Engagement in practice
Theory and practice for successful engagement
By Gillian Squirrell

To see sections of this book in a PDF, please click here.

That engagement and participation have been concepts and practices which have been advanced and supported by governments of different political persuasions signals how much engagement matters. It is as important for voluntary, community, not-for-profit and private organisations as it is for all types of public services and for all levels of government.

It can and should be a transformative way of working, developing insights and deepening relationships between communities; but sometimes it can lead people - particularly those already disempowered - to feel further excluded, unheard, or betrayed.
Engagement in Practice examines many of the huge opportunities and some of the possible pitfalls which engagement and participatory work can present, including how to:
  • balance the need to achieve measurable outputs and outcomes, with not wanting to restrain the more open-ended potentials of engagement work
  • ensure engagement is not a service delivered to people, or done to them; but is based on authentic communication, and is backed with sufficient resources to create what has been agreed
  • ensure all people are included, and not just those with more power and resources who may feel they have more rights and authority, or more at stake.

  • Engagement in Practice has been written in an accessible way so that those with a background and those with little background in engagement can develop their understandings and skills. It covers background information and theories of participation and engagement. It explores some of the complex issues such as power, politics and relationships; and offers a range of practical activities, and opportunities to reflect on how to support and facilitate engagement, how to develop effective communications and to manage virtual engagement.

    Engagement in Practice shows how the ideas about engagement and participation have developed over time, have been refined in practice and, by continuing to develop, can help sustain the vibrancy of national and local democracy, the improvement of public services, the empowerment of people and their communities and the evolution of important organisations... if done thoughtfully. The book explores:
  • what engagement can mean, and some of the skills, approaches and attitudes needed for undertaking engagement ethically and effectively
  • how to sensitively design and support different types of engagement practice to suit different circumstances, purposes, intended outputs and stakeholder groups
  • how to prepare stakeholders for what is involved in engagement and to reduce the risks of exclusion
  • how to approach the evaluation of engagement work.

  • Relevant to the various debates currently crystallised around the 'Big Society', but which predate that, and will probably outlive it, it is for anyone:
  • commissioning, orchestrating, instigating or evaluating engagement work
  • involved in engagement, as stakeholders, at any level - including professionals, facilitators, people in community organisations, citizens.

  • It is also invaluable for students, lectures and researchers, and the libraries that serve them.

    The book urges readers to reflect critically on how engagement practice involves making informed ethical decisions, being appreciative of others, and being aware of the impacts of what is done on reinforcing or challenging the existing status quo.

    Supporting resources including checklists, assessment exercises, and discussion papers, are available on-line at www.e2rc.net.

    Large format paperback. 160 pages. 9781905541751. Published October 2011. £19.95.

    While written in such a way as to be accessible to those with less experience of engagement and participatory work, the book will take the reader to an advanced practical level, providing food for thought to anyone commissioning, orchestrating, instigating, involved in, evaluating, thinking about or researching engagement in:
  • all public services at central and local level, including: government and councils; health; education; social services; justice; etc.
  • all voluntary organisations, plus many not for profits and private organisations
  • universities; research councils; science; museums and the arts
  • Also, students, lecturers and researchers in any of these areas; and libraries that serve them.

    About the author
    Concepts of engagement

    What is engagement?
    Engagement and participation
    Virtual engagement and the role of the web
    Cognitions and cultures: confronting challenges
    Practical issues of engagement
    Methods of engagement
    Scoping and researching
    Communicating effectively
    Working with people
    Working to 'not exclude'
    Concluding comments
    Suggestions for exploration


    Dr Gillian Squirrell
    describes her career as social sciences in action. With an academic background in social sciences and management she has worked for over 20 years in research, evaluation, training, organisational development and as a social entrepreneur. She has worked in and been contracted to universities, research and development institutes, the public sector and non-profits.

    She founded and was the CEO of a residential, learning and training project for offenders and substance misusers for 10 years.

    She has undertaken many national evaluations of social policy and programme interventions, run national consultations and researched and trained extensively in areas of programme development, evaluation, engagement and the interplay of research, policy and practice development.

    As an organisational consultant and manager she has been actively engaged in working with change in organisations and mediating the various challenges that changes to programme expectations and budgets can present. She works extensively with action research and action learning and systems theory.

    She is currently researching and developing a new vocationally geared social enterprise programme for excluded adults. More information about the author can be found at www.gilliansquirrell.net.

    There was high praise for Gillian Squirrell's earlier Russell House publications. The three bestselling training manuals - Becoming an Effective Trainer (1998), Developing Life Skills (1998), Developing Social Skills (1999) - were acclaimed in many published reviews, and remain both in print and in widespread use. Becoming an Effective Trainer was described as 'Particularly valuable... It is presented accessibly and balances theory and practice.' Community Care. 'An ongoing source of reference and help.' Youthwork. 'Promotes all the right messages.' www.trainingzone.co.uk.


    "In the UK, engagement has become a byword for 'doing things differently', shifting responsibility for the provision and funding of services away from central government to a broader coalition of public, voluntary, independent and citizen's services… Gillian Squirrell has examined a number of the key challenges of engagement for all charged with providing effective engagement, be they policy makers and/or practitioners/contributors. In a concise publication she has revisited earlier theoretical constructs, providing a contemporary framework of understanding that redefines engagement as an evolutionary process. Furthermore, she demonstrates how engagement can, and should, transcend political agendas in achieving credible, tangible outcomes for all stakeholders, leading to sustainable change in service development, design and delivery... The book is well structured and organised... a publication 'to support and extend professional and community practice, to provoke reflection and encourage critical thinking'... One of the essential requirements advocated by Squirrell is that the 'ethical behaviours, power and practical considerations' be acknowledged and understood within a values-based framework which informs and influences both methods of engagement and models of practice. The chapters covering communication, working with people and working not to exclude are littered with exercises to encourage and enhance critical thinking, reflection and practical application of effective engagement strategies... This book challenges preconceived ideas as to what effective engagement entails and provides its readers with theoretical models and practical guidance to effectively challenge poor practice, i.e. from an informed evidence base and to proactively shape best practice i.e. understand the value base informing ethical practice... This publication will prove to be an excellent reference point for those individuals who have responsibility for engagement." Human Solutions Bulletin