with change.

Those you inform can range from the general public to key stakeholder groups and organisations. The processes used can be proactive (information dissemination) or responsive (responding to questions from the community). Informing involves one- or two-way communication over various timeframes. Examples include one-off communication such as brochures or media releases through to longer term, intensive processes such as community education.
General Guidelines
  • Know who you are trying to reach and how they are most likely to access and understand the information.
  • Ensure information provided is:
    • high quality
    • consistent
    • timely
    • appropriately targeted
    • clear and easily understood by your audience.

Additional considerations:

Although information is essential for all participation, it is not in itself participatory, nor is it directly linked to the adoption of this information.

The link between knowledge and implementing change is strongest when the people who are expected to implement change are involved in developing the knowledge that provides the capacity to act.

Often the solutions offered during the informing process, by way of knowledge and skills, tend to be technical or scientific, and may not allow for a full understanding of the complexity of the issue. Refining your audience and key messages through market research may miss links that could be explored through other processes such as ‘involve’, ‘collaborate’ or ‘empower’.

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IAP2 Spectrum Excerpt - Consult

Consult

"… ensure the purpose of the consultation is clear, including what is being consulted on and what is non-negotiable …"

This column of the spectrum describes the process of eliciting feedback on information provided. The goal of this type of engagement is to obtain feedback on analysis, alternatives or decisions.

Consultation actively seeks community views and input into policy, plans and decisions. The responsibility for the decisions remains with government or the organisation doing the consulting.

There is a range of ways consultation can occur, including processes that require little or no dialogue. Examples include written consultation (e.g. a one-off survey in a newsletter, or documents made available for public comment) through to those involving dialogue and debate such as public meetings, focus groups and processes where the stakeholder/community is able to influence proposed options. Processes for gaining rural intelligence, social research and attitudinal surveys would also be included here.

General Guidelines
  • Ensure the purpose of consultation is clear, including what is being consulted on and what is non-negotiable.
  • Know who you are trying to consult, the most effective way to reach them and get a response.
  • Allow enough time for a response to consultation requests.
  • Coordinate requests so that, where possible and appropriate, you ask for views once, not several times.
  • Provide feedback on the results of consultation.
  • Ensure and demonstrate that the views of those consulted are taken into account in the outcome.
  • Present all information simply and clearly.
  • Ensure adequate resources are allocated to the process.

Additional considerations:

Consultation is an effective process in community engagement, providing the expected levels of participation and commitment are expressed and matched with the expectations of all relevant stakeholders.

It is important to fulfil the promise of providing feedback on how this input has influenced the decision, otherwise stakeholders may not take up ownership of the decision, particularly where change in attitudes, values or practices is concerned.

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IAP2 Spectrum Excerpt - Involve

Involve

"… work with the community to ensure their concerns are directly reflected in alternatives and solutions …"

The goal of this method of engagement is to work directly with the public throughout the process to ensure that public concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered.

The distinguishing difference between ‘consult’ and ‘involve’ is the level of participation expected of the community and other stakeholders. While consulting requires the facilitator to seek feedback at a given point in time, involving means deliberately putting into place a method to work directly with stakeholders throughout the process.

However, while ‘involve’ assumes a greater level of participation by stakeholders as they work through issues and alternatives to assist in the decision-making process, the organisation undertaking the engagement generally retains responsibility for the final decision.

General Guidelines
  • Ensure all relevant people are given the opportunity to be involved.
  • Ensure you maintain a commitment to enabling their involvement in the process (have equity/access issues been considered that ensure that individuals are not unknowingly disadvantaged?).
  • Consider carefully what processes and/or structures are appropriate for the purpose and who is to be engaged.
  • Avoid misunderstanding and ambiguity by clearly establishing the basis for membership of bodies such as boards or committees (e.g. skills vs representation), the decision-making processes (e.g. voting vs consensus) and roles and responsibilities at the outset.

Additional considerations:

This level of engagement demands a higher level of participation and inclusion with stakeholders. Those who develop Engagement Plans at this level must work with the community to ensure their concerns are directly reflected in alternatives and solutions, and be explicit as to how this input was incorporated within the decision–making process.

It is also important to be clear in communications with stakeholders to avoid fallout from unrealised expectations. This may include stakeholders assuming that they are able to make final decisions when this is not necessarily the case. Again, there needs to be an alignment of expectations to establish what is negotiable and what is not negotiable at the beginning of the project.

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IAP2 Spectrum Excerpt - Collaborate

Collaborate

"… there must be clarity about the extent of decision-making power that is delegated and, in particular, what is not included …"

The goal of this type of engagement is to partner with the community in each aspect of the decision, including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred position.

This method of engagement further extends the level of participation and, consequently, the impact upon the community. Ownership is shared between the organisation and the stakeholders. There is a greater level of delegated decision-making, but the organisation responsible for the engagement may still retain the overall decision-making power.

Collaborative partnerships can range from loose affiliations through to setting up of formal boards or committees. In the case of DEPI, an example of a collaborative engagement arrangement can be seen in the establishment of the Victorian Catchment Management Authorities. While the establishment of these entities devolves management at a local level, responsibility for final policy, legislative frameworks and overall budget decisions is still retained by government.

General Guidelines
  • There must be clarity about the extent of decision-making power that is delegated and, in particular, what is not included.
  • Avoid misunderstanding and ambiguity by clearly establishing the basis for membership of bodies such as boards or committees (e.g. skills vs representation), decision-making processes (e.g. voting vs consensus) and roles and responsibilities at the outset.
  • Where formal partnership arrangements are involved, governance arrangements need to be carefully considered.

Additional considerations:

A far greater level of trust in relationships is required to ensure collaborative efforts are effective. Alignment of core values may need to be considered to establish effective and productive collaborative partnerships. While the investment required to ensure the relationships are productive maybe high, the combined efforts of partners may extend the ownership and success of the desired outcomes in ways that could not have been achieved through less participatory methods.

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IAP2 Spectrum Excerpt - Empower

Empower

"… empowered communities share responsibility for making decisions and accountability for the outcomes of those decisions …"

The goal of this method of engagement is to place final decision-making in the hands of the public.

Empowered communities share responsibility for making decisions and accountability for the outcomes of those decisions.

Legislative and policy frameworks give power to communities to make decisions. The community may have the power to make a limited range of decisions (e.g. on a specified issue or for a limited time), or it may have extensive decision-making powers.

The pilot mini-Citizen's Jury conducted by the Victorian Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority to aid in the development of their Draft River Health Strategy1 is an example of empowerment.

General Guidelines
  • There must be clarity as to the scope of the shared power and/or decision-making capabilities.
  • There must be clarity about roles and responsibilities.
  • Issues involving accountability need to be carefully considered.
  • Communities need sufficient resources (human and social capital) to enable an empowerment approach.

Additional considerations:

This is the most challenging approach to community engagement, but offers the greatest rewards in building capacity. There is a commitment by the initiators of the engagement to participate as a stakeholder and to share power in decision-making to achieve collaborative action.

The promise by users of this process is to maintain a high level of active engagement during the development, design and implementation of the approach. Those who do not participate to this extent risk breaking the principles of inclusiveness, transparency and trust.

The rewards of an empowerment approach are often more innovative results that incorporate the knowledge of all participants as well as reduced conflict, greater ownership of outcomes and commitment to ongoing action.

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1 Bolitho, Dr A (2005) Citizen's juries for natural resource management, Social Capacity Building Project Catchment Strategies, Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, Melbourne