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Aboriginal Engagement - early, often and ongoing


A few years ago I was working for a client on a project when I received a phone call from a local community leader with a request for a corporate donation. The request was reasonable enough, all the community member wanted was a few hundred dollars to fund the refreshment table for an upcoming community event.

I took the request for corporate donation to the client’s donation committee and the request was quickly rejected on the basis that it did not fit into the corporate donation guidelines. Tough luck for me as I was going to have to deliver the bad news, and this opportunity would have been a great way to develop some grassroots goodwill for an upcoming project.

I picked up the phone to make my tough call and to my surprise the community leader was not upset at all, and moved on quickly with another request of me. This time the request was to see if I would be interested in an advertising opportunity for their community event. For a small advertising fee, and I did have a small budget for advertising, I was able to place the client’s banner front and centre over the refreshment table.

Not a bad result as I was able to hang out at the refreshments table during the breaks, I even poured a few cups of coffee, and was able to talk to a wide array of grassroots community folks about the client’s company and upcoming project. I even noted a few concerns from community members regarding issues with past projects in the area.

So what does this story tell us about Aboriginal engagement? It turns out that Aboriginal engagement isn’t just about going to communities when you want and need something. It’s about connecting with communities early, often, and on an ongoing basis to try to develop an understanding of the complexities, values, beliefs, interests, issues and concerns. This little act of advertising at the community event, and having someone there who represents the company, is just one of many small ways that we can effectively do Aboriginal engagement early, often and ongoing.

What about you? Do you have any good early, often and ongoing ideas? Provide comments below if you do.

Here's a presentation on Aboriginal engagement I gave to the International Association of Public Participation.

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