There is no simple solution or ‘one size fits all’ approach to identifying an effective engagement method. And, while public meetings provide an opportunity to consult large numbers of people, it’s often the same vocal minority who attend.
When planning an engagement process we need to recognise diversity, identify any potential barriers and design a process that minimises barriers of participation. Place-based community engagement is one method that provides a powerful way to creatively connect with the community.
Place-base engagement, by way of a street stall or stand (or caravan!), can be used to capture the views and comments of large numbers of people. Maps and plans for an area or project can be displayed and the community asked to comment on particular issues and themes, generate ideas or vote for particular activities or facilities.
Choosing a well frequented location can help to achieve high levels of participation and generate interest in the project from those who may not otherwise get involved. This approach is often organised to coincide with other events, such as a community festival or street party.
Recently we took the Conversation Caravan out to various locations within the City of Port Phillip, including the season opener for the Port Melbourne Football Club, to ask the community their thoughts on building a youth centre in the municipality. Council invited residents young and older to share their ideas for the centre, including activities for inclusion and ways to make the centre even more inviting. Well over 200 young people took part, wanting a centre to learn new life skills, get help with homework and bullying and connect with friends in a safe and comfortable environment.
Using this place-based approach enabled Council to gain valuable insights from community members who wouldn’t typically attend a formal workshop or focus group.