What do journalists mean by engagement?

By Peggy Holman


I was recently asked to write something about what Journalism That Matters has learned about engagement so that news organizations considering it can do so in a more informed way.

A continuum immediately formed in my mind that led to creating a table of different ways that engagement has been used by news organizations.


                    One to many——————–Many to many
  Presentations & Panels Town Halls, Surveys New Styles of Storytelling Information Exchanges Collaborative Actions






Information out Public comment More voices, options, ideas Collective intelligence of a group Broadly embraced systemic action
Benefits Expert perspectives better understood Public perspectives expressed More nuanced understanding of different perspectives Cultivates relationships and mutual understanding Shared action that meets the needs of diverse individuals and the system –community, organization — as a whole


Power & Participation

(who sets the agenda, provides content, and interprets it?)

Hosts set the agenda, experts provide the content and interpret it. Hosts set the agenda, individuals provide the content, experts or hosts interpret it. Hosts may lightly set the agenda with a theme. Or individuals set their own agenda.

Individuals provide content and interpret it.



Hosts, sometimes a mix of diverse partners, lightly set agenda with a theme. Individuals and experts provide content, interpretation is done collaboratively.  

Hosts, usually a mix of diverse partners, lightly set the agenda with a theme and involve people from different aspects of a system. People from the “whole system” provide content and interpret it collaboratively.


Examples St. Louis Public Radio #BeyondFerguson event  


Unite Rochester Listening Tour We Create Here Affordable Housing
Approaches Q&A Public Insight Network Comments  


(PDF of Table)

When a colleague pointed me to the International Association of Public Participation’s (IAP2) “Spectrum of Engagement,” I knew I was on to something. IAP2 focuses on improving and supporting public participation practitioners by advancing and advocating for public participation. Their spectrum was remarkably complementary to my table! I added their goals to the table and offer this draft for comment. Some questions to consider:

· How might you use it as you consider engagement activities in your community?

· Do you have examples or approaches to add?

· Other dimensions would you like to see included?

If you’re considering bringing engagement to your newsroom and want to look beyond the panels and presentations that inform, but aren’t sure how, let’s talk!

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