Developing your engagement strategy

Demonstrating the principles of engagement:

You can use the strategy template to develop your engagement strategy.

To start developing your strategy you will need to:

Confirm your mandate

Your mandate is an official authority, or commission, to carry out your engagement in line with your policy and the approach outlined in your strategy. Your executive needs to give this authority.

Respectful engagement has purpose. When we invite someone to engage with us, we are asking them to invest their time to participate in our process and give their attention to the information we share. We are also investing our time and resources so we can give them our attention. It is reasonable for our stakeholders to expect a clear explanation of why we are engaging, what kind of participation we expect and what they can expect from us.

Confirming your mandate for online engagement is critical for respectful engagement.

A clear mandate should convey your engagement’s:

  • purpose and approach
  • policies and procedures that you will apply when engaging
  • intent on how you will use your stakeholder’s input.

Articulating a clear mandate will help:

  • manage reputational risks, participant expectations and stakeholder relations
  • improve your user experience
  • in the delivery of your objectives.

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) refers to the mandate as a 'promise to the public'. The promise to the public tells how government will use the public's input in the decision making process. IAP2 developed the Public Participation Spectrum to show how the purpose of engagement and the level of public participation relate to a promise to the public.

We recommend using the spectrum to confirm your mandate for engagement with others in your organisation.

Public Participation Spectrum from the International Association for Public Participation

Full sized version of the International Association of Public Participation (PNG, 261KB)

IPA2 Spectrum

This is the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) Spectrum. It shows 5 levels of participation: Inform; Consult; Involve; Collaborate; and Empower. Underneath each level is a description of the public role and the promise being made about how their input will be used and considered when engaging at that level.

For Inform, the public participation goal is to provide the public with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the problem, alternatives, opportunities and/or solutions. The promise to the public is ‘we will keep you informed’.

For Consult, the public participation goal is to obtain public feedback on analysis, alternatives and/or decisions. The promise to the public is to keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge concerns and aspirations, and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision. We will seek your feedback on drafts and proposals.

For Involve, the public participation goal is to work directly with the public throughout the process to ensure that public concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered. The promise to the public is ‘we will implement what you decide’.

For Collaborate, the public participation goal is to partner with the public in each aspect of the decision including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution. The promise to the public is to work with you to ensure that your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the alternatives developed and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision.

For Empower, the public participation goal is to place final decision making in the hands of the public. The promise to the public is to work together with you to formulate solutions and incorporate your advice and recommendations into the decisions to the maximum extent possible.

Define your purpose for engaging

The IAP2 Spectrum defines five reasons why you may want to engage, to either:

  • inform
  • consult
  • involve
  • collaborate
  • empower.

Each reason invites varying degrees of participation, input and level of engagement. Where you are in the process and who you are engaging with, will influence your reason to engage. For example, you may:

  • engage to inform or involve certain stakeholders in your process before consulting
  • collaborate with stakeholders to deliver outcomes after a consultation has closed.

Openly engaging early and continuously,and being transparent about the process can:

  • inform policy development and planning
  • help you tailor policy, programmes and services to meet user needs
  • improve the effectiveness of consultation and service delivery
  • enhance communications
  • identify stakeholders and scope potential social, environmental and economic issues
  • build trust in Government
  • raise awareness about challenges
  • provide useful inputs into options
  • gain insights into community values and priorities
  • enable agencies to track and manage issues
  • build relationships and deliver better public services
  • increase the effectiveness and acceptance of proposed changes.

Develop your engagement policy

An ‘engagement policy’ is the standard you apply when engaging. It defines the principles and rules of engagement for you and your stakeholders. It also provides a basis for your engagement strategy and ensures your project mandate and engagement principles are endorsed and implemented.

While developing this guide, we engaged our community of practice to help define a set of principles for online engagement. These principles align with the Kia Tūtahi standing together agreement. Together they are a great place to start when defining your mandate and subsequent policies and procedures for engagement.

Your engagement policy should cover:

  • accordance with the online engagement principles and the Open Government Partnership Declaration, e.g. inclusion, transparency and accountability
  • stakeholder definition, approach to include them and why
  • types of engagement techniques you will use including how you will gather input
  • how you will use tools like social media and discussion forums to engage
  • your moderation approach
  • how privacy requirements will be applied to information collected
  • how information will be collected, collated, managed, analysed and published including assessing if can be released as anonymised, aggregated ‘high value public data’ under the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government
  • a response policy including:
    • how and when you will respond to enquiries, questions and issues
    • what reporting internally and publicly will be provided.

