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Responsive Engagement? The New Narrative

Responsive Engagement? The New Narrative

Immersed in dozens of discovery projects over the past couple decades, responsive engagement is a specific method cultivated to mine insight revealing the unique soul or purpose of a brand or organization’s targeted audience, steeped in their context or culture. Parsing through hundreds of comments, learning about what people – consumers or citizens or readers – think and to align those insights in a usable way. Typically that means to aggregate themes, synthesize into an actionable body of shared perspective or tease out the nuance of larger movements. Be that a product, or NGO or community, or membership of folks with a common affinity, the meta meta data distilled brings heaps of meaning that all comes out of an active listening practice, to sit with and learn from a broad range of voices.

In a single Ted Talk, Amanda Palmer sums it up as a musical artist and 8-foot bride, to “let them” – to let people in. Digging in to where the magic of the human heart connects with a more reflective innate nature, tapping in, what is authentic, actualized in us through the connection with “other.”

For a year in residency at the Reynolds Journalism Institute in Missouri (RJI), I fully immersed in active listening, requirements gathering and distilling expertise and experiences of a transitioning system of news across the US; towns rural, urban, large and small. A legacy of US newsrooms and community publishers working through a business model digitally disrupted, advertising-driven revenue rapidly failing to sustain readers across a splintered spectrum. Learning, listening and observation revealing active engagement is not a spectator sport. This title, a piece about tactics to successfully animate and cultivate community participation, coming out of the RJI Fellowship project after leaving Missouri. The time there focused on requirements gathering from news communities, outlining elements of what became an interaction platform called the Journalism Accelerator (JA).  Boldly bringing expertise in from outside news and media information verticals, the JA powered an accelerated capacity to learn about the news industry – from folks in that industry – and to challenge assumptions. From a culture that has defined narrative structure of a format for reporting, built into our country’s system of checks and balances with a function to serve and power democracy. Over a decade now, I’ve been doing work guided by deep conversation and discussion with innovators and startups in and outside of journalism working to bring communities together in productive dialogue, with an aim to break down silos or advance collaboration through the wisdom of the crowd.

Authenticity & Audience Accountability

Responsive engagement honors a unique balance of exchange. Seeing this as the heart beat of listening or successful feedback systems – a practice highly effective to deliver insight, distill meaning and value as a replicable or adopted standard, very much in its infancy across markets and way outside traditional legacy newsroom information gathering methods. As a short list of markers, responsive engagement tends to include or contain specific attributes:

  • Reflection – Capacity to engage requires an active practice that is sourced from and visible to those engaged with, honest and respectful
  • Synthesis – Those who participate are able to see others contribution and the themes they help inform or guide with their unique expertise
  • Shared Learning – Collaborative insight makes visible or concrete, how folks connect and relate around a shared stake demonstrating impact or benefit
  • Reciprocal – The tradition of call – response, to hear others and work with their perspective, to level up, to “make better” in combination or blending of ideas or cultures
  • Active Practice – Iterative: listening is evidence based – a process of refinement, improvement & change aligned around shared, articulated purpose that is qualified with clarity of intention

Largely due to responsive engagement not being a technology, app or IoT thing – but a uniquely human exercise, at simplest, a practice of humility. It requires humanity, compassion, trust, respect and authenticity in order to extend a meaningful connection across online twitter chats, comment threads, forums, online panel discussion or Q&As. Feedback when synthesized is one of purest sources of insight possible to apply, to inform and elevate a narrative. There is upside in recognizing out of a desire to codify or quantify – to discern which processes are or are not “acts of technology.” It is within the experimentation, where human beings and our heart guided capacity to relate, regard, synthesize, trust and feel cannot be automated. It is a human to human, or creature comfort guided place, where we are most at ease when a climate of respect and regard is exercised, extensible.

Humans Becoming

Thank goodness there are many things in life, that are simply not possible to post on instagram or replicate through AI or capture in pixels. The feeling mind where rather than humans being, we create methods, models and mindfulness embracing and mining a unique quality born out of trust, as individuals chose to share, be vulnerable, contribute or to un-shutter themselves. For those listening and learning, it is an honor to bear witness to humans becoming, to provide a safe space for voice empowerment.

Perhaps this may come as good news to some of us who wonder, are humans in their excitement to create, capitalize upon, automate, market or replicate what may work for others, be that brands or artistry or fundraising  – are we forgetting how essential the non-technological aspects of relating are? And isn’t that the basis of all innovation? In reality, “humanoid like” tech interactions or apps, are never going to be able to replace the deep innate capacity and requirements of other creatures to fulfill what is a human to human exchange.

Responsive engagement, and its roots, function in and between minds and hearts — whether they think alike, have a different beat or come from the same experience — becomes less relevant. That there is an active practice of respectful exchange, that as authentic expression lights the spark – animates the actor, fuels insight and illuminates pathways where brands – communities, people and democracies – learn, live, play and together, rise stronger.


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