We’ve posted before about how a human-centered design approach is integral to our research process, but it’s also a big part of our ideation and initiative development. Similar to how we need to work with residents who interact with systems and challenges every day to fully understand them, we need input from residents to know exactly what ideas will work most effectively to help them.
When we start our ideation (or idea generation) process, we do some internal engagement first. We have fairly easy access to our fellow City employees, and a lot of them have subject matter expertise in the areas we are working on. We provide them with caffeine, sugar, and toys and steal a few hours of their time to raid their brains for potential solutions.
However, internal engagement can only go so far. Who knows effective solutions for our housing challenges better than our residents who experience them everyday? Public engagement is a little trickier, though.
One of the reasons for this is that historically, public engagement from government institutions hasn’t been that great.
“We have parent-child relationships between government institutions and residents. We need adult-adult relationships.”
At the City, we do a lot of what’s considered “conventional” engagement. Imagine your typical public meeting, with an elected official or presenter at the front of the room and residents getting their 2 minutes at the mic to ask a question or make a statement. This kind of engagement isn’t overly empowering for our residents to participate in and take action afterwards.
So what are some strategies we can use to better empower and engage our residents? In August, we attended a public engagement training in NYC with Public Agenda to find out.
Rule #1: Asset map
Good public engagement is built on relationships of trust. What community assets exist in the areas/groups you want to engage with? What relationships and networks already exist in your community that you can leverage and tap into to engage those groups? What relationships of trust do you already have that you can build on?
Rule #2: Make it easy
Remove any and all barriers that you can to people being able to engage with you. Particularly when trying to engage more vulnerable populations, make sure to consider transportation, child care, food, and time costs. Incentives can be used to not only make engagement easier, but also worth it for residents to participate in.
“Think of who is least likely/able to come - how would you work to get them there?”
Rule #3: Invent, don’t Invite
Along those lines, make sure you go to where people are. Plan engagement in the areas that the groups you want to engage already gather, like a community center, library, park or church. These are spaces that groups have “invented” for themselves and are comfortable in, rather than spaces they are “invited” to and may be unfamiliar with.
Rule #4: Thick & Thin
Use both “thick” and “thin” engagement strategies by having in depth, informative conversations and using quicker methods of engagement, like polls and surveys. Think of what works best for your audience; in person or digital? A good mixture will help get the level of information and input that you need.
Rule #5: Empower & Sustain
Treat people like adults and empower them to be able to voice their stories and contribute to the conversation. Have them involved in the actual decision-making process and play important roles in policy design. Once you have them engaged at these levels, be sure to sustain it and keep them involved along every step of the way.
Rule #6: Make it fun
No matter how or who we are engaging, we can promise caffeine, sugar, and toys.
“Sometimes you need a meeting that is also a party. Sometimes you need a party that is also a meeting.”
To Public Agenda,
Thanks so much for all the insight!
To our residents,
Coming Soon: Ideation in a neighborhood near you!
Don’t wait! If you have ideas, comments, or questions, feel free to reach out to us today!