Four Thoughts on Public Engagement

Friday, December 9, 2016
by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

I was doing some work with a communications and public engagement wing of an organization recently and a couple of things came up that are worth repeating.

First - We've probably reached peak engagement. 
Not everything merits a public engagement campaign and people are tapped out. Sometimes you and your organization should stick to (or return to) simply communicating. If your campaign is aimed at the general public, it aimed at no one in particular. Everyone wants to be inclusive but the reality is more likely that there are a handful of experts from whom you want to hear from and they are already likely known to you.

Second - Don't think that public engagement upstream will be a defence to criticism downstream. 
In all likelihood it's not opportunity to participate in the public engagement process that people wants but rather to influence the actual outcomes from that process. Basically, people don't feel heard unless their views are those actioned.

Third - most organizations have moved beyond just public engagement.
If you agree with what most of the behavioural economics schools are teaching out there right now then you would also agree that there tends to be significant difference between what people say they want and how they act when actually confronted by a particular choice or decision. This is why things like data, design, and ethnography have all risen (returned?) to popularity. These additional inputs can act as a powerful signal (evidence?) checks on the results of pure public engagement.

Fourth - all politics are local and nimbyism reigns supreme. 
This always has and always will influence public policy and public engagement. Its why you shouldn't fight public relations battles you know you can't win (See: Machiavellian Infrastructure Spending) and why I'd rather give advice than have to choose (See: To Govern is to Choose).