How to Improve Community Engagement

I was at the People’s Forum on Carbon Tax in Perth last night.

Picture this. A room of 220 randomly chosen members of the public. The session was being televised live on Sky News. Each person wanted to ask a question of the Prime Minister, who was there for an hour.

She handled each question well, without making a speech in her responses.  As the session wore on I was growing increasingly anxious about being able to ask ‘my’ question. I realised that they wouldn’t choose me,  as my stunning youthful good looks would be too much of a distraction for the PM and she’d start to blush 🙂

However, I did notice that this annxiousness was increasing across the room. The organisers did say at the start that only 23 people out of the 220 would be able to ask their question. I began to wonder, “How could have this session been improved? How could we give more people the opportunity to ask their question?”

Firstly I’m interested in your ideas. Just leave a comment below (there’s a great prize for the best one – and I promise to share all the answers in my next post and newsletter.)

And I’d like to throw in one of my own. I used it in the Farm Business Resilience Program. This was run across WA and assisted farmers to develop a strategic plan for their business. The sesssions were run in groups of farmers – some travelling several hours just to be there.

Coincidentally, the session was about Climate Change. The first one we ran involved a presentation from an expert, followed by a few questions.  Result? Abject disaster!

So we reworked it this way. Everyone was seated at tables of 6-8 people. We asked each table to discuss and agree on their ‘Top Three’ questions about Climate Change. The responses were group into common themes and the expert presenter had to provide an answer on each (can’t be that hard!)

Result? Way more engaging, helped deal with the scepticism surrounding the topic and all questions answered.

You can see by the look on the Prime Minister’s face that she thought this would be a good way to run the next forum! What are your ideas? Let me know by leaving a comment below?

Andrew Huffer

Andrew Huffer has over 25 years experience in working with organisations, businesses, managers and communities and at a state, national and international level. He designs and delivers specialist engagement processes, with a focus on facilitating open decision making processes and skill development of clients. He has delivered presentations and workshops at a number of state, national and international conferences.

Reader Interactions


  1. Cathryn Lloyd says

    Hi Andrew
    My immediate response would have been to do something similar to what you did with the Farm Resilience program. You would need to think about logistics ie could this be done at the time the ‘expert’ in this case the Prime Minister is there or would it be a process that would occur before the event.
    If you ran a session that had small groups discussing and the expert could wander the room hearing the discussions that could be worthwhile.
    The other would be for all questions to be written up and recognising only a certain number could be addressed they are then put into themes and possibly a question created around that theme.
    Certainly I think there needed to be some other engagement than the one that was offered. Not overly satisfactory or engaging.
    A good one to contemplate.


  2. Dave says

    Hi Huff,
    The process you mentioned is the one I would have chosen, but given they were a picked audience it would have been possible for the process to be run with pre evening questions, that is, have people turn up say 45 minutes earlier than the session and do your process with them, with some pre warning people would have had their concerns well and truly ready to share on tables and a facilitator could have themed them etc into agreed questions for presentation by a table picked spokesperson. Then there would have been 23 agreed questions that would have covered the vast majority of issues.


    • Andrew Huffer says

      Thanks Dave! Great idea – and one that I think would’ve met the needs of the participants as well as meet the objectives of the event host. Simple and effective – something we need to remember as facilitators!

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