We recommend each agency develop its own overall policy for engagement which can be tailored to fit with the mandate of specific engagement projects.

Agency engagement policies can be published to:

  • show a commitment to transparency, increase trust and encourage constructive participation
  • help stakeholders understand the terms of their engagement
  • manage stakeholder expectations.

Example of a transparent engagement policy: NZ Transport Agency stakeholder and community engagement policy.

Define your engagement objectives

Engagement objectives are statements that define why you are engaging and what you hope to get out of the process. They will also help you decide who to engage and the best way to engage with them.

Try and make your objectives SMART:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement, explain why you are engaging
  • Measurable – quantify what you hope to get out of the process
  • Assignable – specify who will do it
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved within given constraints (available resources, expertise, time, budget, etc)
  • Time-related –specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Your objectives should reflect:

  • your engagement purpose and policy
  • the type and degree of engagement you’re hoping to achieve at each phase.

Define your engagement objectives, outputs and deliverables early so that people will understand:

  • what is expected of them
  • how engagement will contribute to the successful delivery of the project.

Then you will know:

  • what is practical and achievable within the budget and resources you have
  • the skills and methods needed.

To define your objectives, it may help to answer the following questions:


  • How does this engagement fit with your legislative context?
  • How does this engagement fit into your organisation's objectives and its relationships with these stakeholders?
  • How does engagement support or fit with Government objectives more generally for example:
  • Does it align with the Better Public Services objectives?
  • Is it customer- or citizen-centric enough?
  • Does it help meet the Open Government Partnership principles, of transparency, accountability and civic participation?
  • Are you using or reusing Open Data (under the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government)? Should you?

Decision points

  • At what stage of your process will a decision be made?
  • Who is making it – and how will they consider information gathered through engagement?
  • What is on the table for discussion? What is open for negotiation? What is non-negotiable?
  • At what point in the process will you let stakeholders know a decision has been made, and report back to them how their input has been used?
  • Do your stakeholders have to make decisions too?

Project stages – phases of engagement

  • How will engagement support the delivery of project milestones?
  • Will all stakeholders be engaged at all stages of the project?

See the section on engagement project phases.

Degrees of engagement

  • How will different levels and engagement methods support the delivery of project milestones?
  • Will all stakeholders be engaged at all stages of the project?

See the section on the levels and methods of participation.

Consultation or engagement - building relations and communities

  • Are you gathering feedback on a proposal or input into a draft?
  • Will you continue engaging with stakeholders after the consultation? Why? How?
  • What kind of relationship do you want to have with the stakeholders you are engaging long term?
  • Will you continue to manage the page, group, website and the relationships or community created? How?

Type of engagement – participation, representation, deliberation

  • Will your engagement be open (public) or closed (by invitation only)?
  • Do you want a large number of citizens to participate or are you hoping to engage a representative sample of the population? Are you sure you don’t need both?
  • How will you reach the stakeholders who are most affected?
  • Do you want to encourage participants to read content or others' comments before sharing their thoughts? How will you encourage informed feedback?
  • Will you value input from different stakeholders differently?

See the sections on the types of engagement.

Information required

  • What are your questions for engagement?
  • What do you need your stakeholders to understand before they respond to these questions? How will you tell this story?
  • Are you engaging to understand and measure potential impacts?

See the section on communicating for online engagement.

Define your metrics of success

It can be helpful when developing objectives to define success and work backwards. What would success look like? For example, are you hoping to achieve a high degree of participation or reach a representative sample of the population? Is the quality of inputs more important than quantity?

Developing clear metrics for success at the start of a project:

  • ensures focus for your engagement approach
  • helps with managing expectations
  • enables measurement so resources can be redistributed as needed to ensure effectiveness.

Your metrics should be reported against your objectives as measures of success.

The following metrics are a good starting point to track and improve effectiveness of your online engagement:

  • Visitors to your channels:
    • Reach – new and repeat
    • Who are they – can you find out the demographics?
    • Where did they come from? Both by geography and referral (what website they came from)
    • How long did they stay on your page?
  • Participation:
    • Rates of conversion – what proportion of them did what you wanted them to do?
    • How did people participate – did they view content? Comment? View others comments? Up or down vote others comments?
    • Was content shared?
  • Input
    • Quality of feedback gathered. What kind of feedback are you getting? Is it useful / relevant? Does it demonstrate awareness? Does up or down voting give enough of an indication of what the majority of people think?
    • Quantity of input gathered. How much input? All new stakeholders / users or are they expected participants?
  • The user journey
    • It is working? Are users engaging the way you hoped? E.g. are they reading content? Are they participating where/how you need them to?
    • Are you on track in your process?

