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  • jeffreystec

To learn how to engage the public, start a community of practice

To generate true learning, new information must be filtered through life experience; deeper insight comes when a curious listener helps us unpack our experience; but the best learning emerges when several people regularly discuss iterative experiments in a community of practice.

And starting a community of practice around community engagement can be very simple. For example, a city manager might ask her department heads to do the following at their next departmental staff meeting (yes, public engagement can be practiced with staff -- same strategies, different people):

  1. Start with a go-round question: "Why is this meeting important to you?"

  2. After everyone answers, ask "What strikes you about those answers? What does that mean for how we run our meetings?" Discuss for a few minutes.

At the next meeting of department heads, the city manager would ask, "Talk about what struck you about the staff engagement experiment you conducted?" Each department head then talks about what was most important in their experiment before the whole group reflects on their collective experience ("What can we learn together about engaging our teams?"). The city manager would close by asking department heads what they could try next to improve their team engagement, and then ask them to try it.

Each department head then conducts his next team engagement experiment, while the city manager repeats the same group reflection process at her meeting of department heads. If they rinse and repeat, over and over again, learning will grow, staff engagement will improve, and department heads will feel comfortable enough to start experimenting with engagement strategies at public meetings.

That's it: fifteen minutes at every department head meeting and 15 minutes at every departmental staff meeting. Over time the city manager would introduce new engagement strategies for department heads to try. At some point, a group might begin to meet outside of the city manager meetings to spend more time in the community of practice. In the end, these ever-deepening iterative experiments will allow your staff to teach itself how to engage their teams and the public.

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