Consult Australia is an Australian industry association. From their about page (emphasis mine):
Consult Australia is the leading not-for-profit association that represents the business interests of consulting firms operating in the built and natural environment. We do this at a commercial, community, industry, and government level through collaboration, education, support and advocacy.
Consult Australia member firms’ services include, but are not limited to:
- Cost consulting (quantity surveyors)
- Environmental science
- Landscape architecture
- Project management
We represent an industry comprising roughly 48,000 firms across Australia, ranging from sole practitioners through to some of Australia’s top 500 firms. Collectively, our industry is estimated to employ over 240,000 people, and generate combined revenue exceeding $40 billion a year.
Last year, Consult Australia, in collaboration with IAP2 Australasia, published a Guide to Procuring Engagement Services (PDF) .
The document uses the term engagement broadly (page 12):
What is engagement?
Engagement is the process by which government, organisations, communities and individuals connect in the development and implementation of decisions that affect them. Engagement is used as a tool to achieve outcomes, develop understanding, educate and/ or agree to solutions on issues of concern.
The level of engagement appropriate for each situation can range from a one-way transfer of information (providing and/or receiving information) through to consultation (seeking and receiving stakeholder views) and even actively involving or empowering stakeholders in the decision making process.
Engagement is a broad term that includes the concept of public participation and can also incorporate aspects of community, stakeholder or public relations, consultation, and government and media relations. Throughout this document, references to ‘engagement’ include all of the above with a focus on external, rather than internal engagement.
Seven additional definitions of the term from various government agencies across Australia are listed for comparison (page 13).
The document goes on to list a number of key benefits of engagement (here referring to public participation in particular, presumably):
What are the benefits of engagement?
Effective engagement can deliver a range of benefits for projects, government, organisations, communities and individuals:
Benefits for projects may include:
- mitigating risk
- increasing efficiencies through reduced costs and time (e.g. reduced risk of social conflict with associated delays and costs; or quicker and smoother permitting and approvals processes)
- generating more innovative project outcomes (e.g. increased local knowledge leading to improved designs or construction methodologies)
- managing reputations
- developing and maintaining a social license to operate
- helping to ensure compliance with relevant legislation.
Benefits for government and other procuring organisations may include:
- improving relationships between government, organisations, community and stakeholders
- creating opportunities to ‘health-check’ the above relationships in relation to specific issues, and work more closely on issues of concern
- enhancing credibility and public accountability
- informing and creating better policies, programs, services and projects by improving the timeliness, relevance, value and acceptability of decisions
- providing more democratic outcomes through decision making that reflects a diversity of stakeholder ideas and perspectives and meets the ‘the greater balance’ of stakeholder needs and expectations
- providing early notice of emerging issues so that all stakeholders are better placed to deal with those issues in a proactive way.
Benefits for communities and individuals may include:
- establishing a shared vision or buy-in to decisions that foster accountability amongst all stakeholders, ownership of solutions and cohesion
- increasing community capacity and stakeholder awareness about issues enabling community cohesion, consensus and compromise
- enhancing opportunities for a diversity of voices to be heard by increasingly accountable government/s
- sharing knowledge that contributes to better decisions and solutions that reflect stakeholder priorities and needs.
Experience shows that when the community understands the problem, and can be involved in being part of the solution, better project outcomes can be achieved.
Right below, the guide lists some of the risks associated with not involving the public (page 16):
What are the risks of ineffective engagement?
Engagement can also inevitably involve risks. For example, conflict and tension between stakeholders can be heightened as awareness and understanding of issues is increased and differences of opinion are discussed. In some cases where conflict and tension already exists between stakeholders, its resolution can be an objective of the engagement.
Other risks are related to ineffective engagement, for example:
- not identifying and reaching intended stakeholders (this may include failing to engage a representative sample of individuals from large interest groups)
- not engaging early enough for outcomes to be influenced (for example engaging after decisions have been made)
- not fostering realistic stakeholder expectations and being clear from the outset about what can be negotiated and what cannot (for example spending large quantities of time discussing issues that are outside of scope of a particular project)
- not ensuring adequate resources and time are available to undertake the required engagement
- not providing clear and concise information
- not recognising and designing the engagement to account for issues beyond the project that may influence the opinions of stakeholders or their willingness to participate in the process (such as poor past experiences with engagement leading to a lack of trust and cynicism with the process, consultation fatigue, or pre-existing relationships between stakeholders)
- not providing closure for your process by giving adequate feedback to participants.
Finally, under “Step 4: Developing the Brief”, the procurement guide goes over a dozen or so key areas that need to be carefully considered when planning for public participation. Anyone who has completed the IAP2 Certificate Training will surely recognize these elements, but it’s always nice to come across such a succinct list. Good stuff!
As a special bonus, an “Engagement Professional Pre-Qualification Assessment” matrix is included in table 4 (page 32).
Thanks to Timothy Horton for pointing out this resource on Twitter.