The Ultimate Guide to Engagement Planning

Helping you make the most of the Engagement Canvas

We’ve designed the Engagement Canvas so you can quickly and effectively plan an engagement project. This guide is here to help you understand how to best use this new tool.

We were inspired by the Business Model Canvas developed by Alexander Osterwalder, and a variation called the Social Lean Canvas developed by the Ākina Foundation. We’ve found these tools invaluable for clarifying and communicating our business and social enterprise ideas.

We’ve split this Guide into three parts.

  1. Part 1 asks “Why complete an Engagement Canvas?”

  2. Part 2 suggests a process for completing the Canvas and getting feedback

  3. And Part 3 provides detailed guidance for each section of the Canvas.

If you have any questions or challenges along the way, please reach out to the Business Lab team at We would love to hear from you.

Ngā mihi nui!   | Good luck!

From all the Business Lab team

Download the Canvas through these links at any time (no email required)



Part 1: Why complete an Engagement Canvas?

First things first, what do we mean by “engagement”?

“public participation refers to ‘episodic’ relationships... as opposed to public engagement where relationships are ongoing and active”
— Serrao-Neumann, Harman, Leitch, and Low Choy

We see engagement as an ongoing process of developing trusting relationships that lead to meaningful change.

In other words, engagement is not a one-off; it’s something you work at over time.

Having said that, organisations often talk about “engagement projects”. This is a one-off effort to build relationships, understand perspectives and take action on the topic in question.  

The Engagement Canvas is a tool to help you think through a one-off engagement project. 

And it’s designed so you can easily get feedback from others on your thinking. Engagement works best when it’s embedded within an organisation’s culture, with a consistent strategy across all projects. Our ultimate goal at Business Lab is to help you achieve this.

We hope the Engagement Canvas will be something you can use time-and-again to improve the consistency of engagement outcomes for your organisation as a whole.

But why not just use a traditional planning approach?

Think about how you usually plan an engagement project.

Chances are, one of two things will happen...

Often, our engagement planning is fast but not robust

Unstructured engagement planning

This is usually what happens for people new to engagement. You sit down at a one-hour meeting and throw together some ideas about how to engage.

It might be in front of a whiteboard, or it might be an open conversation with somebody taking notes.

What’s the problem with ‘quick and dirty’ engagement planning?

  1. Likely to miss key considerations: The conversation is not well structured, so you often miss some key considerations.

  2. Unstructured notes: The output of the meeting is often not that easy to understand. It might be a photo of a messy whiteboard, or some detailed written minutes.

  3. Not easy to get feedback: When the output of your conversation is a messy whiteboard or some unstructured notes, it can be harder to get quality strategic feedback on your engagement planning.

Or, it’s robust but time-consuming and overly detailed

More experienced engagement professionals often go to the other extreme. We’re talking lengthy engagement plans that go into a lot of detail.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.
— American army general, Dwight D. Eisenhower

What are the limitations of detailed engagement plans?

Detailed engagement plan(4).png
  1. Time-consuming: You need to take a lot of time to complete a detailed engagement plan.

  2. Harder to get quality strategic feedback: It’s hard to get feedback on detailed documents, and often the feedback you get is about tactics or words, rather than strategy.

  3. Makes it harder to be agile: They tend to lock organisations into an approach, even if you soon realise that’s inappropriate. But when you’ve spent so much time planning your engagement, and have a long detailed plan, it can actually make the engagement harder when you get out into the real world.

The Engagement Canvas is designed so you can plan quickly and robustly.

And because it’s all on one structured page, you’re more likely to get useful feedback from other people.

Engagement Canvas


Part 2: Suggested process for completing the Engagement Canvas

It’s not as simple as just filling it out once. We suggest these four steps:

  1. WRITE on a printed copy of the Canvas with your team

  2. REVIEW and REWRITE so others can understand your Canvas

  3. SHARE the Canvas with a few relevant people to get their feedback

  4. INCORPORATE the feedback you’ve received.

Let’s look at those four steps in more detail now.

1. WRITE on a printed copy of the Canvas with your team

We suggest printing onto A3 or A2 paper so you have plenty of room to write and draw on the Canvas. Don’t complete it on a computer as this may encourage to expand the boxes so they no longer fit on one page. The Canvas is intended to be a “plan on a page”.

