Getting involved with someone can be daunting - it could lead to heartache, but it can also reap big rewards. Ultimately, it’s a two-way street. The same can be said of public engagement. It's is all about involvement, two-way communication and building a strong working relationship. It takes patience, trust and effort to really make it work.
When you're at the very beginning of a piece of work, just the idea of involving others can raise all sorts of questions and concerns - where do you start? How do you manage the input from someone else? Where will it lead? It can seem overwhelming or confusing but you just need to take it one step at a time. Think of it like you would any other kind of budding relationship.
1. Decide to get engaged. You've met someone you really like and want them to be a bigger part of your life. Or in this case, you have a project you're really passionate about and feel that it would benefit from a particular group or audience getting more involved in it.
2. Get ready to take the plunge. You want to propose, but it's a big step - you don't want to mess it up, so you think about what you'll say. Maybe rehearse it to make sure you get it right. Similarly, before you invite others to get involved in your work or project, you need to get your aim and objectives sorted. Make sure they're clear about what you want to achieve, and about what you want from their involvement - do you want to consult them or do you want to collaborate with them? People are more likely to say yes if they understand what you're asking of them.
3. Don't propose to just anyone! Just like most of the other relationships in your life, you're looking for someone you have something in common with. In terms of your project, think about the target audience for your involvement - it might be a group of people with shared experience of a particular issue or who share a relevant interest or hobby that could support your work in some way.
4. Develop a relationship. The participants that get involved in your work are your partners, so you need to treat them as such. You need to talk to them, really listen to what they have to say, don't make assumptions, and show them you value their input. Like any relationship in life, you have to work on it. Of course, you might disagree sometimes, but keep an open dialogue so you can work through it and navigate any bumps in the road together.
5. Take time to check in and reflect. In any relationship, two-way communication is key and it's good to take time to think about how things are going and the direction you're headed in. The idea is that the process is mutually beneficial. Monitoring your public engagement, both in terms of getting feedback from participants on their involvement and any activities you deliver, will help make sure it's working well and flag up if anything needs adjusting. And when you get to the end of your project, a thorough evaluation should reveal its impact as well as provide lots of learnings you can share with others and take into future work.
If you think your work might benefit from involving others - whether it's patients, people in a particular community or location, or people with experience of a particular issue, don't be shy. Take a leap, reach out and see what amazing things you can achieve together.
If you would like to learn more about public engagement, why not sign up to our online training course, ‘An Introduction to Effective Public Engagement’?
© Tangelo House 2020