Engagement strategies and opportunities are always evolving,
as are people and technology.
For those selling products, engagement strategies stretch across teams and metrics. They encompass the experience and touchpoints a customer has with your product and company.
For those who are looking to authentically engage stakeholders, share ideas, encourage input, reach out to communities, and/or encourage voice of marginalized groups, sound engagement strategies are crucial.
Our methodology is strategic, nuanced and creative. We develop sound engagement strategies by first establishing goals and audience personas.
We help you ask yourselves questions like:
- What do we want to learn?
- Who do we want to learn it from?
- Why do we want to learn it?
- What would we like them to learn and/or do?
- What are the personas we are reaching out to? For example, what are their personality types, cultural influences, barriers.
- Who are their influencers?
- Where/how and with whom are they most comfortable engaging?
Once we fully understand our goals and audiences:
We apply proven methodologies to develop unique strategies.
Then we help you implement them.
And measure them.
And turn them into actions and results.
And continue to build on your momentum.
ENGAGEMENT STRATEGIES IN ACTION
Youth Voice in READY: Raising Expectations and Rediscovering Youth
In 2001, Providence was one of eight cities in the country to receive a major grant for a five-year effort to transform its high schools into learning communities where all students meet or exceed high academic standards and are prepared for success in life by improving the instructional core, and supporting the social, emotional and character development of youth.
Imaj was selected to work with The Rhode Island Children’s Crusade, the Core Community partner, and the Providence School Department, to create public understanding, engagement, and involvement, and demand/support for the redesign of the schools.
THE FIRST STEP: Naming the Initiative
We first recommended a name to better speak to the higher purpose of the engagement process, which was approved unanimously: READY: Raising Expectations and Discovering our Youth
The Brand Premise: The entire community must have high expectations for our youth, for themselves and for the schools. We would strive to discover youth by listening to their ideas and concerns, understanding their social/emotional needs, and getting them involved in the conversation – as they are what this is all about. And the schools and the community must ensure that a network of supports is in place to meet those needs. Everyone must be READY to work together and make positive change happen.
CREATING THE ENGAGEMENT AND COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIES
Until READY, much of the dialogue around these issues had been dominated by school administrators, teachers and a powerful teacher’s union. Although the community had a tremendous stake in the success or failure of their schools, their voices had not risen to the level of others, and they had largely come to believe they were powerless. Imaj conducted a thorough discovery of other initiatives, the District, the individual schools and neighborhoods, focus groups and “living room/kitchen conversations” with many previously marginalized stakeholders in order to obtain a thorough picture of attitudes, challenges and assumptions, while establishing important relationships. We worked closely with The Crusade to brainstorm ideas and then created a 2-year comprehensive, integrated marketing communications and engagement strategy which we fully implemented.
The strategy included detailed recommendations including:
- Target audience segmentation and attitude analysis
- Tactics for overall/general communications to take place during engagement phase
- Internal communications plan with training on changing conversations
- Segmented media relations/social media plan with target-specific messaging
- A list of detailed strategies, events and experiences to engage each group
- Dedicated website engagement plan
- List of potential neighborhood partners
- Outreach and tools included facilitator guides, study guides, posters, direct mail, billboards, reports to community, templates for schools, quarterly project updates, business community direct mail and PR support, radio and TV ads, presentation tools, videos, bus posters, public service announcements
- High school level articles, events, direct mail templates, newsletters, school bulletin templates
- T-shirts, READY card deck, and other giveaways
- Information packets
- Recognition pieces
- FAQ sheets
- Rewards program
- Tactics to support individual initiatives like Study Circles
- Public affairs tactics
- Measurement tools
DEVELOPING KEY MESSAGING THEMES
We developed themes that carried throughout all communications and engagement strategies. For example:
- Are we READY to take shared ownership – and responsibility – for providing our youth with what they need to succeed?
- Are you READY to talk about what would make your high school better and how you learn?
- Providence is READY to listen.
- Providence is READY. Are you?
- [School Name] is READY to act.
- We are READY to listen!
- We are READY to hear from the experts.
THE STUDENTS ARE THE FIRST TO SPEAK OUT
We publicly launched our outreach/engagement process with a student competition to encourage student voice, asking all of the city’s high school students to tell us what they think. Over 250 students created thought-provoking works of art, music, dance, videos, poems and essays to answer essential questions about how they learn, what a great school looks like, and how the schools can improve.
The works were displayed at the kickoff ceremony, which incorporated a dozen live student performances. Cash prizes were presented to “winners” in front of a full house of families, teachers, community members, politicians, and media. The event was an overwhelming success and students’ ideas became central to the process and ultimately the solutions.
The Crusade circulated the entries through schools and libraries, as the impetus for further facilitated discussions awhile gaining further press coverage. Imaj marketed the event with fliers throughout the community; posters at schools and READY direct mailers to students – which were designed using each school’s logo and colors; school newsletter articles; church bulletins and through the dedicated website.
Following the launch, we held student events at schools for 12 months, engaging others. We learned that the students really DO have the answers if we simply ask the questions.
BRINGING READY TO THE COMMUNITY
In households, meetings, study circles and events throughout the city, we helped The Crusade raise awareness while facilitating inspiring conversations. We brought together racially diverse groups of youth, parents, teachers, and community leaders in a variety of ways to help reframe discussions in order to learn what they believed was needed from their schools and their community to help youth succeed.
Several consistent themes emerged from these conversations, which we reported back to the community through direct mail, allowing for further input and then culminated in a report to the community.
STUDY CIRCLES AND MORE
We conducted Youth Development Study Circles which brought adults and youth from different backgrounds together for several sessions of frank, open dialogue, to give them a chance to reach out to one another and build trust. In the process, a common ground emerged. The sessions were followed by an ‘action forum’ where the responses were organized under themes, and solutions were developed and later acted upon as the process unfolded.
Other effective engagement activities included Kitchen Talks with parents, Church Talks, and Community Meetings. The groups were all led by an adult and a youth facilitator. In addition, we implemented outreach strategies to the business community and involved other civic and political leaders through the process.
RESULTS AND SUCCESS!
Our initial metrics showed, through data collection, focus groups and surveys, that few in the community, students and families believed in or understood high school redesign; students and families felt they had little to no say in what happens in schools; conversations that were happening were diverting down distracting paths; and most of all groups thought they could not make a big difference in the way kids were taught or learning even if they tried.
Qualitative metrics and independent evaluators along the way showed unprecedented change in the number of conversations, attitudes, knowledge base and involvement across all groups – especially with students and parents. Many of these previously marginalized stakeholders became involved in a dialogue about reform and worked together to develop a shared vision of what youth need from the school and the community in order to succeed.
Outcrop structures and groups took pivotal roles in each school’s plans to create small learning communities that would meet the unique needs of their students. Each Providence High School created Redesign Teams made up of District Representatives, a Crusade team member, parents, students, and teachers, to ensure the process was inclusive of the results of engagement.
Ultimately READY’s success led to the redesign and development of every aspect of Providence high schools to higher performing, healthier school environments, with the ongoing involvement of newly organized Student Government, Youth Advisory Councils and groups like PEEC (Providence Educational Excellence Committee). Many of these extended projects were also supported by Imaj.
The READY project was one of the first of its kind. Since then Imaj has worked with dozens of school districts, schools, initiatives and foundations on engaging stakeholders in the creation of schools that put students at the center of their learning.