Public participation and consultation are essential for building trust with government organisations. We spoke with Jason Downs, Leader for Engagement at the South Australian Department of State Development, to find out how government organisations can effectively engage disengaged communities to drive positive outcomes. Read more to find out why Jason considers trust and genuine relationships to be a fundamental key to enhancing community engagement.
How can government organisations best engage with disengaged communities?
Jason Downs: Primarily there is a need to develop a strong sense and understand as to why communities are disengaged, what is the history, what is the issue, is there a background story driving this lack of engagement, generally there is. Once this is understood the next step is establishing a relationship and building a level of trust and understanding, this is often referred to as pre engaging. Once a relationship is developed then a plan of interaction can often be co designed with the group to ensure interaction, or it may be in some cases the group doesn’t wish to be engaged and this must be respected.
Why do some communities become disengaged in the first place?
JD: Generally there is a breakdown in relationships caused by a lack of trust. In some cases communities find dealing with government agencies a waste of time, complicated and of no value. In some instances communities themselves become fractured and strong personalities can drive agendas which cause others to become disengaged as well.
How do you genuinely reengage communities?
JD: Relationships and trust are central to any interactions. The critical success factor to building these is listening to people and understanding their worldviews, not assuming and not engaging to tell or sell.
How do disengaged communities effect public sector organisations as a whole?
JD: Generally these communities often go under the radar unless there is a specific requirement to engage them or a demand to do so.
Why is it important to engage with disengaged communities?
JD: I think this is a case by case issue, as mentioned some communities don’t wish to be engaged and must be respected. It is still necessary to understand why and having honest conversations and building relationships may over time change this. As a practitioner however the more people who can be engaged on a particular matter that impacts upon them the better the end result can be in terms of progressing. Often the disengaged have the greatest knowledge and solutions to issues.