The first rule of effective engagement: know your audience!

In autumn 2015, with funding from the Scottish Government, Sniffer designed and hosted a series of regional workshops to raise awareness of the importance of air quality with one of the key stakeholder groups: elected members.

While we have climbed out of the era of thick smog, continuing air pollution, much of it invisible, still contributes to 40,000 premature deaths in the UK a year. The Scottish Government’s Cleaner Air for Scotland Strategy, published in 2015, sets a road map for making Scotland’s air the cleanest in Europe. However, introducing measures such as Low Emission Zones can be contentious, so it is important that our decision makers are fully informed of the benefits and costs.

To help achieve this, rather than simply produce another briefing, Sniffer invited elected members from all Local Authorities to a series of workshops in three cities with air quality management areas: Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee.

We invited three experienced elected members to contribute to the design of the workshops, ensuring the sessions were tailored to the needs of our busy audience. We also asked NGOs from the health and environmental sectors to take part in the workshops, creating useful links between those pressing for change and those with the power to take action.

The councillors enjoyed the chance to learn more about air quality and discuss the challenges and opportunities with the experts. Points raised at the workshops were then collected into an Elected Members FAQs on air quality. These materials gave us a further point of engagement with those elected members who could not make it in person. As a result, Scotland’s elected members are better informed and have begun advocating for more air quality measures in their areas.

To make positive change happen requires collaboration from many parties and stakeholders. But a one-size fits all approach rarely works. Involving your intended audience in the design phase and listening to their needs ensures engagement activities are appropriate and effective, both in content and form.