We also recommend reviewing the metrics section in the US Government's Public Participation Playbook when setting your metrics for success.

Also see the metric used by Wellington City Council in their case study.

Determine project resourcing

The resources you need to help deliver your approach will be defined by:

  • your engagement strategy, particularly the methods you will use and the associated skills required to deliver your approach
  • the rate of participation in online engagement by the public.

The number of resources you will need depends on the size and profile of the project. At a minimum you will need a Senior Responsible Officer and a Project Manager. Each person in the project team can take on multiple roles if they have the right skills.

Senior Responsible Officer (SRO):

  • Champions and governs the project.
  • Provides sign-off/endorsement of key project deliverables, e.g. mandate, policy, strategy, issues and risk management plan, reports, etc.
  • Supports the Project Manager to deliver the project.

Project Manager:

  • Manages the project team, budget, and timeline.
  • Reports project progress to the SRO.
  • Ensures the SRO understands the strategy, response policy and how risks and issues will be managed.
  • Discuss and accounts for scalable resources and defines triggers for when they might be required with the team.

Project Team:

  • Advises the Project Manager if procedures can be improved and if they think they may need support
  • Works to cultivate community and moderate forums around the clock.
  • Delivers multiple offline engagement events.

Key roles in the project team are:

Engagement Lead / Online Community Manager:

  • Holds the project team to a principles based approach to engagement.
  • Drafts the engagement mandate, strategy, policy, etc.
  • Selects the methods and tools for engagement, though discussion with the project team and other agency groups including:
    • Information Communications Technology
    • Privacy
    • Information and Records Management
    • Legal
    • Audit
    • Democracy teams (if you are in local government).
  • Depending on the project, approves content.
  • Facilitates online response, e.g. discussion forums.
  • Responsible for promotion, Social Media planning and response.

Subject Matter Expert (SME):

  • Provides knowledge of key stakeholders and history of related initiatives and issues.
  • Writes draft content for online engagement.
  • Analyses submissions and drafts reports.

Content Editor:

  • Reshapes draft content from SME for online consumption.
  • Provides reports on online participation analytics.

Technical support:

  • Establishes your online platform(s).
  • Ensures the smooth running of the online platform(s).

Determine your budget for engagement

If you need to engage with more than a few people then you will need to allocate a budget for communication, engagement, and promotion. You may even need to hire additional resources to cover the roles/skills you don’t have ready access to. Check with your agency’s financial rules to work out which costs are Capital or Operational expenditure.

Your online engagement budget may need to cover things like:

  • marketing – online and offline
  • engagement strategy development
  • social media strategy development and/or resourcing
  • content development
  • legal advice
  • requirements gathering
  • selection and configuration of tools
  • online engagement tool procurement/development and security accreditation
  • technical service provision, e.g. website development and system integration, and ongoing technical support.

Determine your timeline for engagement

Your online engagement will take a minimum of 9 weeks depending on your organisation’s processes for technology selection, procurement and establishment, and depending on how many stakeholder submissions you need to analyse.

Allow a minimum of:

  • 3 weeks (ideally 4) to develop your strategy and approach, gather requirements, select and configure tools
  • 4 weeks for stakeholder engagement. This needs to be sufficiently long enough so people can be notified and provide considered responses
  • 2 weeks for analysis, reporting and closing the feedback loop.

Prepare to manage risks and issues

Having a clear mandate and strategy will help mitigate risks. To help manage those risks, you should develop an Issue and Risk Management Procedure (IRMP) for engagement. Some risks are predictable.

An IRMP should:

  • map potential scenarios
  • outline responses to foreseeable issues.

And will include clear processes to:

  • monitor online channels, communities and content shared
  • alert key staff of any issues or opportunities
  • agree an approach to respond as soon as practical.

Before the engagement starts, you must provide channel and online community managers with:

To ensure consistent response and support ongoing engagement you should:

  • use a risk register to track unforeseen issues
  • evaluate and manage risk in real-time using agreed processes
  • add responses to new issues raised to your published content where appropriate.

Some risks are predictable and you can prepare for them, others will require an informed reaction. Draft content can be prepared to assist with responses to potential questions and issues. See more on ‘responsive content’ under the section on making your content engaging.

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This guidance is a work in progress, so please email us your feedback on how useful you found it, what was missing, how it could be improved.

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