You’ve reached out to people to get them involved in what you’re doing and have a say. But what if you ask the question and all you hear is an echo?
If you’re doing co-production, co-design, engagement, involvement or even consultation, this short article is about shifting your mindset from “no one bothered to speak to me so they obviously don’t want to have a say in things”, to “what can I do differently to really hear from the people who this will affect?”.
Shifting your mindset
We’ve all experienced low response rates. Sessions planned that no one shows up for. Making do with survey responses in single figures. Feeling like we’ve put the effort in to actually involve people in what we’re doing, but getting nothing back. It’s easy to feel disheartened and discouraged. But what if we look a bit deeper at what it feels like to be one of the people that we’ve invited in? Did they even know they were invited? And why should they care?
The weight of history
Quite often, an organisation has spent so long working in isolation from the people they serve, and so much time and effort reaching a point of agreement that they should be inviting more people to get involved, they forget that those people aren’t simply clamouring at the door, waiting to get in and have their say.
And if people are ready and waiting to get involved, they most likely represent a portion of the population who can spare the time, energy and resources to show up; have reason to believe that they are entitled to have their say; or have had a bad enough experience of your organisation to motivate them to overcome the first two.
If we start by assuming that anyone will care what we’re up to as an organisation, chances are that no-one will. And if they do, they’re very likely a tiny subset of all the people we’d like to hear from. So what can we do? The simple answer is — stop making assumptions, and start getting curious.
Our tips for including more people
Here are some tips that we find super helpful in encouraging more people to get involved in what you’re doing
1 Meet people where they are (metaphorically).
Think about what a jumble of priorities your day-to-day life is, then assume that other people’s are probably the same or more challenging.
If you’re writing an invitation for people to participate, do it with the assumption that 1) most people will skim read at best (see here for the very useful inverted pyramid approach for grabbing attention) and 2) they are starting from a place of knowing and caring absolutely zero about what you’re up to. It’s your job to make this appealing for the people you want involved.
2 Meet people where they are (literally).
Before you start arranging your own project-focused sessions and sending invites, find out if there are existing groups meeting up that you can jump in on.
They’ll already have worked around peoples’ busy lives and found a time that people can make. If you’re giving back somehow to the group or people then even better.
3 Make it as easy as possible to get involved.
Think carefully about what might stop people from participating. Money? Offer expenses and a financial incentive (there’s a commonly held myth that paying people to take part skews representation — how about assuming that a cross section of the population can afford to come and talk to you for two hours during the working day!? Rant over :)) Transport? Go to where they are. Time? Offer different ways to contribute — phone call, SMS, video message, voice message, Google Form.
4 Think critically.
If you’re not actively going out of your way to show people that they belong with your organisation, then chances are you’re passively communicating that they don’t. When someone looks into your organisation, what do they see? Anyone who looks like them? Or shares their perspective? So why should they be the first?
5 Ask people what makes them feel included.
This is really the gold standard. Start having meaningful, open conversations with people and communities about what makes them feel connected, heard, included and involved. And act on what you hear.
Co:Create is here because we believe deeply in a future where everyone can co-produce the things that matter to them. We think that in order to get there, we need to support all the people who might one day design, lead or initiate co-production, to start getting more people involved in their work in different, more meaningful ways.
Find out more about how we work here.