Vicki Spencer is Campaign and Communications Manager for The Valleys Heart and Soul Campaign
We hear the words "community engagement" more and more these days, and quite frankly, it’s starting to grate on my nerves. I understand this may be a rather uncomfortable conversation, but it is one which needs to be had.
The Valleys Heart and Soul campaign, a three year Welsh Government regeneration initiative to increase pride, aspiration and tourism in The Valleys has been my work for the last two years, and I love it. The main stay of this work has been community engagement and it is working. It brings people along with you; the campaign develops with ideas generated from the community rather than directly from the Government – which can go a long way to increased involvement. Research shows people in The Valleys understand a lot more about what is happening in The Valleys, are starting to feel better about the area they live in . In turn, tourists are beginning to warm to the destination too. But, the question I ask is this…when are “the community” going to get fed up of this approach and eventually ask us to get on with our jobs and stop bothering them?
We should stop thinking of “the community” as someone else and remember this is you, me, your mum, Gran, children and Aunty we are taking about. In Wales, with 24% of the workforce employed by the public sector, we may as well just ask the burning questions we want answered over the christening font or the Easter egg hunt and be done with it.
Yes, it is important to ask the general public and residents (community) what they would like to see change / improve / stop, but the more we do, the less interested they may become – especially if we do not follow through on our questioning to show we are really listening.
CommsCymru, a network of public service communicators in Wales is doing just this. Listening to each other and learning. Looking at how we can be more effective using each others tools and shared resources, across all communications teams from Police, Fire, Health, local Authority and Government. The community here are the communicators looking at how we can learn from our neighbours, improve our output, raise the bar for professionalism, work better with less and partner up on relevant projects.
We need to communicate with “The Community” and yes opinions are important, but perhaps the sustainability of engagement lies in targeting. Once we are working towards the same outcomes and are more collaborative in delivery, we can be more certain of what we are asking . We will not be vague, we will not end up asking the same people the same questions and will not grate on THEIR nerves..
*targeted colleague engagement was undertaken before publishing this blog. All views my own and not those of the Welsh Government.