I’ve been invited to turn out voluntarily for a few participatory events in my time to represent the views of the ‘Average Citizen’, whether it be for the local council, the NHS or various campaigns or charities. I have also worked on the other side of these events throughout my career.
Here’s some simple advice, there’s plenty more where this comes from, but five tips should give you a decent start:
1) Be clear about your offer and how my participation will make a difference: What am I going to get out of taking part? I do very many things out of the goodness of my heart, but getting involved in anything that feels like ‘arbitrary consultation’ is not one of them; especially if the subject is bin collection times. What is the purpose of this consultation, and how am I going to play a role in helping you change things for the better. Convince me that my participation will make a difference. Make me feel valued.
2) Refreshments : I’m serious. The right food and drink can provide you and your participants with the strength to get through the most worthy discussion of the local parking meter system. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be fresh, have a good vegetarian/halal/kosher option as needed. This means a great deal to those who give up their time to take part, and gives people a chance to chat and relax with each other – enabling you to get better results.
3) A friendly and accessible venue : I am very unlikely to come to your draughty town hall function room in the middle of nowhere from 7:30-9pm on a weekday evening. Be creative, if possible, and even more importantly be on the ground floor, and in a place near public transport. Leisure centres, libraries, schools all provide neutral community venues.
4) Respect my time as you would in a professional meeting: If this is an evening event, I’m probably coming straight from work, I may have childcare arrangements to consider; or I may not. But either way, ALWAYS use a great facilitator to run your event. You don’t have to pay out for a pro, you can train your staff in facilitation and learn better ways of managing consultation together if budgets are tight. This can make a world of difference, stopping discussions becoming dominated by the more vociferous elements that we all know and love.
5) Tell me what happened: After its over, tell me what happened as a result of my participation. If you’re feeling really fly, you might even ask how the experience was for me, and what could be improved next time.
In short, make sure that your consultation is a pleasure to participate in, and not a pain in the *%@