If you want to consult or engage more deeply with a local community, or range of interests, there's no shortage of methods recommended for use by facilitators and their clients. You may think about focus groups, workshops or roadshows backed up by newsletters and other documents. Fairs can offer fun, citizens' juries foster deliberation. Then there's all the more recent web-based processes.
Solution: carefully crafted presentation and hand-outs? Not my favourite approach. Game with lots of props? Tight on time, and difficult to get right without a lot of research.
I was a bit stumped ... but the location and time-slot gave me the clue: lunchtime and a flexible corner of the office.
Time was when people in offices had enough time at lunch or coffee break to catch up on the gossip and also share some insights and news of what's going on in different areas. These days it seems to be grab a sandwich, get back to the cubicle, and keep ticking off the 15-minute slots on the timesheet.
So - why not re-invent the learning lunchtime?
Fortunately my clients, PRP architects, in the form of Alexandra Rook and Lesley Gibbs, were happy to try something different. Alexandra, in her previous post with the Civic Trust, had been a strong champion for the salon we ran there successfully ... but you can't bring in the bottles at lunchtime.
Drew Mackie and I ran two sessions of the Engagement Game yesterday at the Together We Can conference organised by the Home Office - and generally felt that it went pretty well with about 15 people in one workshop and 20 in the other.
The format was similar to the first session we ran with Civil Servants back in February. We first invented a scenario - a goal for the engagement process. In one case it was illegal use of motorbikes on open space and in another "youth nuisance". The task was then to plan a process by which a whole range of different interests - from government departments through to local groups - might be involved in tackling the issue.
Last's night Salon about public participation at the Civic Trust went really well ... subject of course to any contrary opinions participants might wish to add below. Our engagement technique was simple and well-tested - ply people with lots of free wine* and encourage them to circulate. We added a few props ... over-sized badges, and flags.
The idea of the badges was that people added a few words about things they might wish to discuss with others. My designer friends at the Civic Trust took to the idea enthusiastically, and provided people with mini-placards which certainly did the job effectively.
The flags idea was something Drew Mackie and I have done before to help people cluster into groups ..... find a few other people with a shared interest and you get a paper flag to write your interest on and wave to attract more people.
In the event everyone was so gregarious that not much was needed to encourage circulation. We got into the appropriate frame of mind right from the start with some excellent jazz piano from Charles Condy, husband of the Trust's Heritage Days Manager Katya.