As one of CitizenLab’s co-founders, current Commercial Director, and previous Head of Government Success, Aline Muylaert has extensive experience working with local governments to develop and implement successful community engagement initiatives. We sat down for an interview with Aline to discuss the importance of leadership buy-in and ambition in building a culture of engagement.
The importance of leadership in driving successful engagement efforts and adopting a culture of engagement is huge. When elected officials prioritize engagement with their communities, they can inspire the administration and set the scene – such as allocating enough resources – that supports ongoing and meaningful dialogue with the community.
Drawing on her years of experience working with government officials, Aline provides insights and advice to effectively build support for engagement efforts at the leadership level, no matter where you are in your community engagement journey.
Why is it that some politicians are still hesitant when it comes to community engagement?
Aline Muylaert: “The two main objections we often encounter from politicians revolve around resources and the pressure to implement ideas.
In terms of resources, they are concerned about the workload and how everything should be organized. This is also one of the biggest concerns for the administration’s management level. They ask questions like: won’t this cause a lot of extra work? Who is going to take it up? How will we get everyone on board for yet another change?
As for the pressure, politicians fear losing control of what will be implemented if they give residents a voice in the decision-making process.
Many of the myths about community engagement stem from the days when engaging with residents was limited to in-person participation. However, community engagement has become more accessible, efficient, and valuable than ever, thanks to the rise of digital participation platforms and more experience with offline and online methods.”
How can public servants who want to take community engagement to the next level address these concerns and build support for community engagement initiatives?
Aline Muylaert: “To tackle these objections there are a couple of arguments.
The first is ensuring you will start small, improve, and grow. Your first project, perhaps even the first few, will not be perfect, so it is best to begin with a modest project and learn from it. As your community engagement initiatives gain traction and internally, get used to the new ways of working, you can refine and scale up.
Sharing examples of cities or towns similar to your community that have reached good results is also a good idea. With real-world examples, you bring participation to life in an understandable way, from the potential number of residents you could reach to the direct impact that participation can have on the community.
Regarding the change process, it is key to communicate well internally. Sit down with all stakeholders, understand their concerns, and work together to find solutions. It will also help if you develop a proposal for the workflows and collaboration – the better colleagues can visualize the new situation, the better they will understand it, and the more open they will be.
Lastly, managing expectations is crucial if you want to eliminate the fear of losing control over the priorities that will be tackled. By communicating clearly to residents about their influence on the decision-making process, and for instance, which ideas you may implement, when inviting them to share their input, they are more likely to support the decisions made. Even when their idea didn’t make the cut.”
How can public servants leverage a digital engagement platform like CitizenLab to secure buy-in from politicians and the management level?
Aline Muylaert: “A digital community engagement platform like CitizenLab offers numerous benefits that can help convince elected officials and the management level.
Digital platforms streamline the community engagement process, reducing the time and resources required to gather community input and manage projects. This can appeal to politicians who are concerned about the cost and workload associated with traditional engagement methods.
Moreover, a platform like CitizenLab provides valuable data and insights from more people in the community, enabling elected officials to make better-informed, more inclusive, and equitable decisions. It is clear that this will help them gain more support from residents.”
Start working on your culture of engagement today
To unlock the full potential of community engagement, it’s important to secure leadership support and have clarity on your engagement goals. In Part 1 of our resource, “Building a Culture of Engagement: A Practical Handbook”, we focus on how you can secure internal buy-in and define a clear strategy. Download it now!