1. Tailor your engagement and communication approaches to the needs and preferences of those you most need to reach. Concentrate on accessibility and attractiveness. Would informal get-togethers arranged near where 'Hard-to-Reach' (HtR) people live be more effective and accessible than more formal meetings held in very official, perhaps more distant and off-putting surroundings? Would an attractive hard copy newsletter or partnership update, written and presented in a style suited to the target audience, raise interest in the work of the partnership more effectively than a jargon laden missive posted on an official website? Would some kind of stimulating, enjoyable activity focused upon the interests and/or needs of local communities generate greater enthusiasm for the goals and activities of the partnership than a more traditional public meeting?
2. Create and offer transparency of process and decision making. Show all those affected by the partnership’s work how the information and insights they provide are used to inform its actions and priorities. Weave the opinions and local knowledge of HtR stakeholders into the day-to-day conduct and work of the partnership. Do everything you can to put the decision-making of the partnership within sight of those that are most hard-to-reach.
Here are some things you can try:
· Set up official ‘Stakeholder Forums’ and give them oversight of the partnership’s work, plus the ability to criticise and offer suggestions for improvement.
· Create informal ‘Stakeholder Clubs’ where all stakeholders, including HtR groupings, are encouraged to attend, hear updates about the partnership’s work, give their comments and reactions, and offer local knowledge that could be helpful to the partnership’s work.
· Hold ‘Open Strategy’ meetings where key stakeholders are encouraged to not only comment on proposed partnership goals and actions, but also contribute to their creation and agreement.
· Hold ‘Honesty in Action’ meetings where partners and stakeholders discuss on-going issues and problems openly, without any sense of blame.
· Embed the partnership’s key functions and personnel within the communities it is seeking to help and support.
3. Embrace conflict and difference. Perceive conflict, difference and perhaps even anger as a positive sign that the partnership could be starting to engage with its stakeholders in a meaningful, productive way. Assume that a non-judgemental exploration of the issues surrounding conflicts and differences will help discover new insights and synergies of benefit to the partnership and its work. Make sure your own day-to-day behaviour, and also that of the partnership overall, models an enthusiasm for new and challenging opinions and ideas.
4. Seek out new paths towards engagement. Boldly go where no-one involved with the partnership has gone before. Seek out wider and more diverse paths towards those that are most difficult to reach. Discover how HtR stakeholders and communities communicate with each other and seek to become part of these networks. Find out how other agencies, charities and partnerships connect effectively with their HtR stakeholders. Seek to copy them or ‘piggyback’ on their success.
5. Co-ordinate your consultation efforts. Make every effort to link up the consultation activities of individual partners. Make a point of identifying blind spots in the partnership’s areas of focus, especially where these could relate to HtR groups. Also, look out for any duplication of effort between partners, as too much consultation can cause confusion and lead to some groups disappearing almost entirely from view, because they feel overly targeted or even picked upon.
6. Build the capability of those you most need to engage with and identify volunteers. Encourage HtR communities to develop skills important to the partnership’s work. Identify, develop and support volunteers from HtR areas. Provide these volunteers with opportunities to visit other partnerships and communities with similar problems. Encourage them, upon their return, to share their learning and insights. Focus on transferring the key learning to those in need of it the most.
7. Win over hearts and minds with high profile actions that provide quick, positive results for HtR communities. Make sure these actions gain maximum visibility within the stakeholder communities of most importance to the partnership. Clearly relate these quick wins to the partnership’s key strategic goals, aspirations and overall vision.