Engaging in diffusion, differentiation and dissonance

This Wednesday, I had the pleasure of being in the room with some of Seattle’s leading thinkers on all things nonprofit, philanthropic and do-good-y. How’d I get so lucky? Well, late last year, me and my colleagues Peter Drury and Zan McColloch-Lussier kicked off something called The Lab. We decided it was high-time that super-smart do-gooders had an opportunity to think deep thoughts that would lead to great action.

The first time we met, we talked about listening. This week, we talked about engagement. We picked this topic because listening leads logically to engagement and yet the word engagement seems to mean a whole lotta things to a whole lotta people. Given its meteoric rise to ubiquity, we decided it was important to come to a shared understanding of this popular word (lest it end up on the Banished Words List!).

There were more good points and astute observations than you could waggle a mission statement at during our two hours together–these were my three favs:

  1. Diffusion: Technology makes it easier to engage. This is great in many ways; it also means individuals are bombarded with engagement opportunities. So, although it is technically easier to engage, it is more difficult to get people to engage because their attention is drawn in so many directions. Don’t let ease of access trick you into believing engagement is easy.
  2. Differentiation: Arcs, spectrums, ladders, pyramids. Whatever you call it, organizations benefit from thinking about how to differentiate their engagement opportunities by audience and then getting clear on how engagement leads to more engagement for each group. Be explicit. Be specific. Then you know where you want which folks to go and they know where they’re going. Happy, happy.
  3. Dissonance: We agreed that engagement is a two-way street, that both parties derive mutual benefit from engaging and have skin in the game. Engagement is active. All well and good. And yet organizations and individuals usually seek different benefits from the engagement. Or at least that would seem the case. Unless, of course, you can stay focused on the benefit you both care about: advancing mission. It was fascinating to see how this end-user vs. organizational-initiator dynamic played out in the conversation. Rigorous focus on mission mitigates dissonance.

To get more highlights and tidbits from the convo, check out #nplab on Twitter. Also, check out Zan’s great summary here. And last, but certainly not least, see what Beth Kanter (yep, THE Beth Kanter!) had to say about engagement when we interviewed her at Tech for Good, where she delivered a totally amazing training.

How do you like to engage and be engaged? How does your organization engage? What does ‘engagement’ mean to you?