With seven million people living in remote areas across Australia, understanding the different approach and tailored techniques required for rural engagement is critical to project success.
Australians living in remote communities often face unique challenges such as poorer health and welfare outcomes, lower levels of education and restricted access to essential utilities like power and water. Challenges most of us may have never considered let alone faced.
Ensuring we understand the challenges and concerns faced by these communities, prior to engaging is critical. So, if you’re heading to a rural community for your next engagement project consider the following.
Make the internet your best friend with extensive desktop research prior to your visit. Using on the ground local leaders or community members whom you have an existing relationship with is also a great way to gain valuable local intel. Understanding who your community is, what is important to them and the likely broad mix of project perceptions.
Consider the following when conducting your research:
- The political climate and including local tensions, personalities and upcoming events i.e. elections
- Historical relationships within the community such as particular families or community groups that hold significant influence
- How your project is perceived i.e will it be contentious or celebrated?
- The demographics and socio-economic status of the region.
Giving your stakeholders a few days’ notice that you will be in town will not fly in rural and remote communities.
Take the time to understand what communication channels are available that will ensure ample notice can be provided. This includes community newsletters, newspapers, radio stations etc. Also check to see if your community is active on social media and if they can be targeted via paid advertising.
In some instances, the old-fashioned letterbox drop may be the most effective way of ensuring everyone is well informed with plenty of notice. Of course this can be a logistically challenging exercise in some communities as well, so plenty of planning is essential.
Meaningful and inclusive advertising techniques to promote the engagement process is critical. You should consider your project timeframe, community demographics and existing communication tools available such as local papers.
Select appropriate engagement tools and methods
Different communities will respond to different engagement tools and methods.
Understand not just the demographics but also the psychographics of your community, in order to select the most appropriate engagement tools and methods to best suit your stakeholders and achieve stronger engagement outcomes.
For example, conducting a one-on-one kitchen table meeting may be the best way to ensure a stakeholder will take the time to engage with your project, and may diffuse a potentially high conflict situation.
Leave city comparisons behind
No two rural communities are the same and one approach does not fit all. Understanding that each community no matter their size or location is unique will help you find ways to establish meaningful relationships with stakeholders.