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"Can our field present a united front to the new Administration? Let's start by seeing if we can develop a set of principles for public engagement we can all endorse..."

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    • CommentAuthorkenoli
    • CommentTimeFeb 25th 2009 edited

    I would like to start a conversation about planning for public engagement processes. I think that too often (maybe usually) planning is not given adequate attention. Failing to include a range of stakeholders in planning actually violates a key element of the principles of collaboration and inclusion by assuming that consultants know better than participants what they need.

    We find that a number of important things go on during the planning process:

    • The task is clarified and the work that gets done is the work that needs doing
    • Deep and interesting conversations
    • Relationship building between members of various stakeholder groups
    • Skill transfer as members of the team learn about process and design
    • Much better participation and followthrough in the main event
    • Good design that fits the task and culture
    • Full participation and collaboration through the whole process
    • Real modeling of principles
    • Sustainable outcomes

    Often the groups we work with (especially government groups) normally function in isolated silos. A good inclusive and collaborative planning process begins to break down this isolation and supports a much more effective level of inclusion and collaboration in the event itself. This also sets up the stage for sustaining the outcomes of the event.

    I refer below to three groups: consultants (or facilitators, process experts, etc.), sponsors or clients (the parties who thinks this should take place and initiate it-not necessarily the funder), participants or constituency (people who meets the three questions below under full inclusion). These roles can come in various permutations or variations.

    It is my experience that planning is the key to good process and that, to be successful, the planning process needs to model all of the qualities of the engagement process, from the very first meeting. These include:

    • Full inclusion
    • All functional and demographic stakeholders included
    • For planning some can wear several hats
    • To decide who needs to be involved both in planning and in the event, we ask the questions: Who might be affected? Who has power or resources to hold the process back or move it forward? Who has the experience, wisdom, knowledge, skill we need to accomplish the task?
    • Full collaboration
    • Consultants and sponsors of the process collaborate with other stakeholders in appropriate roles
    • Consultants are expert in process, "clients" are experts in the client system
    • From the very first planning meeting, all stakeholder voices are present
    • Each meeting the question is asked, "Who else needs to be involved" (this will evolve and change as the clarity of the task evolves–see below)
    • Design to the task and culture
    • Full inclusion and collaboration allows the consultants and stakeholders to design, together, a process that fits the task, culture and type of outcomes desired
    • Effective outcome and followthrough

    Planning team tasks:

    • Clarify the task, i.e. what are we really coming together to do? How can this be stated clearly and succinctly
    • Clarify participation (given the task, who needs to be present to effectively succeed-see three questions above)
    • Identify stakeholder groups, then individuals in those groups that meet this criteria
    • Identify how to get these individuals to attend the event (this is made much easier by full inclusion in the planning as people can reach out the their stakeholder groups)
    • Collaborate with consultants on an appropriate design. This involves clarifying the kind of outcome desired (e.g. action, visioning, concrete task, strategic plan, implementation of a plan, etc.)
    • Deal with logistics, venue, materials, funding, etc. (there may be a funding sponsor, or not)
    • Host the event on the day of the event
    • Planning for followup, e.g. ways to support outcomes, action teams, taking the outcome to the larger community, re-assembling as needed, etc.

    Here are some considerations when planning the event:

    • Appropriate space (size, comfortable environment, windows, adequate wall space, good lighting, sound system as needed)
    • Food (especially for multi-day events) that supports the process (e.g. box lunches if working over lunch)
    • Accessible location (both transportation and for people with various access needs)
    • Time of event fits constituencies' availability
    • Material and registration needs well covered
    • Childcare or other special needs as appropriate

    I'm interested in other people's experience in the planning of participative public events. I think we need to have a strong component related to planning in anything we submit to Obama. I think it may be something in particular that could be useful to him. He has implemented some interesting participative strategies, but they seem to come from the stratosphere. More inclusive planning would very likely help him be more successful in his public inclusion efforts.

    • CommentAuthorRosaZ
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2009

    Kenoli, I have to say that what you are saying, reminds me of one of the basic principles of OD work...

    as stated so well in Peter Block's "Flawless Consulting", from the very beginning of a project, the initial "contracting" stage, we are ALREADY laying the groundwork for collaborative relationships (or not)... and EVERYTHING we do, from the very start, is ALREADY an "intervention"....

    One "wrinkle" to this: it seems to me that in public participation projects, it can often make sense on a practical level, to establish clarity among a smaller "microcosm" team first, and then create ever-expanding planning circles from there... however that "microcosm" needs to be diverse from the start...

    Also, people's main reason for not attending enough to the "planning" stages, is usually the "lack of time"... however my experience has been that the more time spent up front, the smoother and more effective things tend to be in the long run... so in sum I do think it is crucial to engage in a collaborative and inclusive planning effort... especially in one where there is a clear awareness that, in doing so, we are ALREADY engaging in the work.

    • CommentAuthorkenoli
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2009

    Yes. Even where a few additional voices are included in planning, it is amazing how much it adds to the experience. This is where we put the largest part of our effort. Even where the time is short for planning, or perhaps especially where it is short, careful attention at this stage pays of big.

    I am a bit perplexed that so few consultants and process innovators focus on planning. My suggestions regarding this didn't make it into the compendium on process going to Obama.


    • CommentAuthoracfonte
    • CommentTimeJun 12th 2009

    Very thoughtful discussion on this principle.  I try (usually fall short) to convince project planners that we need an equal amount of time for planning, implementation and evaluation stages, and that the three stages are not "linear" but spiral back and forth with each other throughout the entire project. 


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