What engagement may really mean

Jonny Zander is an engagement specialist and one of the founding director of Kaizen Partnership, a training and consultancy company that specialises in the community sector. Here Jonny expands on his contribution to our ideas and messages document, which will frame our meeting next Thursday. Overall process here, exploring how digital technologies can support young people to engage socially and economically with their communities.

I think this enquiry, commissioned by the Nominet Trust is both timely and important, and I very much like the inclusive approach being used by David and Tim to crowdsource thoughts and ideas ahead of the event this week.

Here are a 3 background areas that I think worth considering in the framing of this discussion about engagement. I am really looking forward to the discussion on Thursday and hope that this contribution adds to the thinking and planning process.

What is meant by “engage”?
I think it will be important to define what is meant by “engage” as this will radically determine what support is needed and how digital technologies can facilitate this. To some people, engagement is about sharing info and sourcing views, to others it is about action. The working definition we use in Kaizen is:

“Engagement is the process by which an opportunity is presented so that it reaches and appeals to the targeted people, who make a choice whether to take advantage of it. Needs and barriers are identified and addressed so that they can participate effectively.

I realise this is a bit long, but then again I do think engagement is a complex concept and each element in bold plays an important role. While on the subject of definitions, it would also be helpful to clarify what age bracket is being included in the term young people, and what is meant by community.

What will young people do when they are engaged?
If engagement is a process leading to some kind of action or participation, then I would suggest it could be helpful, for thinking and design, to cluster the different types of action, as different technologies can support different types of activities. In our work on engagement within Kaizen, we cluster into archetypes of participation, and these could be a useful place to look from in this discussion (or not!). We have identified 5 core archetypes as summarised in the table below:

Here are some examples of websites that link to different archetypes:

Recognising diversity and complexity
Young people are not a cohesive group, any more than old people, British people, men/women or any other demographic. There is incredible diversity within the youth population and it would be a mistake to assume that all young people think alike, or can be engaged in similar ways, with similar motivators. Building in processes and platforms that favour and support complexity will help to reach a more diverse range within the community, and I think digital technology has incredible potential to do this.

An example of this is an idea that has interested me for a while which involves the engagement potential for using multiple skins of websites. This would allow for information and opportunities to be presented in ways that appeal and work for different types of people (young and not so young).

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