ON THE AGENDA | JULY 12TH, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Recruiting Participants

Diverse participation is a conscious result of recruiting efforts.

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation Part 4

Bringing together large, diverse numbers of people is often critical to the success of public participation.

Participation is more likely to benefit the community as a whole when it involves a broad cross-section of the community. And interactions will be more lively and rewarding when there is a diverse mix of participants. In this case, diversity not only means demographic diversity, but also diversity of views, perspectives, backgrounds and experiences.

Diverse participation is a conscious result of recruiting efforts. Valuable recruitment skills to assist in encouraging diversity include mapping the community, creating recruitment plans and conducting one-on-one interviews.

Mapping the Community

There are many ways for participation leaders to map the community or population with which they are working. The most basic and proven approach is simply to list the different networks and groups to which people belong.

Using an actual geographic map can be helpful for learning and remembering where people live, work, study, worship, and play. A map of social media connections can help organizers find the people who connect with, are trusted by, and curate information for others.

All kinds of networks and groups could be represented in such a map, including but not limited to: schools, businesses, faith congregations, service clubs, sports teams, hospitals, immigrant service organizations, fire stations, colleges and universities, restaurants and coffee shops, youth groups, senior citizens’ groups, grocery stores, libraries, newspapers and radio stations, police or sheriff’s departments, unions, newspapers and other media organizations, community organizing groups, neighborhood or homeowners associations, laundromats, barbershops and hair salons, political parties, social service agencies and bookstores.

These lists can be made graphically interesting. For example, the figure below provides an example of a neighborhood-based recruitment map. It also shows that mapping need not be complicated.

Image 01

Figure 1: Example of Mapping a Community Network

Creating a recruitment map can be a participatory process in itself. As a planning activity, it can help coalition members understand one another better and produce a tangible asset they can use in other contexts.

In fact, these maps and lists could be considered rare public resources. In cities like Decatur, Georgia, participation leaders have taken their map to other community meetings, used it as part of their presentation about their engagement process, and invited people to add new organizations and networks to it.

Creating Recruitment Plans

To capitalize on the recruitment potential of a diverse organizing coalition and a growing map of networks, participation leaders need a simple, coherent plan for inviting people to engage.

Everyday Democracy suggests five basic steps for participant recruitment:

  1. Review your recruitment goals. Participation leaders should decide how many and what kinds of people they will reach out to. Several questions can help guide recruitment goals. How many people need to be involved to give the effort a critical mass? What kinds of people are needed for diversity (broadly defined)? Why would people from each group want to participate? What kinds of barriers might keep people in each group from participating? Are there individuals in the organizing coalition who can reach out to groups not yet involved? If not, who can help to spark their interest?
  2. Develop talking points. Recruitment is easier when the message is clear and consistent. The message should give a brief overview of the project or structure, including the issue(s) that it will help people to address and why the issue(s) are important.
  3. Plan outreach strategies. Personal invitations – offered in-person, via email or by phone – are almost always the most effective recruiting channel. You can use flyers, ads, mailers, social media posts and radio time to recruit, but these should be supplemental strategies. In general, outreach also improves when there is at least some opportunity for conversation about the program and issues and why they are important.
  4. Give coalition members recruiting assignments. Participation leaders can ask coalition members to reach out to people in their networks. It can also be useful to set specific recruitment goals for each member. If citizens hear the message from someone they trust, they will be more likely to participate.
  5. Take extra steps to recruit underrepresented groups. One of the biggest recruitment challenges is engaging people who do not often get involved in community events. This takes extra work and effort, particularly if participation leaders or coalition members are not part of those groups. But without it, recruitment will miss many important voices. Establishing trust is central to reaching underrepresented groups. When possible, it is useful to find a spokesperson or leader in that community that can help spread the word. Sometimes these spokespersons can be found in unlikely places, such as barbershops or restaurants.

The figures below illustrate some of the thinking that can go into a recruitment plan. The first shows how participation leaders may begin to think about target percentages for various demographic groups. The second depicts the challenge of the recruitment ‘funnel,’ which suggests that only a percentage of those recruited will actually decide to participate. Therefore, participation leaders must conduct wider outreach to meet their recruitment goals. (These figures and the figure above were created by Jon Abercrombie of Common Focus.)

Image 01

Figure 2: Example of Using Target Demographic Percentages

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Figure 3: The Recruitment ‘Funnel’

One-on-One Interviews

One of the most versatile recruitment skills was first developed and refined by community organizers decades ago: the one-on-one interview.

The idea is to create a safer space for people to share their concerns and talk about their interests, and to do so in a way that encourages them to take public action. AmeriCorps Vista and Campus Compact have developed some tried-and-true questions for one-on-one interviews:

  • How long have you been involved in this issue?
  • Why did you get involved?
  • Who do you partner with?
  • What would you like to see happen on this issue?
  • What is possible? What should be possible?
  • Would you be able to [insert commitment/action]?
  • Could you give me the names of other people to talk to?

Read other blogs in this series:

Part 1: Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation

Part 2: Building Coalitions and Networks

Part 3: Cultural Competence and Engaging Youth

Portions of this post were excerpted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy by Tina Nabatchi and Matt Leighninger. Copyright© 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.



Submitted by: Ellena on Saturday, July 16th, 2016

Just great, thank you for sharing this funnel illustrations!

I was trying to make simmilar

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