chalkJust returned from presenting the beta version of a new workshop called “Engagement Lab” to council staff in the Hunter region (thank you Hunter Councils!).
It’s about reinventing community consultation, an activity that councils do frequently – for practically every plan, service, strategy and piece of infrastructure they are responsible for.
But there’s something wrong with the standard Community Engagement Template. It doesn’t account for a radical split in community psychology between two different classes of proposals which put the intended participants in very different head spaces.
EITHER they feel threatened and furious about an issue. In that case you don’t have any problem getting their attention and they often turn up in droves just to vent about what a rotten council you are.
OR people are disconnected and bored about the issue. In that case motivation is low or non-existent and virtually NO ONE participates because the issue doesn’t engage them.
And, usually, it’s an extreme of one of these cases.
If you’ve done something to make people angry, standard community engagement won’t help you. Instead you (and your councilors and executives) need to get skilled up in Issues Management (Google anything by Peter Sandman).
On the other hand, if you’re continually talking to the same handful of usual suspects with time of their hands who enjoy this type of thing or have an axe to grind, then you need to innovate your practice.
So, I thought, why not mash innovation training with community engagement training?
Like all first outings, I had a lot to learn.
First, there are a surprising number of innovations out there. I readily Googled up a fantastic slideshow of existing council innovations from Australian and overseas. Melbourne City Council’s Yellow Caravan; Shire of Yarra Ranges Cultural Roadshow; Adelaide City’s Parking Day; even little Singleton Council’s cosy Wood Smoke Chat Room, not to mention increasing use of all sorts of online tools and social media.
The single most impressive was Wyndham City’s humbly-entitled Listening Post, which is in fact a richly devised pop-up council designed for ‘listening’ on many levels. Check their video.
Next we chose some real life projects to work on and laid down a solid groundwork with three rapid versions of IAP2-style planning tools.
Then came the main course: innovation! Which, of course, happens best when teams have innovation processes ready to go in their back pockets.
The rest the day was immersed in innovation processes. These were fun because joy and creativity are inseparable.
The result was a wonderful collection of buzzworthy ways to make it simple, make it fun, go to where people are, make it a game, make it social, and add food.
What I was delighted by was how much staff enjoyed these practices and dived into the creative space. Even the knotty “I only have 20 minutes at the end of an internal workshop to ‘consult’ with people” had a creative solution (which involved Monopoly money).
So that’s the first vital skill: having innovation processes ready to go, and actually using them with one’s team.
Here are some comments from participants in that first workshop:

“It has given me my spark back!”
Inspired and brimming with ideas.”
“It not only helps be creative but legitimises being creative.”
“Reminded me that fun and creativity go hand in hand.”

So far so good. Then came an uncomfortable surprise. There’s a problem with innovation in pyramidal organisations: fear of being blocked by management. Participants told me (more or less) “This is cool, but how can I get it past management?”
So there’s the second vital skill: navigating management.
Or, to put it differently: “How can management’s fears be lowered so they’ll feel comfortable placing bets on new ideas?” So, interestingly, we are straight back to Changeology 101!
So now the next iteration of Engagement Lab will pivot mid-afternoon into workshopping that question – which, essentially, involves anticipating management’s specific fears, addressing them by design, and assembling a well conceived “perfect pitch”.
So now I’m post-beta and ready to for public launch. Here are the details of the first open Engagement Lab workshops:

MELBOURNE: 7 July 2016
Venue: Queen Victoria Womens Centre, 210 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
SYDNEY: 14 July 2016
Venue: The Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability, 2 Balls Head Rd, Waverton
Click here for details.
Book a place.
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or phone me on 0414 674 676