Michael D creates space so that voices of all kinds can be heard


A huge and heart-felt Comhghairdeachas! to our new President Michael D Higgins. What was most striking about Michael D’s inaugural address, apart from his all too familiar and ever-welcome eloquence, was his genuine tone of inclusion.

I’ve worked in policy and public affairs for over ten years now and have often been confronted by significant resistance when pitching the idea of meaningful inclusion. Even with large collaborations involving numerous vested interests you can get through key messages, reach agreement on the ego-fest that can be picking the best “face” for the campaign, and even wrest sufficient budget from the cold-corporates but, mention the words “inclusive consultation” and watch as your pitch receives a whole new level of analysis.

Even the well-intentioned companies and their senior Execs often find the inclusion of so-called “hard to reach” groups challenging and well outside their comfort zone. The “hard to reach” tag is a funny one. Groups aren’t so much hard to reach as consultations and engagement programmes fail to include. Put the idea of directly consulting with children, young people, former addicts, people with disabilities, older people, ethnic minorities, gay/lesbian/bisexual people… (a seemingly endless list) on the table and watch as the idea of “consultation” itself becomes questioned.

“We don’t have the time…”, “there isn’t the budget…”, “but how will we talk to them?” are among the most common objections. I believe in many cases, underlying the immediate objections, is a genuine sense of fear. Fear about what feedback will be given, fear about stepping outside of the be-suited corporate “space” and, above all else, fear of being vulnerable.

To properly engage, you must be willing not only to listen but to hear. And, at that, hear not just what you want and expect, but more importantly, what you don’t. The best policies, campaigns and communications programmes I’ve worked on are those that stemmed directly from the people they sought to attract, engage and persuade. They spoke to these groups because they were from these groups.

This isn’t to say that comms and marketing plans should be exclusionary and target only “those” people – the “Not Mes” – but clear, honest, warm, human communication can speak to everyone and that’s what comes from meaningful and inclusive consultation. The good news is that things are improving and the NGO sector is leading the way.

At this point, I should point out that my heart lies with NGOs and having worked in the sector in the past, I have nothing but deep admiration for the enthusiastic and innovative way they lead in engagement and communications in particular.

UNICEF continues to emphasise the importance of speaking directly to children and working with them as active collaborators in making policy and service decisions on areas that directly affect them. Dóchas does the same good work on questions of international aid, developing and offering guidance on new and more effective consultation approaches. Older & Bolder and Age Action frequently fight the good fight to have the “grey panther” voice heard loud and long.

GLEN among others, puts sexuality and issues of sexual health and wellbeing for people of all ages on the table, having recently achieved a resounding success on civil partnership rights. Spunout.ie has given young people a platform to become citizen journalists “owning” their own message and supporting them to become effective, persuasive advocates for causes they want to promote.

Mind and Samaritans continue to do great work in the areas of emotional health promotion always striving to bring issues such as depression out of the closet and seeking to give us all a vocabulary with which to express our feelings (good and bad).

As Michael D settles into the Aras, we can all share in his vision for a more inclusive and inspiring time ahead. And, for the Comms folk among us, let’s keep pushing for those pitches that really talk and listen to people!

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About frimframworld

Total coffee fan, dedicated foodie & news hound. Strategic PR & political comms as a day job. All comments my own - blogging in a personal capacity only.

View all posts by frimframworld


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