You will find it more valuable to complete the Canvas with a small group of 2 - 4 people. Any more and you might need somebody to facilitate. And if it’s just one person you miss the chance to share and improve ideas as you go.


Now is not the time for wordsmithing; now is the time for getting the bare minimum on paper to communicate your ideas. But that doesn’t mean you should be vague. Be specific, but don’t worry whether the words are perfect or not.

Where it makes sense, experiment with different coloured pens, symbols, images, stick figures, arrows and boxes. As the saying goes, a picture speaks a thousand words.

We recommend completing the Canvas in order. We’ve structured it to follow Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle:

  • You’ll start with the big picture “Why are we doing this”?

  • Before thinking about the mechanisms “How are we going to do this?” 

  • And finishing with the details “What needs to be in place for this to happen?”

Engagement Canvas - Why, How, What

2. REVIEW and REWRITE so others can understand your Canvas

Now is the first opportunity to refine your Canvas. You may want to rewrite it on a freshly printed Canvas. Handwriting is fine; just make sure it’s readable.

You still don’t need to worry about getting the wording perfect; this is just about making sure other people can understand what you have written. This is not yet the time for writing up a more formal document (if that’s something your organisation will require).

Cut out unnecessary ideas. You want no repetition on the Canvas. Each section serves a particular purpose; you don’t need to repeat things in different sections.

It’s okay to have only a few words on one section. If you aren’t sure about the answer right now - that’s okay too, just say so.

3. SHARE the Canvas with a few relevant people to get their feedback

If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.
— LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman

This step is crucial. Do not be tempted to miss this step. 

Although Reid Hoffman was talking about technology products, the same philosophy applies to the Canvas. 

One of the key benefits of a Canvas like this is it’s much easier to share and get constructive feedback from relevant people about your engagement strategy. You can show them your strategy on one page rather than in a 20 page document. This increases the chances of you getting valuable feedback.

4. INCORPORATE the feedback you’ve received

Then, repeat steps 3 and 4 until you feel ready to start to get sign-off for your engagement. 

You may then have an agreed process in your organisation for getting sign-off on your engagement strategy. Your Canvas will now serve as your outline, making it much easier to complete that longer document if it’s required.

Pat yourself on the back for getting this far... but don’t forget about the Canvas. Keep updating it during the engagement based on what you learn. It’s designed to be an agile communication and strategy tool.



Part 3: Guidance for each section


What has led to this engagement being proposed?

Imagine you are showing the Canvas to somebody who knows nothing about your engagement project. What will help them to understand why this project is necessary?

“Ka mua, Ka muri.” -  We walk into the future looking backwards at the past
— Māori whakatauki (proverb)

This whakatauki speaks about the importance of understanding and honouring history before taking action in the present. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Has our organisation done lots of previous work on this issue and how did that go? 

  • Has there been tension or conflict about this issue in our community? 

  • Why has this issue become important now?

  • How is this engagement related to other work programmes within your organisation or community?


What are the desired outcomes?

Your purpose needs to tie back to your organisation’s goals. If more than one organisation is leading the engagement project, you may need to spend more time to ensure the engagement ties in with each organisation’s goals. 

You may find it helpful to think of your desired outcomes in terms of how they contribute to:

  • Strategy: Are there any high-level strategic decisions to be made? Is this engagement meant to strengthen one or more of your organisation's strategic goals?

  • Operations: Is this engagement about improving how your organisation operates?

  • Capability and culture: Do you want the engagement to build the skills, knowledge and relationships of the people involved?

Don’t rush this part of the Canvas. The desired outcomes are your north star that will shape the rest of your engagement strategy. When you are seeking feedback on your Canvas, make sure you ask people to confirm whether your desired outcomes hit the mark.


What is and is not under consideration?

Here you need to think about things like:

  • The topic or subject of the engagement - define this as accurately as you can

  • The geography - Is it national, regional, local? Is it about a community, neighbourhood, suburb, street or organisation? Is it an online or offline geography?

  • If the engagement is about an organisation, what parts of the organisation will and won’t be up for debate?

For example: We worked with a membership organisation which had recently changed their constitution. That was a big process that created a lot of anxiety and emotional strain for members. So the organisation decided the constitution was “out of scope” for the engagement process.


