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Help me I don’t know what to think

With the average person exposed to 600* messages daily, we’re reaching overload. Desensitising and aware of fake news, what do we believe and where do we direct our attention or energy? Community engagement projects are not removed from this problem, we are competing for air time and brain space. How do we breakthrough the constant chatter? We get personal.

We look to what the fundraising industry has been doing for years to get people to listen and part with hard earned money. They get personal on on complex problems and find a way to connect it to their belief system. They ground it.

How is what I do going to make a difference?

When presenting complex projects to the community, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the size of the problem or the volume of strategies and structures put in place to deliver solutions. Engaging individuals  on a personal level means that we can present projects in a way that is meaningful and facilitate authentic engagement with the project.

Engaging with the public on a climate change mitigation project for the City of Melbourne it became clear that many individuals are greatly concerned about the consequences of climate change but feel disconnected when it comes to taking meaningful action to tackle the problem.

Sponsoring one problem at a time

Helping behaviour is often guided by whether or not people feel that they have the ability or the expertise to assist. It’s often avoided when people feel that someone else is more qualified or better suited to do it instead. Engaging individuals one on one, rather than presenting the project or strategy from a distance allows a natural exchange of ideas to occur, thus presenting the opportunity to establish a personal connection to the project. In the case of climate change, it also means that people become of aware of small, manageable actions that they can take in order to create change.

Use the Law of Consistency 

The fundraising industry uses this technique well, rather than communicating the end goal or the problem it grounds it into the everyday. They focus campaigns on what people have already told them they care about – raising healthy children, drinking water, bullying at school. These issues are well defined and most can relate this experience to a personal one. As compared to historically when these fundraising issues focused on the collective impact.

Often, we get lost in global themes or the bigger picture, getting personal provides the chance to create grounding and perspective on a larger issue at a micro level. Reflecting on personal experience and individual action allows tangible links to be formed between individuals and the project.

For example, to understand perceptions of climate change we started a conversation around  household strategies for reducing their carbon footprint. This provided the opportunity to gain valuable insight into what people in the community are already doing; what their sentiment towards the project was; and the identification of barriers to further reduce household emissions. All valuable data that can be linked back to project strategies and goals.

Why face-to-face is our preference 

Complex projects lack a single cohesive solution. Combine this with the motivations of a large number of stakeholders and the needs of individuals and families within the community and you have a vast spectrum of ideas, opinions and emotions. Engaging in direct, personal interactions with members of the community allows the development of an authentic account of how people really feel about projects. It’s human nature to want to be heard and there is so much value in a face to face interaction. Conversations at the caravan were often passionate, thoughtful interactions that provided valuable feedback on the strategies selected by the City of Melbourne.

The feedback is instantaneous, we can ask direct question we can delve deeper and we can build rapport. The crucial key to unlocking values and beliefs.

Co-Authored by Cindy Plowman, Founder and Jess Fischmann  Conversation Caravan’s expert in community engagement on topics of behaviour change and social responsibility. She is passionate about global citizenship and sustainability and encourages individuals to engage with a range of  issues in the world around them.

For more information Laws of Influence – check out our summer read recommendation.



Photo used in this Blog was taken by Leroy_Skalstad once homeless, he uses his photos to help the community – purchased through Pixabay

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