This week I attended a public meeting of Leith Neighbourhood Partnership which pondered a very important question.
A question that is actually really important and one which needs answered by our community here in Leith.
It was a fairly brief discussion, although a number of members of the partnership were present along with their support staff, there was only a handful of interested members of the public.
I was a bit concerned at this discussion in all honesty, some very basic (but useful) advice & suggestions were offered by those present including;
- Different engagement methods for different groups. This was a point made by me. Experience, shared learning & established practices are very clear on this one, there is no single engagement method that will successfully engage with all sections of a community. Therefore, different methods will need to be put into place. Particularly for those groups which are considered hard to reach.
- Utilise experience already developed: Again, this was a point I made. Many of those in the room including the Locality Manager from City of Edinburgh Council are very experienced in community engagement, make use of that knowledge, don’t start from scratch – there is no need.
- Be creative: Not all consultations need to be boring and nor do they need to be large surveys. They can be done in an informal & accessible format such as the methods deployed by Leith Creative when they were putting together their Leith Blueprint where they may excellent use of the ‘place standard wheel’.
- Relationships matter: Many local groups meet throughout Leith, these are groups where relationships have formed and trust has grown, these groups have become safe spaces where people feel they are comfortable. Work with the leaders of these groups & visit them to work on the consultation. Think about it, it makes sense.
The question and the discussion on the evening was a great starting point, it will be useful to revisit the subject in a few months when the work has been done.
Sadly, I did not get the opportunity to talk about the National Standards for Community Engagement, I’m a huge fan of the principles contained within the standards. They work and the tool works. The principles can be used to challenge & support your consultation. It isn’t a stick to beat you with you, its a tool that helps you to make sure you have covered all the basis, and works well when you bring in others to apply the standards to your consultation.
I try to advocate for ‘challenge & support panels’ to be established for each consultation, made up of representatives from community groups who often have an insight that many people just don’t know or understand.