VERCA Tools and guidance
This section is intended to familiarize users of this toolkit with the basics of public engagement. The guidelines in this section will help organizations new to the topic properly approach PE initiatives. You may skip this section if you already have experience in this area and want to directly start exploring the tools of the toolkit.
A. Planning stage: how to prepare and plan your engagement initiative
Well-planned and executed events, activities or engagement campaigns are a good way to interest Canadians in international development issues and humanitarian aid.
Take the time to plan carefully. Some of the most important considerations are:
- Know your target audience. Based on that information, identify relevant objectives and what strategic and consistent messages will have meaning and importance for them.
- Plan for what level(s) of the continuum you are targeting.
- Do you aim to raise awareness, deepen understanding or encourage concrete actions?
- Are you focusing on a level or levels likely to appeal to your audience?
- Canadians can become aware and increase their knowledge of Canada’s efforts to reduce poverty without becoming actively involved. Other Canadians may be ready to go a step further, for example, by commenting on or sharing a food security blog post, attending a conference on sustainable development goals or volunteering to work for an organization.
- Research peer organizations involved in international development and humanitarian aid. Are there opportunities to work together and maximize the reach of PE activities?
- Consider using virtual alternatives to your activities and initiatives, especially to reach new audiences. Also consider promoting your events and initiatives on online platforms.
- Think about what success looks like for your activity(ies) and how will you know when you have achieved it. Planning good qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods is important to ensure that you are meeting your objectives and managing your budget efficiently. Once your activity is over, take the time to reflect on successes and areas for improvement. Note lessons learned that may guide you in the future
B. Good practices to consider[edit | edit source]
Use third parties to expand reach
- Use individuals that are trusted by diverse Canadians and can become “multipliers.” They can be champions, social media influencers, VIPs, teachers, student leaders, etc. They can help overcome barriers through implied third-party endorsement.
- Employ partnerships that can be multi-sectorial (that is, with other sectors, different federal departments or levels of government, or with educational and cultural institutions).
Connect local issues to global issues
- Leverage Canadians’ view of global responsibility and humanity.
- Use examples from challenges affecting both domestic and global communities (such as the COVID-19 pandemic) to demonstrate how global issues have an impact at the local level (e.g. safety, well-being).
Note: Fostering emotions rooted in notions of shared responsibility can be a strategy to consider.
Collaborate with other organizations
- Collaborate and partner with other organizations to plan and undertake PE campaigns and initiatives to maximize results and reach new audiences.
- Coordinate your messaging and visual identity with other organizations when you are developing communication campaigns. Such collaboration can often lead to better developed activities.
Note: See more about the importance of partnerships and collaboration in section 2.3. – Going further.
Reach new audiences
- Raise awareness and increase knowledge with those who are not yet or not fully aware by reaching beyond the already existing networks of global citizens within the international assistance community.
- Diversify your reach to include new audiences.
- Reducing barriers to participation will increase diversity and numbers of participants. These include financial, geographic, cultural, physical (accessibility) and language barriers.
- Engagement strategies cannot use generic cookie-cutter approaches when trying to reach different demographics.
Foster peer recognition
- Participation will be greater if learners are recognized by their peers and their achievements are validated.
- Engagement initiatives need to be designed and promoted so that their value to learners (and potential recognition by peers) is obvious.
Employ digital tools
- Use tools such as social media channels, virtual meeting technologies, webcasting and podcasting , which can help overcome barriers to participation, such as geographic, financial and availability.
- In addition, consider digital gamification. Applying a gaming approach to facilitate learning has demonstrated its effectiveness with youth audiences.
Note: For more on this topic, check the section “Measuring progress".
C. Types of engagement initiatives: Examples and tips[edit | edit source]
Organizing in-person and online events
Examples: Seminars, conferences, webinars, study tours, photo or art exhibits, film screenings
- Plan an event with clear objectives.
- Focus on specific audiences instead of “Canadians at large’’ and develop specific engagement strategies for each audience.
- Before planning an event, evaluate what has been done or planned by partners for the same target groups (organizations working within the same communities, including non-traditional groups).
- When possible, work in partnership with other like-minded and complementary organizations to maximize reach, share best practices and build capacity.
- Include clear and consistent key messages as part of the events to communicate long-term results and effectiveness (going beyond isolated events and facts).
- If you are holding a series of events in a number of communities, develop a plan to engage with local organizations and media, when possible. Evaluate the possibility of including large cities and small communities, including rural and northern locations.
- Have an evaluation plan for all events/products, including both quantitative and qualitative indicators, to assess engagement.
- If you are planning an event with a speaker, reach out for possible partnerships. Other organizations might also be interested in inviting this guest to speak at their own event.
Engaging and involving the Canadian education sector
Examples: Training sessions for Canadian teachers, partnerships with local education institutions
- Engage education faculties to target students studying to become teachers.
- Get in touch with your provincial or regional council, which has strong ties with different local school boards across the country.
Sharing personal stories of experiences abroad
Example: Blog, news article, podcast or video about an intern or a volunteer who undertook an international experience with your organization
- Interns and volunteers should prepare an engagement plan to implement before, during and after they go abroad, as well as a short report upon their return to Canada.
- During their stay abroad, ask them to write a blog post, share photos or use the social media platform of their choice to share their experience with other Canadians.
- Suggest that they contact newspapers and TV and radio stations in their communities; a journalist might be interested in featuring a story about their experience abroad.
- Create links to intern or volunteer blogs on your organization’s website.
- Develop a speaker’s bureau to have interns and volunteers participate and share with others when they return to Canada.
- Develop joint PE campaigns with other Canadian, international or multilateral partner organizations (e.g. international days, UN Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]).
Developing a social media campaign
- Before developing a social media campaign, evaluate the possibility of working in partnership with other organizations (like-minded and complementary) to extend reach, build capacity, share knowledge, harmonize messages and reduce duplication.
- Plan public engagement campaigns (using traditional and new media) to amplify the voices of people in developing countries.
- Think about partnering with a “social media champion” or “influencer” who is a natural fit to your organization.
- Measure the reach by counting the exact number of people that a social media post could reach.
- Calculate the number of actions resulting from the publication of messages in social media, such as engagement and shares (quantitative evaluation).
- Evaluate the content of comments published on social media (qualitative evaluation).
Producing and disseminating communications products
Examples: Videos, films, photos, podcasts, paper and electronic publications (such as pamphlets, books); pre-paid media articles; websites or interactive platforms; TV, radio and newspaper ads directly linking to the engagement project
- Define objectives and confirm target audiences. Develop a rationale to justify the choice of medium for those audiences.
- Establish a distribution strategy before developing communication products (for example, confirm target audience, distribution list, timelines, responsibilities).
- Before developing a new communication product, check if another partner has already developed a similar tool.
- Prepare an evaluation plan for all products, including both quantitative and qualitative indicators, wherever possible.