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Achieving Internal Buy-In for Community Engagement: Getting the Yes

Obtaining internal buy-in can be key in helping to improve how we engage our communities on important projects. In a recent webinar, community engagement expert Max Hardy and Granicus engagement consultant Leanne Robb discussed how clear and consistent communication, along with providing ongoing support, is crucial for cultivating trust and connection in your community.

Defining internal buy-in in the context of community engagement

When considering what internal buy-in means for community engagement, it is important to remember that it involves more than just being committed to hearing from the community. Hardy says internal buy-in means thinking about how the organisation values what is learned through engagement and how it can be integrated and utilised.

Hardy states internal buy-in includes several components, such as:

  • Understanding what engagement is;
  • Determining what it can be used for; and
  • Supporting solid, principles-based processes that are likely to have enduring benefits for the organisation and community.

Benefits of securing internal buy-in for community engagement

Among the benefits of internal buy-in for engagement, Hardy notes, is the confidence felt by those engaging, and those being engaged. Working through speed bumps, rather than stopping the project, is easier to do when a strong organisational commitment to the process has been secured. Knowing that an organisation is serious about, and values, community engagement will provide the community with greater confidence that their efforts won’t be in vain.

“When an organisation is thinking of the long game and appreciates how valuable it is to build trust with community and stakeholders,” Hardy states, “it makes it easier to do business and tackle challenging issues.”

Also, internal buy-in and meaningful engagement with the community give an organisation a wealth of useful information that can be used to avoid a catastrophic decision or failed deliverable, as well as helping to simply plan more wisely.

Communicating the importance of community engagement

Successful engagement results from several repeated positive experiences and strong leadership.

“An organisation needs someone trusted by leadership as an internal champion for the process. Without that, it’s hard to shift the needle,” says Hardy. Sharing experiences and learning together are important to successful engagement. Identifying opportunities to discuss and share successful experiences—such as adding a permanent agenda item to team meetings—is critical to conveying the importance of community engagement.

Similarly, Robb notes, organisations should communicate a commitment to engagement during the new employee onboarding process to “drive home the importance of engagement from the get-go.”

Organisations should also make a consistent effort to regularly distribute their success stories.

The importance of evaluation and the role of training

Part of internal commitment is being more intentional about evaluating engagement processes. It is critically important and is often overlooked or done as an afterthought. Ongoing evaluation allows an organisation to share its learnings and define precisely what is being evaluated. Hardy defines four quadrants of evaluation:

  • Efficiency: Are we working on time and within budget?
  • Effectiveness: How well are we executing (or are we doing things well?)
  • Appropriateness: Are we doing the right things? Could we have done different things?
  • Impact: What happened because of this process? This includes the longer-term impact of the legacy it leaves on the community.

As organisations evaluate more consistently, devoting time to learning from experience and considering ways to strengthen performance becomes important. Training is also useful; Hardy emphasises that while training alone will not ensure an engagement culture, it will give people a common language around how the organisation defines and approaches engagement.

“If there is a shared understanding of why and how we engage with the community, it will reinforce the organisation’s values; and this can improve levels of trust with the community over time,” he says.

Internal buy-in helps unlock organisational impact on engagement

There’s no doubt that fostering internal buy-in for community engagement is a key to unlocking the true potential of your organisation’s impact in the engagement space. Remember that shortcuts can damage long-term trust with community members, so take care with the process.

By empowering and aligning teams and organisations, cultivating a shared understanding of the values and benefits of communication, and providing the necessary resources and support, you can create a culture of collaboration and meaningful connection with your community.

Click here to view the full webinar.