How do you engage people? Five simple steps

For an event run this week for healthcare professionals by the Electoral Reform Society, I have pulled together some key tips on how to encourage the active participation of users and staff – a process in a UK setting now often called ‘engagement’.

You can tell the story of any society or time by looking at how it handles the health and care of its people. If so, we are in a pretty shocking state today, because, for all the advances in health outcomes over time, we treat people involved in the health system in a shabby way. This is not just the indignities of waits and cancellations for patients, but the sufferance of staff in the system, often, in the care system in particular, on low wages and with poor conditions.

When looking at the UK data for staff working in Government, I find that staff working for the Department of Health have the lowest levels of staff engagement of any main department – down 25% over ten years and now at rock bottom. How did we end up with such shocking levels of disengagement, when people who work in the health sector have such rich motivations at the start, to care and to meet the needs of others?

Slide39So, how do we chart a way back from this?

My full presentation is up on Slideshare, but here are five simple steps that I would pick out. Yes, they will take time, but each of these steps is tried and tested.

Step 1 – Develop an engagement plan

Engagement isa process through which people can interact with an organisation in a meaningful way for mutual benefit.’

So any organisation can ask…

  • Is it a systematic process?
  • Is engagement meaningful for those who participate?
  • Does it lead to positive outcomes?

It can also track the journey to systematic engagement over time.Slide06

Step 2 – For service users, start by focusing on the experience of the service  


Step 3 – Create decision making that is responsive, based on short feedback loops


Step 4 Pass over power and decision making to users, to the extent to which they want it Slide32 

I call this the Participation Fruit Tree, rather than the classical Participation Ladder, as users may want different forms of power and participation than straight self-management.

When it comes to the top of the ladder, and high on the fruit tree, with self-management, then the best organisational form, which embeds member engagement at its heart, is a co-operative.

Step 5 – Invest in valuesSlide42

As I explore in my 2016 short book, Values, the way to engage people at a deeper, emotional level, whether employees or customers, is through the purpose and values of what people do together. We engage more if we feel we belong.

And three conclusions

These five steps come together into an engagement value chain.


What I have learned from my work on engagement over time, with the National Consumer Council, Co-operatives UK and as Chair of the participation charity Involve, are three facts that are hopeful that we can do better in health and public services and in society more widely.

1.Engaging users is not a trade-off, because a user focus is key to the satisfaction and motivation of staff.

2.Engaging staff is not a trade-off, because empowered staff are better able to satisfy service users.

3.Engagement works. We need to harness its potential to improve the daily public services that are so essential to people’s lives.

Comments welcome!

4 thoughts on “How do you engage people? Five simple steps

  1. One of the things that strikes me about health care and engagement is that once upon a time each of these professionals were enchanted by the idea of doing this work. There was a natural resonance between their highest priority values as an individual and the opportunity to join an organisation to use their skills. This makes me think that to understand the disengagement we have to look hard and deep at the values disconnect that has subsequently taken root. When we can not work in alignment with our highest personal priority values we experience stress, when the system gets in the way of us caring for those we wish to serve we burn out. The core values of the NHS as set out in the constitution would be a great place to start to think about what an effective engagement plan might contain.

    • Thanks and agree! One of the themes this morning at the event on health engagement is NHS Values, but a sense that the NHS constitution with its formal set of values has never taken root. The NHS is wonderfully Values rich, so mapping values across the family might be a good start – and a way to affirm what is most precious about our health services, before the computer virus of marketisation sets in too far.

  2. Thanks for this Ed; very helpful. It took me a while to work out what you meant by people being “engaged” and by “engagement” since we don’t use the words in the same way here. Once i had an idea i was able to learn a lot. Maybe for non-UK readers you could put in a sentence or two that clarifies the terms….
    Strength to you in your valuable work!

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