We find ourselves undoubtedly in the early days of a recession, which some anticipated even before the appearance of COVID-19, but which is now a virtual certainty – precipitated by the generational pandemic in play around the globe. And while what lies ahead seems uncertain, at best, there may be an opportunity for Associations to play a major role in a recovery of both social, and economic, capital and to help lead in the development of a new, better, future.
It is time to reinvest in our Social Capital and reassert the fundamentals of citizen-powered public policy. Associations will, given their direct relationships through member, audience and stakeholder involvement, and their expertise with engagement marketing at the grassroots level, be ideally positioned to play a leading role in engaging socio-economic recovery.
Seeking Balance and Equity through Renewal
Prior to the pandemic, a regime of cheap consumer credit designed to drive consumption, associated with globalization, financialization and commoditization, caused widespread anxiety, much of which was, and is, associated with unprecedented increases in personal and household debt. Monitoring, managing and incorporating measures of consumer confidence into their policy decisions, central banks put in motion a series of sustained cuts to interest rates, effectively taxing decades-worth of savings in order to enable current debt-financed spending and borrowing. The results have been good for some people and sectors, and bad, for others.
In terms of our health and environment, the inability to engender dialogue, create trust and enable transparency has led to the disasters currently in play, on both the pandemic and climatic fronts. While some believe in the need for accountability, transparency and stewardship, others are either unfettered by such concerns, or dismissive of any cautionary tales concerning the need to work together to nurture and sustain our resources and well-being.
A call to reason and sustainability
People are asking, rhetorically, “Is this approach sustainable?”
The Public Engagement movement, which has emerged in the UK, summarizes the failure of consultations dominated by select shareholders, in three respects:
- Groups that already had influence are often the only ones cited.
- People who did not have the resources are often excluded from the consultation, even if they could be the most impacted by any decisions reached.
- Consultations are often still in process, or, worse, not yet initiated, when policy makers make decisions in keeping with key stakeholder priorities.
What many feel is in play here is the need to actually forge a renewed, and much more inclusive, democracy, rebuilding our shared sense of ownership and participation in society and economy.
The role of Associations
And this is where Associations come in. To rebuild the economy, based on real people, producing real goods and services, for real wages that offer real income, engendering real wealth, we will need a great deal of public engagement.
True public engagement will have to come, ultimately, directly from people acting for themselves, in concert with others. We have seen, time and again, that public consultation, when shaped and simulated to focus on the specific needs of select stakeholders, distorts and manipulates opinions, feedback and reporting outcomes based on desired policy objectives.
What is required is a type of public engagement for which Associations are well-known – a new wave of grassroots dialogue, harnessing the voluntary reciprocity of self-organized groups, considering, developing and recommending public policy.
Associations must step up and be heard
Associations are best positioned to develop and facilitate the necessary dialogue. We know how to engage people at the grassroots level, how to help people organize into discussion groups, task forces and committees. Associations must assert themselves if we are to move forward with fresh thinking and innovative solutions to fundamentally important problems.
Associations understand that, to forge a new inclusive future, we must equip and enable people – from all walks of life and parts of society – to engage in this dialogue. We also know that our way of engagement requires a bottom-up and gradualist approach. There is no rush to decision-making in Associations, and rightly so. Consensus building takes time. We have the means, the expertise and the patience required, to see this process through.
As anyone who has been involved in an Association knows, community engagement is critical to the success and continued operation of the organization. Without the support of the community in which it operates, a nonprofit has little chance for long-term prosperity. However, engaging the community isn’t always a straightforward process. Traditional marketing and private sector public relations tactics aren’t generally effective when it comes to genuine public engagement. Nevertheless, Association leaders understand that community engagement is entirely possible and can be achieved through a variety of unique strategies.
Association-Led Public Engagement
Hildy Gottlieb, author of The 3 Most Effective Tools for Community Engagement says, “Community engagement is the process of building relationships with community members who will work side-by-side with you as an ongoing partner, in any and every way imaginable, building an army of supports for your mission, with the end goal of making the community a better place to live.”
Generally, nonprofits engage a community in three distinct ways:
- Showing the audience what the issues are;
- Explaining how your Public Engagement will address these issues; and
- Demonstrating how greater community involvement can make the community better.
Associations can promote community engagement by communicating clearly with their target audiences. These communications must be highly focused on relationship-building and improving levels of community engagement by demonstrating how public involvement can contribute to bettering the community as a whole.
An inclusive, international, intergenerational dialogue
Our world is one world. We strive for integration, so that, if we are to meet future challenges, whether they be health-related, economic or environmental, we must dialogue with one another, across all regimes and jurisdictions, we can do so in an atmosphere of transparency and trust. One only need look back at the outbreak of the current pandemic to realize how a lack of transparency, and the reluctance to share information, cost the world precious time in understanding and responding to a truly global threat turned reality.
Further, we must engage with people within and between generations and genders. Our Public Engagement must acknowledge that protecting some, puts others at risks, and, similarly, enabling some often comes at the expense of others. Our dialogue must understand the importance of inclusiveness and inter-generational equity. This will not happen without friction and tension. But this is not unfamiliar terrain for Associations. We know how hard it is to move forward with change. But we have proven ourselves capable, time and time again, of meeting that challenge, with empathy, openness and understanding that not all will agree, but that consensus enables us to move forward.
We are up to the challenge
It is time for Associations to re-emerge and re-assert their profile to enable an important socio-economic dialogue – an exchange of ideas and policies that includes and embeds equality and shared equity in our future. In the process, Associations can regain their proper salience, and demonstrate their value. And, with this recognition of value, membership, sponsorship and participation will follow. I believe Associations have a major opportunity, to play a major role, in shaping our Socio-Economic Renewal.
Paul McKay CAE, is Senior Consultant with McKay Associates, specializing in advocacy, marketing and development. Get in touch via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mckay-associates