Nearly all of the points below are things that any business should always be doing to undertake meaningful consultation or engagement. within the current context, it is critical that you reflect and adapt.
1 – Not business as usual
I don’t need to tell you that these are not normal times, but it’s important that you adapt your practices to better reflect the current context.
Your existing engagement strategies are unlikely to work – traditional public exhibitions, for example, are impossible because of the physical restrictions in place, and your usual stakeholders and networks may be less responsive or accessible.
With a multitude of online tools now available, and with the right planning in place, it is very achievable to host virtual public exhibitions, interactive Q&As and briefing sessions. You may even find that being forced to find different ways of engaging with people may be more effective than your previous methods.
2 – Hard To Reach
Even with the incredible array of technology that is now available, some people with limited or no access are now very isolated, particularly elderly people in rural areas.
Engaging with organisations who work and support these people is a must, whereas direct mail outs with easy-read alternatives and signposting in local print and broadcast media should also be strongly considered.
3 – Be responsive
A key tenet of any consultation or engagement process is responding to feedback in a timely manner, whether it is positive, critical or simply looking for further information.
If your business has been impacted to the extent that you no longer have the capacity to respond effectively, it is a clear indication that you are not in a position to be undertaking consultation or engagement.
4 – Show empathy
This is an incredibly challenging time for everyone. People have seen their lives restricted like never before, their jobs are insecure and they have been separated from their loved ones, some who may have been very ill.
While never accepting abuse or intimidation, you must be sensitive to how people are feeling, that they are anxious and concerned and these feelings could be heightened if your plans are particularly contentious.
Show empathy, be thoughtful and act with kindness.
5 – Ask yourself, is it really necessary?
While bearing all of this in mind, ask yourself, given the context, will your business benefit from an engagement exercise now?
- Is it time critical that you engage in this process now?
- Do you have the resources to deliver it properly?
- Will the context change in the aftermath of this pandemic and render your findings null and void?
- Could you dramatically lose support for your project by consulting on it now?
If the answers to these four questions are no, no, yes and yes, then spend this time prepping and perfecting your consultation for when this dreadful period is over.