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News, insights and perspectives

April 2020

It’s about people, not IT


Written by Aimee Brock

I listened to a webinar hosted by IAP2 Australasia last week called “Keep on Engaging: Tips for Adapting in the Days of Covid-19

It was really great to listen to some of Australia’s leading engagement specialists from Mosaic Lab, Bang The Table (Engagement HQ) and Harvest Digital Planning talk about how to re-imagine your engagement plans to digital approaches.

However, the key piece of information that resonated with me wasn’t really about online tools - it was from Nicole Hunter, co-founder and director of Mosaic Lab in Melbourne.

She pointed out that in a time like this, it’s ok to be honest and acknowledge that there is a high level of stress and self-doubt amongst engagement professionals who are faced with the task of re-thinking their engagements and moving the majority of it online and onto mass media channels – it’s new territory for many who so far only know the basics of online surveys or websites.

But Nicole urged everyone not to get freaked out, because it’s not about being an IT expert. We can ground ourselves and bring back our confidence by remembering why we are in engagement for the first place: we are here for people.

Tether yourself by returning to your principles, to the core reason we in engagement, and don’t go too far down a rabbit hole of trying to be too technical. Remember - why are we really here? Why do we do what we do? We are here because we are passionate about people having the opportunity to influence decisions that matter to them.

Go back to your basics: what decisions will your community or stakeholders want to be part of? What is it they need, in order to be part of it? And then think - if I can’t do my normal execution of an engagement exercise – how could I change it?

Critically: ask yourself does it even matter right now - is it the right time to ask them about it? Depending on what you want to do, it might be better to wait until we are in-between waves and people have more bandwidth and emotional ability to focus on things other than their financial stability and health status.

As a general rule, Nicole pointed out some examples of things that she feels should not go ahead - like pushing out many major mass “inform” campaigns that instead could possibly be held over until people can hear your messages amongst the overload of Covid-19 messages right now.

We’d add to that list with some things that can still go ahead, with some re-thinking. Your topic might actually be the perfect sort of one to distract or entertain people’s time during lock down – it might even be able to encourage social connectedness and help people’s wellbeing.

If you have a statutory deadline to meet for a “consult” campaign - think about what is the core thing really necessary in the content and then ask your wider team how can you make it easier or perhaps extend the consultation period to give people time to see it, and time to participate. If you do want to go ahead with a non-statutory “consult, involve” campaign, how can you make it something interesting to help people gather the energy and sustain their interest in order to want to sit down, pick up the phone, fill something out or log-on online? If you need to “collaborate” in your engagement, what tools can you use to allow people to communicate two way, in real life, not only with you, but with other participants?

Remember your engagement should be accessible both online and offline. Only a few weeks before our lockdown, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau of NZ released a timely report pointing out the risk of digital exclusion in New Zealand. The report reminds us of our obligations, particularly those working in the public service in New Zealand, to ensure people aren’t disadvantaged or left feeling frustrated, isolated and excluded from being able to fully participate in society. Digital exclusion is not just felt in one demographic – it’s felt right across our communities. All age groups experience digital exclusion, while Maori and Pacific peoples are disproportionately represented. The barriers are not only lack of access to a computer or the internet– but a lack of digital skills or confidence, or literacy, language, finances and disability. For others, there is a simple reason: a lack of desire or motivation to even be online. Engagement campaigns need to offer real choices for how people can interact, in order to hear all voices.

Over the next few days we’ll publish another article with some ideas for running different types of engagements in NZ on our blog, so come back to check.

In the meantime, I’ll finish with more key messages from Nicole: Be adaptable. Be flexible. Be ready to change the timing of your engagement to fit it into the right windows – whether in between waves, after lockdown, or now. Be ready to change or adjust your engagement part-way through, if the signs are there that the timing is wrong. Think about your language – be kind and caring and don’t flare up anxiety with your choice of wording. And always, always, acknowledge the situation we are all facing upfront before you try to get down to any business.

Remember – we are in engagement because we care about people.

*IAP2 are publishing many resources and webinars on their website to help their members engage safely and professionally throughout this Covid-19 crisis. Keep up to date at:

Look after yourself: If you’re reading this in New Zealand and you’re stressed or need to talk to someone about coping during lockdown, call or text 1737 – free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to talk with a trained counsellor.

For information on Covid-19 and New Zealand’s lockdown, visit the Covid 19 website

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