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Everyday Engagement

By Trina Adler, Program Leader — Health & Nutrition
I had the honor of meeting with my staff this past month to review their 2015 work and discuss their plans for 2016. Because engagement is so central to the work and success of the Health and Nutrition team (and in fact all Family Development), I listened carefully as I met with each of my staff members to understand exactly what strategies they use to engage partners and community members, develop trusting professional relationships, and bring people, ideas, and energy together. I was waiting to hear about their tactical, methodic engagement approaches, which I imagined would consist of deliberate meetings, clear and focused communication plans, and perhaps memoranda of understanding regarding their common goals.

What I actually heard was quite different.

Don’t get me wrong — their engagement approaches are tactical and methodic. But in terms of specific strategies… Well, those of you who excel at engagement will not be surprised to hear that the “best practices” of my staff for engaging community members and professionals have a highly personal component. Each person I spoke with had a personal spin to their engagement approach. This spin worked well to solidify a strong bond between themselves and their partners in their work toward common goals.

Below are some of the strategies for relationship development I heard from Health and Nutrition staff (note: when I say “partners,” this includes community professionals as well as community members; new or emerging partners as well as those we have worked with for a while).
  • Have coffee at a coffee shop, or go for a walk with partners. Don’t have an agenda and don’t necessarily talk the entire time about work; find personal as well as professional common ground.
  • Plan “road trips” with community partners to distant trainings or events, and while on the road, again, don’t necessarily talk the entire time about work.
  • When traveling longer distances for work, allow for extra time to pay “drop-in” visits or have lunch with partners along the way.
  • Get involved in your community on your “off” hours – this is a great way to meet people who may be valuable partners on your “on” hours.
  • Invite a partner to volunteer at a community event with you.
  • Ask a partner to mentor you in a skill area.
  • Introduce two partners via email who may not know each other and have some commonalities. Follow up with meeting with the two partners at one of their offices.
  • Invite a partner to attend a webinar with you at your office or over your computer.
  • Capitalize on social relationships: connect with a new partner who happens to be a “friend of a friend.”
  • Call or text; don’t email.
  • Recognize a success of a partner in a newsletter or blog. Interview the partner to get the broader context and intimate details of the success.
  • Co-write a newsletter or blog post with a partner.
  • Invite partners to join you in attending a community event, even if seemingly unrelated to work, such as a business open house, a school event, or a community celebration.
  • Share results of your work or research with a community partner to get their feedback or assistance with analysis.
As you can see, none of these ideas are complicated. They are methods that can be tried by anyone, from the bold to the highly introverted. So what did I learn about engagement best practices?
  • Find a way to connect with partners that is comfortable for YOU.
  • Find common ground on both a personal and professional level.
Think about these ideas, as well as your own goals and best practices around engagement. Next time you get the chance, talk to your supervisor about these questions:
  • How do these engagement best practices resonate for you in your work?
  • What work practices do you need to change or adopt to effectively engage with partners to move your common goals forward?
  • Do you feel you have permission in your work to engage with your partners in the ways that would be most effective for you?
It is truly an honor to work with and learn from my staff. Like all Family Development staff members, they are highly skilled professionals who do amazing work throughout the state. They are passionately devoted to equitable healthy food access and physical activity opportunity, and they prioritize working in a highly engaged and networked fashion. I do not exaggerate when I say I stand in awe of their skill and exemplary performance.
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