A Minor Insight – a vicious circle that’s an obstacle to good community engagement
A – so, last time I was bemoaning the poor engagement done by some organisations, even though they were led by ‘intelligent and accomplished professionals’.
V – without us, we noticed.
M – breaking out into a solo career are we?
A – listen, guys, guys, I’m sorry. It’s just that sometimes you’ve got to go out and stand in the spotlight alone. But you’ll always be my backing band.
V – BACKING BAND?!! The cheek.*
A – Well, moving on, as I was saying, I had experienced several fairly poor examples of engagement and I was speculating as to the reasons. But after I wrote that, I was involved in a (mostly) good one; it was helping the organisation revise its PPI (patient and public involvement) strategy.
M – only ‘mostly’ good?
A – There were a few things. Like no agenda or indication how the morning was going to work. But I trusted the organisers to do it properly so I went along anyway.
V – so you had some poor experiences then a good one. What’s your point?
A – Well I had a bit of a revelation at this event.
M – you had an epiphany?
A – well, more a minor insight. We had an exercise on obstacles to public involvement. Most of the things people came out with were pretty standard, like, “ability to do it right; it’s hard. Reaching the right people. Getting information out of the public when they might not be coherent, cogent or concise. Doing it within available resources. Attitudes, biases; personal / institutional interests.”
V – as you say, pretty standard.
A – So anyway, at some point while I was listening to their ideas and jotting down my own, it occurred to me that actually there could be a dynamic process going on.
M – ‘dynamic’ as in ….?
A – looking at it over time, as a series of steps, rather than a snapshot view. Here’s how it might work:
- involvement isn’t done well
- therefore it doesn’t produce useful results
- which weakens decision makers’ commitment to it
- which weakens emotional and resource investment in public involvement
- which makes it less effective
And so on round the circle
V – Interesting, but have you got any evidence for it?
M – and what does it mean in practice?
A – no, I don’t have any evidence. What it means in practice is that to reduce the obstacles you need to run the dynamic in reverse. Do involvement that produces useful results, which starts to strengthen decision makers’ commitment.
M – but if you haven’t got any evidence for your theory, how do you know that will work.
A – that’s what I thought. But then the more I thought about it, actually it could work even if that wasn’t the cause of the problems in the first place. Good engagement, strengthening decision makers’ commitment could operate as a virtuous cycle.
V – but isn’t that essentially what you said in the blog last time? Something like, “One response to this is to work with the professionals to make sure all engagement is as effective as possible and leads to valued results.”
A – yes, that was one approach I identified. But the present insight goes further, and says that it’s not just a one-way, ‘dose-response’ – do better engagement and increase commitment’ – but that increasing commitment may also help engagement be done better. So the struggle should get easier over time.
M – well, I certainly see what you mean about this being a ‘minor’ insight.
A – like so many such ‘insights’, once you’ve accepted it, it seems so obvious and normal you wonder whether you didn’t actually know and understand it all along. And maybe I did but I’d just forgotten it.
V – but is it really that helpful? Hadn’t you already got to the conclusion that you needed to work with the professional bodies to increase their commitment?
A – yes, but if you were just taking that approach, you could focus on the personal relationships-
V – which are important aren’t they?
A – yes, but as well as improving personal relationships, you would make sure you were producing useful results. Otherwise your efforts to change attitudes might start to ebb away. And you wouldn’t be treating it as a one-off. You would appreciate that you might need to go round the circle a number of times before you begin to make a difference.
V – thanks very much for that, and we look forward to seeing you next time. We will be seeing you next time, won’t we? Just remember, dynamics that reduce commitment can happen in all sorts of circumstances.
A – Yes, of course. You’re so much more than just a backing band. You’re my best friends you know.
M – Only because we’re your only friends.
* If you’re not a regular reader of the blog, V (Val) and M (Mal) help me with my blogs, letting me bounce ideas around and get some reaction.