I’m sorry to be leaving Participation Cymru after 3.5 years as the Participation Cymru Officer.
I’ve probably met you while training or facilitating over the last few years (and if I forgot your name please forgive me; we have worked with hundreds of practitioners and members of the public all over Wales). During that time our tiny team of 4, plus our network of associate trainers, has worked hard to support public engagement in Wales. We’ve seen a few faces come and go and I left for 9 months to have my son (and came back again).
For me, time and time again similar issues came up regardless of who we’re working with that day:
- We have nothing to fear from engaging – neither personally nor as organisations. The night before certain pieces of public engagement work I really worried: Will people be angry? What if they ask me difficult questions? What if I don’t ask the right questions during the session? Practitioners often tell us they feel the same. The reality was (always) that people really wanted to talk about their experiences and were grateful for the chance to do that. Yes people were occasionally angry, and I couldn’t always answer their questions. But I could listen. And so can you. At the bottom of all of the jargon, policy and theory engagement is just speaking to people!
- We are all citizens. Although you are a practitioner working in public engagement you are also a citizen and have a role in driving the cultural change needed to get organisations engaging more. We can each in our own way give organisations feedback on their services and contribute to a shift towards public engagement being an integral part of what all organisations do. We all have a responsibility to tell organisations that we want to be engaged with and how they can do better by us. I now find I reply to all surveys and requests for feedback that land in my inbox, or on my doormat, including scribbling a quick note on that comment card that comes with my coffee.
- The National Principles for Public Engagement are an extremely useful document which I find I come back to all the time. They can be applied to many different areas of work in general, not just to engagement. They are principles for effective working. I’ve had a copy of them stuck on my wall next to my desk since we got them printed. If I had to pick which principle I think is my favourite I’d choose number 9: Feedback. We all suffer the effects of trying to engage when people have had a poor experience of previously not receiving feedback. Please tell people what’s happening – even (especially!) if it’s bad news or no news. We all know how frustrating/irritating it is to not hear anything at all. Doing this is so important as it closes the circle and paves the way for continuous engagement and conversations. And this is really what works – not dipping in and out in a piecemeal way.
My hope for public engagement in Wales (and I feel I can say this as I’m leaving) is that its given the resources and support at a national level to be done as effectively as we’re told it should be.
I’m leaving to find a role that is more compatible with my home life. I’m not sure where that journey will take me at the moment but I hope to keep working in related areas and will probably bump into all again at some point. Find me on LinkedIn.
See you soon, Sarah