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ACD Conversation Lab 18: How can you ensure authentic engagement?

The inaugural in-person ACD Conversation Lab in Bristol at Design West, generously sponsored by Vestre, centred on the theme of authentic engagement. The session featured two distinguished experts: Katherine Broomfield, a clinical academic researcher specialising in speech and language, currently employed by the NHS, and Kate Watson, a retrofit sustainability consultant at Turner and Townsend. Despite their diverse backgrounds, common challenges and solutions emerged as the evening unfolded.

Katherine emphasised the importance of creative and alternative co-design methods, particularly in her work with primarily non-verbal individuals. She highlighted the use of objects to convey emotions and ideas, and stressed the facilitator's role in empowering participants to take charge of discussions. It was also crucial to ascertain each person's perceived role in the engagement process, such as being a 'navigator,' 'supporter,' 'leader,' or 'listener' in the room.

In contrast, Kate drew from her experience as a retrofit coordinator in the public sector, working on projects for private domestic and social housing. She discussed how positions of authority can sometimes diminish residents' sense of responsibility and ownership. The focus may shift towards the physical structures, neglecting the people who reside in them. Building trust and offering clear communication, tailored to residents' comprehension, were identified as key factors in fostering engagement.

The session opened up to a collective brainstorming on two pivotal questions: What constitutes authentic engagement, and how can we ensure it? Additionally, the integration of nature into our processes and thinking was explored.

Key Insights:

  • Meaningful Engagement: Going beyond surface-level interactions to create significance for all parties involved.

  • Transparency and Honesty: Authentic engagement thrives on open communication, sincerity, and genuine intentions.

  • Inclusivity and Representation: Emphasis on diverse perspectives, including Nature's voice, and employing varied engagement methods.

  • Trust: Recognised as the bedrock, establishing trust demands time and consistent dedication.

  • Due Diligence: Engagements should be rooted in evidence-based practices supported by thorough research and data.

  • Clarity of Language: Clear, accessible communication is indispensable, especially for complex subjects.

  • Effective Engagement: Asking pertinent questions, utilising diverse mediums, and having a defined purpose are critical.

Additional Insights:

  • Openness, Care, and Curiosity: Fostering an open environment encourages better engagement.

  • Sense of Ownership: Clearly defining outcomes and ownership in engagement is imperative.

  • Authenticity Assessment: Prioritising quality over quantity in engagements should be the focus.

  • Third-Party Review: An unbiased review can serve as a gauge for authenticity.

  • Two-Way Dialogue: Active conversations and ongoing feedback loops enhance authenticity.

  • Bias and Agenda Awareness: Recognising and addressing biases and agendas is crucial.

  • Physical Visibility: Engaging the community through physical presence, for example, through a shop front.

  • Balancing Human and Nature Engagement: Treating nature as a participant, ensuring its voice is heard and represented.

In conclusion, authentic engagement hinges on meaningful, transparent, and inclusive dialogues grounded in trust and clarity. It also recognises the significance of nature, employs diverse engagement methods, and champions continuous feedback, community expertise, and unbiased narratives.


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