This week, a year after I started, I got my Certificate of Engagement from IAP2 Australasia.
The course has been a whirlwind trip through the IAP2 approach to public participation and engagement, which has definitely made me think more carefully about how to engage with people in a meaningful way, as I move through the different projects and activities that come up in this role.
I thought I’d highlight a few of the things that have made the most impact on me. I reserve the right to change this list in the future!
Everyone should start the Certificate by taking the Engagement Essentials course, and right at the beginning of that, the trainer explains that the IAP2 approach is about moving from Decide, Announce, Defend to Profile, Educate, Participate. That is, understand who will be affected by a decision, talk to them about it so it makes sense for them and get them to be part of it. Bring them in before the point of decision, rather than after it. I find that a very compelling place to start. Especially having worked in government for so many years, Decide Announce Defend is the natural state. It’s really good to think about how to move beyond that.
If people know anything about the IAP2 system, it’s probably the spectrum, where your engagement moves from Inform, via Consult, Involve and Collaborate to Empower. There’s a lot more to it than that, but even if we just focus on the spectrum, it’s a tool that can be really useful. In my view, it’s too simplistic to say “we need to be at Empower for every decision”. That just isn’t realistic for many reasons, including time, money, human resources.
The way I use the spectrum is to think, where is this decision sitting at the moment, and what tweaks can we do to move it up to the next level. So if we are going to inform a group of people about something that affects them (say, digging up their street to lay new gas pipes), is there any way we can do anything to make that more of a consultation (say, we are planning for these days, if there are any reasons why this is poses a problem, let us know and we will see what we can do).
The real mindshift that is needed for policy- and decision-makers is accepting that decisions are more robust, stronger and more likely to work if you get the full range of views in as early as possible. I think of it like arriving at my Masters degree in my early 40s, after 20 years of working in an environment where you pour all your intellectual effort into something and then defend it to the hilt. Group projects at uni taught me that starting something and then sharing it when it’s unfinished to get others’ perspectives and to apply their different skillsets makes for a much stronger product at the end. None of us knows everything, by working together we can achieve so much more.
The next step is to work with the other certificated colleagues to develop a Uniting approach to engagement, taking all the tools we learned about and making them work for us as an organisation. Exciting times ahead!