Building an engagement strategy

Councils face numerous choices about how to communicate with stakeholders and facilitate public participation in risk based-planning. The type of policy and plan development they are undertaking may range from specific issues (e.g. coastal erosion) to broad strategic directions (e.g. urban growth). The scale of operations can also vary from discrete communities within a district to an entire region. While the core steps of engagement as part of the risk based approach and the stages of engagement that need to be worked through remain the same. Councils will want to develop a way of delivering engagement opportunities that suits their context and resources, and responds to the unique demands of any given situation.

A useful approach to developing an engagement strategy is to work through a checklist or set of building blocks in a workshop with a team of staff and elected representatives, building a team who are able to respond from their unique knowledge of the situation. Taking a workshop approach, with participants with expertise from across council and other relevant agencies ensures that the communication and engagement activities are an integral part of the entire risk-based planning initiative, and that the actions taken build council and stakeholder capacity to make robust and considered choices. An example of a workshop to build a risk engagement strategy is available here.

Scope and goals assessment should be completed first to establish a clear task direction for the engagement strategy. The goals in particular are referred back to through-out the workshop and are used as a basis for tracking progress. At this stage commitment to an overall engagement ethos (e.g. informing, consulting, empowering etc.) should be considered [IAP2’s public participation spectrum]

Hazard – issue complexity assessment – considers how much is known about the hazard, how straightforward the issue is and whether uncertainty and ambiguity are likely to be significant influences on the risk-assessment and decision-making process.

Context assessment uses the team’s knowledge of the background to the situation to explore such matters as: how the issue has been dealt with historically and whether there will be residual issues arising from this; the potential for conflict, the trust in the local government agency and the decision-making process. This may highlight matters that will need to be dealt with up-front to prevent these becoming road-blocks in communication. It may also highlight the need for conflict management to be built into the engagement strategy and/or trust building.

Stakeholder assessment – considers who are the affected parties, who will want to contribute to the decision, who holds important information and what their preferred way of communicating will be.

Existing perceptions – It is important to consider what is known about the overall perception of the natural hazard risk and the issues at stake as this will determine the kind effort required to build common understanding and give indications as to what information may be well received and what will meet with incredulity or rejection.

First steps and options –– working through the previous building blocks should assist with generating some obvious first steps to begin with. It should also help consider overall directions – such as the use of broad scale information dissemination, specialist working groups, public meetings etc.

Adapting the strategy–– An engagement strategy should be referred back to, monitored, and adapted throughout the risk-based planning exercise. In particular it is important to be aware how new knowledge might change the list of potentially affected stakeholders, and to keep track of progress towards the overall goals.

[see workshop format, checklist and support material for the building blocks]