Community engagement: method, technique or tool

Thinking about community engagement – what it means, how we do it and what we need to help us to do it (bearing in mind that definitions which are too specific can be ultimately unhelpful). We’ve been thinking about this and wondering if we get a bit confused – mixing up community engagement methods, with techniques and tools. Give this a go:

Specific engagement ‘methods’ are the things we invite people to, or set up in order to encourage dialogue, for example:

  • structured and semi-structured interviews
  • focus groups
  • a fun day 

Specific engagement ‘techniques’ are the things we use to ‘shape’ the group once we have got them there – the way in which we collect the information, for example:

  • brainstorm / thought shower
  • carousel
  • rounds 

Specific engagement ‘tools’ are the ‘gadgets’ that we can use to help us make sense of information:

  • pinpoint
  • Edward de Bono’s 6 thinking hats
  • weather symbols

When I posed this on our networking site,  Lorna Prescott observed that

the tools and techniques are the sorts of things which are picked up in generic facilitation skills training and would be found in publications/websites about participatory working, facilitation and so on. So if people are after that sort of thing they should be looking for facilitation skills training, as it’s not just about the tools or techniques, it’s understanding how a facilitator uses them – their relationship with the group etc.

Some of the ‘methods’ category are approaches which I think often require specific training and support to use, such as interviewing and focus group skills. And for which some basic facilitation skills and experience are usually helpful as a building block. ….. It would be interesting to know if people who want ‘engagement methods training’ are trained facilitators or not. And if not, what sort of access people have to facilitation skills training and whether it would be seen by their managers as relevant training

A colleague suggests to us that requests for facilitation skills training are relatively infrequent and yet they have been asked several times to train people in planning and running focus groups when these people, though not fault of their own, lack the basic understanding of and experience in using facilitation skills to be able to confidently run such a group.

Hmmmm ….

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Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 Community engagement

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