How to engage with the disengaged

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.

Konnect Learning: 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.

KL: 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.

KL: 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.

KL: 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.

KL: 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

Jason Downs will be chairing Community & Stakeholder Engagement for Government 2018 this July In Canberra.  Attend this summit to learn how to effectively engage disengaged communities and innovate your public sector engagement strategy.   

The time for traditional media is over

The time for traditional media is over


Digital communications are far more efficient than traditional media. When delivering your department message, digital mediums can spread the word to large audiences your audience in a fraction of the time. We talked to Lachlan McKenzie, Assistant Director, Strategy and Media to find out how Transport for NSW is driving productivity through their digital communications strategy. Read more to find out why Lachlan thinks that traditional media no longer the communications king.


Konnect Learning: How have digital mediums changed the way Government departments communicate in the last 10 years?


Lachlan McKenzie: Probably one of the most dramatic shifts centres around how the majority of our communications channels now go directly to customers or stakeholders, bypassing the media almost completely.

In the past we would rely heavily on media releases to pitch the information we wanted to transmit through to various audiences.

Given the declining resource levels across the media industry, and burgeoning competition for journalists’ attention, it makes sense to exploit ways that are more efficient in reaching our audiences and easier to control the messages that are conveyed to them.


KL: What has been the biggest road block you’ve encountered while building your digital communication strategy?


LM: I’ve come into an organisation where there are a number of legacy platforms or channels that made sense sometime ago, but may not anymore. My approach is “what’s this meant to do, does it still do it and if so how could we do it better?”

In that sense, the road block is the menagerie of systems and status quo assumptions about how digital communications is being done, in comparison to how it should be done.


KL: What impact have digital mediums had on reaching external stakeholders?


LM: With a number of major infrastructure projects, we manage the disruption communication that goes to every individual and stakeholder that is either identified by us, or signs up for regular tailored communication.

Through websites like we’re able to provide tailored information on a regular basis that can tell a business on George Street or a resident in East Sydney what’s coming up in their part of Sydney and how to plan around it if necessary.


KL: What road block do you think Government Departments still need to overcome?


LM: Traditional media is not king, it’ll tell you it is… but I disagree. More people get news from their Facebook feeds than through any other medium – noting the propensity for mastheads to prioritise breaking news through their social channels.

There will always be press conferences and media releases, but Government shouldn’t be afraid to break more news direct to customers, stakeholders and voters direct through social and make traditional media do some ‘journalism.’


Attend the Government Digital Communications Summit to hear how Transport for NSW used their digital communications strategy to reach stakeholders protect their department reputation in the recent industrial action across Sydney Trains.