The International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) is hosting their annual conference in Banff, Canada and have asked that all proposals incorporate a mountain theme. This got me thinking about the many mountains we climb as engagement professionals. For me, the mountains are not with the public—rather the culture shift and organizational adoption of new approaches, tools, and techniques that create the biggest challenges. Getting everyone on board and engaged internally can certainly feel like a mountain climbing experience.
The scariest mountain climbing experience of my life was in Jackson, Wyoming climbing the Middle Teton in the 1990s. It was early summer and there was still ice on the mountains. I was fresh out of Alabama. The technical climbing was far more than anything I had done up until that point, especially given that I had never worn crampons or carried an ice axe. Storms and ice created more than a few obstacles that day, but the biggest issue was my lack of preparation. I made a few errors on the Middle Teton that almost cost my life. These mountainous errors harmonize with challenges I often see in the organizational adoption process. While your life isn’t at risk, maybe considering the remedies at the onset will make the climb much more enjoyable for you. I mean, people do choose to climb mountains for fun and sport, after all.
Almost fatal error: No preparation. I did not build a support structure or team to help me with this climb. My partner over-estimated my abilities and under-estimated the challenge. In other words, we did not communicate our own assets and challenges at the onset, and therefore, were not prepared to work as a team on the mountain itself. I didn’t know enough about what I didn’t know to even tell him what I needed. He personally had the skills needed for the climb, but I only received a ten-minute overview in the parking lot at 4 am, as we put on equipment to start. I didn’t even read a guidebook about the climb or look at the route. So other than up, I really had no idea where we were going. I should have practiced with the equipment that was new to me. It turns out wearing an ice axe on your belt and using it as you are careening over the edge of a cliff are two very different things.
Remedy: Talk to others who have done it before. Ask questions and learn from their experience so you are aware of what you don’t understand and can get the resources, knowledge, and equipment that you need. Make sure you know how to effectively use what you purchase. Often, I see organizations fail to use new technology to even a small percentage of its capacity. This typically comes from a lack of awareness as to what is possible. Continuously looking at what the organizations around you are doing can prove effective but nothing beats completing your own independent study of where you want to go and charting a course for how to get there—complete with milestones and objectives for internal buy-in. Make sure you have a strategy in place to involve key persons, groups, and departments. Even if you purchase technology for a specific purpose and function, be open to other ways you can use it and let others share their ideas for a broader use case. Bang the Table has a lot of resources available to those looking to make the climb for online engagement.
Almost fatal error: I anticipated we would be up and down within eight hours. Storms rolled in and it was almost double that amount of time. I did not have enough water or food for that long of a day on the mountain. I needed more provisions.
Remedy: Pay for a training or service plan—get the instruction and follow up you need to move the technology forward. Understand that becoming an expert will take time, so give yourself the chance to keep informed and supported along your journey. Good technology will continually evolve. Choose a plan that will make sure you stay on top of updates and best practice so that you evolve along with the resource. In government budgeting, we know it is not easy to increase the bottom line after the first year of a contract. So, go big. Get everything you may need in the first year. You can cut easier than you can grow when it comes to a budget. The worst thing you can do is to buy something new and never use it.
Almost fatal error: I waited until I was in the slide to yell for help; almost too late. If I could have yelled out a bit sooner, my partner would have been by my side, but I let myself stay in my own head too long, thinking I was strong enough and smart enough to figure it out on my own. I screamed but was already on my way down—fast.
Remedy: A team approach is almost always preferred for adoption of something new in an organization. A team should be mandated if that new item leads to culture shifts and changes. Left alone, individuals may get discouraged or fail to see the danger signs. If there is no shared perspective, a pending storm may feel like a personal shortcoming. Also, trust the experts to teach and train you and your staff. Look for vendors you can trust as partners. Most of them want to be in a long-term relationship with you and will try to be respectful of your time and money. They have been through the same challenges with other clients and have learned lessons that might be helpful. Give them a call and let them strategize with you and your team.
General Mills just released a new cereal for $13 a box, their most expensive cereal on the market. Its name? Morning Summit. Even General Mills gets the mountain-climbing analogy. It is hard work but can be very rewarding when you summit. Plan, build a team, set up resources to help you along the way–and make sure you bring along the right provisions; $13 cereal completely optional.
Join Amanda Nagl, US Practice Lead, and Dannette Robberson, Assistant to the City Manager in Parker, Colorado as they take a more practical dive into what it takes for organizational adoption of Online Engagement on March 31 at 1 pm, MST. Register for the webinar!
Amanda has worked extensively in community organizing and engagement for more than 17 years; across the local government spectrum, including police services, community development, neighborhood services and the City Manager’s office. She has refined the craft of solving problems through community-based solutions and is driven by the opportunity to help local governments build and repair trust with their communities. Amanda is an expert at developing training and curriculum which helps organizations develop their community engagement capacity. When she’s not hard at work solving America’s engagement crisis, she’s likely at the local band room adding the necessary “zing” to her upbeat outlook on life.