Authored by Steve Kux, Professional Services Manager at Thoughtexchange
Steve has worked on major research and community engagement projects with stakeholders in the public, private and non-profit sectors and has worked with both community members and decision-makers to turn passionate participation into meaningful outcomes. When he’s not promoting community engagement, Steve can usually be found running through the woods with his wife and dog or attached to a rope and half-frozen on the side of a mountain somewhere.
Any engagement is good engagement. The simple act of letting stakeholders participate in your decision-making process inspires buy-in, creates transparency, and promotes trust. Using Thoughtexchange to engage ensures even people too shy to stand up at a town hall can also have their voice heard.
Running an exchange of your own can be quick and easy. And, like anything, practice also makes perfect. The more you reach out, the more you learn the little things that can take a Thoughtexchange from good to great.
With that in mind, we decided to ask our team for their best tips to help you plan and run great exchanges every day. In true Thoughtexchange fashion, we decided to pose that question using our software.
Here’s what they collectively agreed are the top five tips for getting the most bang for your engagement buck.
#5 – Empower your stakeholders to plan and run exchanges.
At Thoughtexchange, we work with many school districts. One of the most powerful things we’ve seen them do is include their students in planning and launching exchanges. The beauty of involving stakeholders in this way lies in the fact that they then become the best ambassadors for your exchanges. Through the process, they may even discover ways to use Thoughtexchange to reach out to their teams or peers.
#4 – Don’t forget hard-to-reach communities.
When planning your next exchange, take a moment to think about people who haven’t traditionally been a part of the conversation. What can you do to reach them? What communications channels are they most likely to see? How are they most likely to engage (using their phone versus a computer or tablet)? A little consideration can go a long way to boosting participation.
#3 – What’s in it for your participants?
Next time you sit down to write an introduction or invitation email for an exchange, think about why your stakeholders should want to participate. What will they get if they take the time to share and rate ideas? Being explicit about why their feedback is essential, and what you plan to do with it is a great way to generate enthusiasm for the topic.
#2 – Consider your key demographics
Demographics are a great way to gain deeper insight into your results. However, like any powerful tool, you should use them in moderation. Only ask a demographic question when it will be truly helpful for acting on your results. If a group is too small for a demographic question, sorting participants into groups sacrifices some of their anonymity. Balance the participants’ experience with your needs as the exchange leader.
#1 – Engage early and often
No matter what topic you’re engaging on, the key to accessing stakeholder support is getting feedback early in the process. That’s when it can have the most impact. Reach out with a broad-based question to help guide the direction you take. Then follow up with more exchanges to get feedback on draft plans and final considerations. Hearing from your stakeholders throughout the decision-making process is the best way to show their ideas are being considered and acted upon.
Want to learn more about any of these tips or share some of your own? Drop us a line, we’d love to hear from you! 💜