Planning projects and information and dialogue events on infrastructure projects usually show the same picture: the already active, formally educated, socially integrated and older age groups are usually overrepresented. However, the interests, opinions, and ideas of those who are less socially connected or who rarely or never raise their voices should also be represented. Involving these so-called "silent groups" and making their voices heard is the challenging task of communicators who initiate civil dialogue. Only those who respond to the needs of as many people as possible can create attractive living spaces for the whole community.
"Proximity" and "communication at eye level" are terms that are often mentioned in this context. Content and formats should be adapted in such a way that they are truly "approachable“, and everyone feels included, without a look down from above.
We look at how "silent groups" can participate in shaping their environment in a way that is appropriate for the target group and what communicators should bear in mind in participation processes.
3 tips for the integration of "silent groups"
- Use the "right" language
Use simple language and common words. Write and speak in short sentences. Focus on the key messages. Much additional information can also be provided later in the participation or when asked.
Explain foreign and technical words if you cannot avoid them. Clarify abstract processes by giving examples. Write and speak actively and lively instead of bureaucratically and formally. And don't forget: Address your addressees personally to make your audience aware that the citizens' interest in the project is of high importance. It is about appreciation and about helping to shape the personal environment.
- The right format
Use the full range of available participation formats. Avoid one-sided monologues and lengthy PowerPoint presentations, even at events where you primarily want to convey information. We recommend dialogue instead of monologue, because participants almost always have a great need to exchange and express their opinions.
Use the opportunity for dialogue and confidence building! However, not everyone wants to do this in a large group. Especially members of "silent groups" need space for individual conversations. Some visitors prefer to write down their ideas and opinions - set up walls where these thoughts can be collected and made transparent.
In addition, use small-format offerings for dialogue events. Small group work also allows people who are more quiet to be more involved, to express their opinions and to be heard. Mix up the groups to promote a heterogeneous exchange of views and enable mutual learning.
Choose diverse consultation methods. In addition to standard written statements and requests to speak, formats can be enriched with methods such as storytelling, mental mapping, Lego® Serious Play, project walks and O-sound recordings that engage diverse populations and allow them to have their say.
- Well thought-out logistics
Choose an appropriate venue. Avoid "online communication only" if possible, as many members of the "silent group" are less tech- and web-savvy or do not have access to the necessary equipment. If you must resort to web-based communication, choose user-friendly, low-threshold platforms as much as possible.
Analogue communication and participation on local projects should be conducted as close to the project site as possible, while regional and supra-regional issues are less site-bound.
Vary the time for consultation: while older people often prefer to attend participation formats during the day, working people are more available in the evening hours. Look for accessible or barrier-free venues. Welcome visitors at the entrance and introduce them to the topics. “Silent groups" need to be addressed personally and have a reliable contact person on site.
Loose rows of seats or groups of tables facilitate dialogue and promote exchange among each other. Avoid the "us" and "them" feeling by giving elevated speeches from the podium but create formats and event logistics in which you can talk to your participants personally and at eye level. Enable and promote neighborhood dialogues among yourselves so that especially "silent groups" have the opportunity to network on a local level. A small catering offer often attracts additional guests and supports the feeling of appreciation.
In short, be civic-minded, appreciative, and present. Think local instead of regional, informal instead of formal. Go for continuity instead of ad-hoc events. Accompany your participants through the entire planning process and make the silent participants a valuable source of knowledge and information.
Your Kaltwasser citizen communication team wishes you every success for your next participation event.