Getting involved in Consultation Processes (Or – Who cares what I have to say?)
Be Proactive, Be Prepared and Be Present
Jeremy Britton – Interim Director of Administrative Services
In the last few years I have found myself taking part in more and more workshops and consultation processes. A lot of the time I’m there because I have some kind of insight or knowledge about what is being discussed or investigated. This is really exciting because it means I have an opportunity to have some influence on the outcome or outputs of the consultation process. But it can also be daunting, particularly when I did not have a huge amount of experience or when I felt there were others with much more knowledge and expertise in the room. So I’ve written this with an eye on two things: How might you get involved in more workshops/events/consultation processes and, once you’re there, how might you get the confidence to have your voice heard?
There are a number of reasons why you might want to take part in a workshop. Maybe you signed up because you have a vested interest in the topic, or maybe your expertise has been sought out directly as someone who knows a lot about a particular area. If someone comes knocking on your door, great. Otherwise, if you feel like you have something to offer a conversation or piece of work you see going on around the University then you have to go knocking. In my case, I wanted to be part of conversations around Enabler 4 so I reached out to people I knew were engaged in the consultation process. I had some connections already, and I approached others. Be proactive.
A lot of the time the same people are consulted and the same voices are heard at a lot of these workshops. That’s great. It is certainly not a bad thing. But, taking the ongoing Transformation of Services and Operations programme as an example, the University is going to need so many perspectives and insights from those closest to services and operations. It would be both a shame and a risk to limit the perspective to a small group of people. The likelihood is that people want to hear your perspective just as much as you want it to be heard. So if you hear about a consultation process going on, and you feel you have something to say about it, talk to your line manager, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and express your interest. At the very least your name is going to be put on list of people that are active, engaged and interested.
So whether you’ve volunteered to attend, or perhaps been volunteered (it happens a lot), you’re now in the room. Now you’re wondering how to best get engaged and have your voice heard. If you’re like me, you’re wondering how to speak up without completely exposing yourself to backlash and ridicule. It’s natural to be apprehensive about expressing your opinion in front of a crowd. If you feel completely comfortable you’re either very practised or you’re missing some key evolutionary widget designed to keep you from straying out of your comfort zone. It’s a cliché, but everyone has imposter syndrome. So you are not the only one in the room who is worried, anxious or apprehensive. Something that works for me is to be even a fraction as kind to myself as I would be to someone else who gave an insight or an idea at a workshop. When is the last time you publicly heckled a colleague for an idea they had? Come to think of it, when is the last time you thought an experienced colleague who was trying to make things better was completely wrong?
Another thing that really helps is being prepared. If you’re in the room because you’ve been identified as an expert in a process or business, you probably know more than the facilitator already. What are the most important things for the people in the room to know? How might you summarise them? How might you explain the challenges or importance of certain steps? Thirty minutes thinking these through ahead of time can go a long way in building your confidence to talk about them on the day. Jot down key thoughts into bullet points or write down more complex ideas and see if you can summarise them into some simple themes. If you’re someone like me it also helps you stop rambling, which everyone will thank you for. Put simply, be prepared.
Finally, if you do find yourself in a position where you have a chance to have your say, don’t forget to listen to colleagues’ perspectives too. The odds are, if you are there because of a desire or passion to be heard, so are the other attendees or participants. If you’d like them to listen to you and be open to your perspective then you would be best to afford them the same courtesy. It’s very likely that you’ll pick up something you didn’t know before about whatever topic is being discussed or explored. Again, the best way to find out about a process or subject is from those that know it best. This is also a form of engagement because if you are listening to colleagues you’re more likely to ask them questions to further the conversation or add to what they have said. In short, be present.
To summarise, be proactive, be prepared and be present. This is a really exciting time to know something about something, so if you are so-inclined, get involved. From my perspective, if your goal is to take part, then not taking part is the only real failure.