When I last wrote for LibDem Expand I was eagerly anticipating the Women in the World Festival at the Southbank Centre. Other than listening to Jo Swinson speak, one of my favourite sessions at the festival was the Business Case for Diversity. I really enjoyed listening to how businesses like Bloomberg addressed diversity with their Gender Equality Index and how master classes were available for managers, taking unconscious bias training and to calling out bad behaviour when you see it. This is precisely what political parties – both local and nationally – should be doing.
Bloomberg’s Gender Equality Index includes:
- Asking where in the organisation are the female demographic?
- Products for Gender Equality
- Community Engagement
- 25 companies participate
Community Engagement is a topic especially interesting to me, as it’s key to my role as Diversity Officer for Watford Liberal Democrats. Community engagement is key to showing substance in our commitment to representing the diverse communities in our town.
In this piece I am going to give you my top five tips for real community engagement. To some extent this is a matter of policy (mental health and housing policy are especially important to young people, for instance) but very much a matter of methods used. Across the UK, for example, the Labour Party bombarded the Facebook newsfeeds of under 30s with targeted advertising – with a visible impact on turnout.
So here are my top five tips for effective community engagement:
- Meet people where they’re at. Identify who you have on board already, and who need winning over. For example I knew that a large portion of the local membership were against the Elect Diverse MPs motion. And although my attitudes on the motion have changed, I needed to bear in mind how local party membership would react to me organising events. And once on board, they have been whole heartedly on board!
- Have a skilled team. Ensure you have people who have a range of skills on your team. For instance in my diversity team – apart from having diverse members, we also have people who are good at fundraising, others who are good at artwork and those who have an abundance of ideas. Communication is vital for community campaigning along with team work. No one person can do all this effectively by themselves.
- Build a network. This means your local party, your council team, your candidates, and local media. For instance, two weeks ago I went to support Mayor Dorothy Thornhill in opening the new paddling pools in Cassiobury Park after a £2 million investment. Going to openings and getting in front of local media is important to any campaign. And in Tower Hamlets, I know Elaine Bagshaw has built relationships with local media to engage with the areas Bengali community.
- Make the events or social media posts you do exciting and accessible. Our recent International Women’s Day event was the first of its kind for Watford Liberal Democrats. I created a lot of hype for this event via emails, Facebook event (remember, not everyone is on Facebook!), and giving people plenty of advance notice for the event. It’s also worth asking yourself about different ways to communicate with people who aren’t always known to you. How do you engage them? I personally invited people from the local community who have previously invited the local Liberal Democrats to their events. And events need to be accessible – not just to LibDem members, but to the wider local community.
- Surrounded yourself with positive people. Building real community engagement is long and hard. You can’t lose heart though. Critical feedback is vital, but make sure you have a team around you to support you. Build those relationships across your local party (and beyond).
Overall, it’s important that when organising, you are getting a message out to everyone, no matter whether they are a member of your local community or a member of the Liberal Democrats.
What has and hasn’t worked for you in community engagement?
Dipa Vaya is Diversity Officer for the Watford Liberal Democrats and an ambassador for 50:50 Parliament. She is a politics graduate and passionate about improving diversity within the party. Find her on Twitter @DipaJVaya