Shaking the tree

by Sarah Fitton and Simon Wilson
Why would you shake a tree? Surely trees are fine as they are and the fruit falls when it will? But some of us are impatient and want to see what happens if…
The tree we started shaking is called ‘stakeholder engagement’. This is about how organisations relate to their stakeholders – that is anyone and everyone who is affected by what they do, and who can have an influence on what we do. Stakeholder engagement is key to planning, and it also requires us to develop stakeholder engagement plans – plans that help us understand why, how and when to engage with stakeholders.
Our context is working with the built environment and with environmental improvement schemes including flood risk management.
We decided to shake the tree by looking at it in a different way: through a lens called ‘social value’. Social value is about telling a story about what is needed by stakeholders and what’s possible when we work with others.
A typical stakeholder engagement model goes through a series of stages (or branches to our tree) –
• Understanding the world we are in
• Describing what we want to achieve through engagement
• Working out who to engage with
• Working out how to engage them
• Doing the doing
• Seeing what happened
The roots of the tree are some pretty fundamental ways of working and being: keep reflecting and reassessing, evaluating as we go, learning from every experience.
So, when you shake the tree, what might fall? What might the new fruit be like?
• Understanding the world we are in – not just an economic analysis but understanding what matters to people where they live, how their values are affected and how they feel
• Describing what we want to achieve through engagement – rather than the sterile language of SMART goals, something warmer, more human and maybe fuzzier,
• Working out who to engage with – since Casablanca, we’ve got used to the idea of the ‘usual suspects’ so we need to ask ourselves who are the unusual suspects, the people and groups we’re not used to listening to.
• Working out how to engage them – and if we have some unusual suspects, do we need to talk and listen to them in unfamiliar ways, focusing on what might suit them better than us?
• Doing the doing – being open to a different type of plan – having shaken the tree, maybe also shaking up our standard operating procedures.
• Seeing what happened – and finally, does this challenge our thinking about evaluation? If our goals are different from those in past, the way we evaluate may need to change to become more qualitative, more challenging, more fuzzy.
Shaking the tree in this way can change the stories we tell about who influences our planning processes and how they do it.
And there is a good chance it will produce some interesting fruit and seeds for the future.

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