We won't lie about this. Completely changing how you engage with citizens as part of your transport work is hard. It is a long, challenging, and often frustrating process to go through.
But the fact that you want to do it makes it worth it. And that desire will carry you through the times when this change is bad.
Over the last few weeks, we have given some hints on how you can tweak your existing engagement processes to get more value out of them. Measurement, citizens assemblies, hacking traditional consultation, and public meetings. All good stuff. But all playing at the edges. You need to start something more radical.
If you are in a situation where your local authority has identified that it needs to do community engagement better - congratulations, you truly are in a priveleged position! Your job will be so much easier. But for most of us, that is not the case. So what do you do to change things up when you are the lone voice calling for it?
Be realistic and idealistic
The first thing is to get in the right mindset, and set your expectations as to what you can achieve. You will need to play the long game to change people's hearts and minds, and demonstrate the value of what you do.
From our experience, just the process of starting on a major bit of public participation to prove your idea will take at least 9 months. You have to win people over just to get a trial going, and that takes time before you consider doing the business case. To get one other senior manager fully signed up will probably take 12-18 months. Everyone? At least 2 years.
Your idealism will drive your passion, which will be essential to getting this done. But people do not change their minds quickly, and need convincing all the time until they are signed up. Keep people updated on your success and issues. Show your enthusiasm, and spend time explaining the idea to them. And do it again. And again. And again. Until you are sick of doing so.
Few people have their mind changed by a sudden Eureka moment. Advertisers know that a constant drip feeding of the message is more successful over time compared to a big bang and then nothing. Take that mindset to your work.
A few passionate allies is better than a lot of interested people
This was a big learning that we had from organising the Transport Planning Camp. A lot of people will say they are really interested in the idea and want to be involved. But only a few will come through be a meaningful ally who you can rely on. Seek them out, and hold onto them.
In an ideal world, these allies will be in senior management positions. But a good ally is a good one regardless of their position. Not only will you all work together to actually put what you need to do into practice, but they are an invaluable support network for you. Sharing war stories and laughing in the face of adversity helps far more than you think it does.
What helps cement this is having a defined goal to work to - an event is usually a good way of doing this. Or it can be as simple as having a common aim, and a commitment to getting together for coffee once a month.
Understand your own power
It is easy to feel powerless, especially when the manager says no. But you have far more power than you give yourself credit for. You just need to understand how to use it.
Understanding the power dynamics, as well as where formal power actually lies, is probably the best thing you can get your head around. Who influences who? Who is the dominant voice at board meetings? Who do the decision makers trust most? What are your personal relationships with the decision makers like? Are they easily persuaded.
It is a good idea to visualise this if you can. Draw a spider diagram on a peice of paper with all of the key decision makers that you can think of, with you in the middle. Visualise the relationships between the different decision makers - say a different colour pen representing the strength of their relationship. Write where the formal decision making power lies, and for what.
Just this exercise will give you an overview from which you can plan. You will see people to avoid, who would be sympathetic to your view, and who you can target for the biggest impact. And then what you can do to exercise your own power in a way that has the biggest impact.
The best case for change is change itself
This is so cliche. But it is true. If you want to show the case for change, then you have to show it. That means securing time and resources for a small trial of your approach. Trials are great. For a limited amount of effort and resource you can prove an idea (or disprove it - its a trial after all). But when you make the case it has a huge advantage over a worked up project - you sell it based on the problem, not on the solution.
The way our brains work is that we almost always focus on the problems and challenges first, before the solutions and the positives. That's what comes from thousands of years constantly monitoring for threats from animals that can eat us. By focussing the case for your trial on how bad the challenge is, 80% of your battle is won. The remaining 20% is you stating how your trial could - if given the chance - help to overcome this.
For example, if you are having problems reaching a particular transport user group, you may wish to pilot a user survey delivered in partnership with a local community group who works with that group all the time. By stating how hard it is to reach that group, and how this limited trial could get some really useful insights on that group and prove whether or not the concept works, that is a compelling case.
Finally, plan for afterwards
You have done a pilot. It has gone well and you have all the evidence that you need to make community engagement the heart of your transport work. But this is where a lot of projects fail. They do not plan for afterwards, and ensuring a lasting impact.
Think about the practicals first. Chances are you won't have any more dedicated funding, or much time, to continue the work immediately afterwards. So think about how you will continue to convince people of the merit of this work afterwards. And do this before you start, so that you can build it into the work of your project (e.g. inviting key decision makers to a workshop).
How will you continue to convince people post-trial? Will it be possible? And if not, should you go for another trial instead?
Also, plan for failure. Your trial may fail completely, and may undermine your case for further work. Think about what this will mean for how you plan your changes in the future, and at what point it may be best to call it a day.
Change is hard. Extremely hard. But anything worth doing has always been hard to do. And the best thing is that people have done it before. Here are our key lessons for what makes for successful change.