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Deal with power or fail!

Make engagement stick

We can get quite fluffy about the importance of created shared vision and inter-sectoral community engagement.

It can be deeply satisfying to create a shared vision.... and God-knows we need a lot more of it.

HOWEVER, in the rush to co-create improved integrated service delivery with key stakeholders (note the almost random stringing-together of bureaucratic key terms) we often forget to address the foundational component of engagement: POWER.

Institutions are created to channel and funnel power in the form-of decisions about access to resources. If you don't deal with the reality of power relations (i.e. create structures to manage, direct, control power/decision-making) then whatever shared vision you create will eventually founder on them.

It's a bit like singing in a wind-tunnel: it really doesn't matter how amazing your song is, no-one can hear you if the wind is more powerful than your voice!

 

How that shows up in reality is that when the pressure comes, it will be the most powerful who make the resource allocation decisions informed by their immediate perception of what's best (and, being human, that's profoundly informed by what's best for-them).

 

I once spoke with an ex-minister from the Victorian government who virtually burst-into tears in his office with me saying his greatest professional regret was watching how decisions were made after the 2010 Kinglake fires on the basis of political expediency, stress/trauma, perceived self-interest, unexamined assumptions, inertia, and fear of the media. Decisions he signed off on!

 

In an age of complexity, DEAL WITH POWER FIRST!

 

If you don't you will at best waste your and everyone's time, at worst, lead to destroyed lives and dreams.

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