You can also gather information through personal engagement. This is as simple as talking to different stakeholders to gather opinions and perspectives. This will help you understand how people are affected by, and feel about the issue.
A stakeholder is any person, group, organisation, government department, company or institution that has an interest in the issue or cause you are dealing with. Some might be more directly linked to the issue than others, and so it could be a good idea to create a map or diagram of all the groups and people that could be connected to your work.
It is important to speak to diverse groups of people, many of which you should have identified in your social context research.
Some examples include:
- Government officials
- Experts and academics
- Community-based organisations (CBOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or international non-governmental organisation (INGOs)
- Religious groups
- Private sector, such as business
- Peers and colleagues
- Parents, guardians and family members
As you engage with people, check if the information you found through your desktop research matches what people are saying. It is often hard to do, but you must try to distinguish between fact and opinion - it’s important to understand what is actually happening, versus what people think about what is happening.
Need some tips on engaging with different community groups?
All groups or communities have some form of leadership structure. It is a good idea to approach the leader of a group first to get their ‘buy-in’. This essentially means that you have their support, agreement or approval for something you are suggesting. This makes it easier to engage with other people in the group and gain their trust – if the leadership has given their approval, people are more willing to share information and engage with you further. Engaging with leadership is all about building a relationship and this may take some time.
Here are some tips for how you can start to engage:
- Start by making sure you have a general understanding of the norms and practices of the group and how they do things. How do the people get together and hold meetings? What kind of language is the group comfortable with? Do women usually speak in front of men in group meetings? Are young people able to voice their opinions in the presence of older members of the group? Even if you don’t necessarily agree with these practices, it is important that you acknowledge and respect the processes already in place so that you will have more opportunities to interact with members of the group in the future.
- Reflect on your personal attitudes and behaviours as you engage with people. Building relationships is all about fostering a respectful dialogue and to do this you need to be kind, considerate and understanding. Don’t make broad assumptions about people or think you have all the ideas – try to be open-minded people and engage with people genuinely.
- Attend different activities or events. Find out what events, gatherings or ceremonies the group might be having and attend. Participating in these activities is a good way of establishing contact with people in the group and building relationships. This will also help you to understand the best way of engaging with leadership and introducing your idea.
- Make contact with leadership. Find out the best way of contacting the leader of the group, this might be through a personal meeting, a phone call, an email, or a letter. No matter how you make contact, make sure you are respectful and considerate, and raise your topic of discussion in an approachable manner.
Prepare a set of questions to ask, for example:
- What do they think about the issue and how does it impact them?
- How are they involved in the issue and what has been their experience?
- What do they see as possible solutions?
- Would they be willing to get involved in the issue?
After conducting your research, you need to start writing down your thoughts and findings. Try consolidating your information like this.