Who will oversee this engagement? What is their view of this engagement?

Here you need to identify who you need to report to about your progress. Who is going to hold you accountable? What do they want to see happen?

You may have several different people or groups who are overseeing the engagement. They might be:

  • A client organisation, if somebody is paying you to do this work as an independent facilitator

  • An existing governance board - this is common if you are engaging on behalf of an organisation

  • A partnership or collaboration of organisations - in which case you should check there is a partnership or collaboration agreement in place

  • A new oversight or steering group that you intend to create just for this engagement. This would be a group with diverse representation from the people you are trying to engage.

  • A manager within your organisation.

Whoever your oversight is, it’s crucial that you confirm their commitment to the engagement. You may need their support later if you encounter conflict or unexpected roadblocks during the engagement. They may also have guidance for you on how the engagement can fit with other organisational priorities or decision-making processes.

We often work to set up an oversight group that has a diverse range of stakeholders. Because then the oversight group becomes a helpful codesign mechanism. They can help you make sure the design of the engagement suits the audience.

For example: When we worked with the Nelson Festival Trust, there was a new governance board in place who acted as the oversight group. But when working with the Top of the South Youth Impact Forum, we helped to establish a new steering group with representatives from government, the youth sector and young people.


What is your role and why? Who are your partners? Who are the key groups interested in this issue?

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. What is the most important thing in the world? It’s people, people, people.
— Māori whakatauki (proverb)

This is the biggest box on the Canvas for a reason. This is another of the sections where you need to take your time. Slowing down now will speed you up later.

There are many ways to identify and analyse the people who are most relevant to your engagement. We recommend that you ask three questions:

What is your role and why?

You need to begin by thinking about your organisation’s role. And don’t make an assumption that you should be the leader - simply because you hold the pen at this moment in time.

Are you a leader? A partner? An advocate? A funder? A distributor of information?

If you know your role, you can then approach other people and organisations with much clearer expectations.

Who are your partners?

If you’ve decided you are a leader of the engagement, who else should co-host with you? These are your partners. These are the groups with equal responsibility over the issue in question.

In Aotearoa New Zealand where we’re based, this question helps us to live the principles of Te Tititi o Waitangi - the founding document signed between European settlers with indigenous Māori. The principle of partnership is one of the key principles of the Treaty.

If you approach Māori after you’ve defined the problem and settled on the process, you are not treating them like a partner; you're treating them like any other group.

Therefore, your first question needs to be: Who are are our partners?

Who are the key groups interested in this issue?

These are the people or groups who you must invite. This might be because they:

  • have strong feelings about the issue in question

  • are likely to bring a different viewpoint to the table

  • are influential on this issue.

If you can list out the 20 or 30 people who are interested in this issue, you will be off to a good start. Once you have done an initial braindump, you may want to go back with a different coloured pen to see if there any patterns. Or there might be one or two people who are key because they are linked to almost all the other key groups.


What level of influence will people have in this engagement?

There is no greater engagement sin than creating expectations you cannot meet. The Influence section will help you clarify how much people can influence the decisions and actions taken as a result of engagement.

The “Spectrum of Influence” created by the International Association for Public Participation is a widely used tool for identifying the level of influence people can have.

Image from

Image from

If you want to use a more detailed participation framework, we recommend the AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard (AA1000SES) 2015.

You need to identify the influence that different people or groups will have during the engagement. You may want to draw lines from the People section of your Canvas over to the Influence section. 

It may be that different people have different levels of influence at different points in time during your project. Or it might simply be that everybody will be at one level for the duration of the project.

There may be some people or groups who you are nervous about engaging with. Trouble-makers. Rabble-rousers. Table-bangers. You may have some other names entirely! 

With these groups, it’s important that you are clear about the influence they have. And remember - friction is a key ingredient to building trust - as we’ve written about here. Friction in an engagement process is usually a positive sign, although it may not feel that way at the time.


What methods will you use to engage and communicate?

Many people make the mistake of starting their engagement planning by choosing the methods they will use. Our minds like to jump straight to the solution. 

But we’ve put the methods section halfway through the Canvas to ensure you choose methods that will suit the people you want to engage and the desired outcomes you are seeking.

How do you decide which method to use?

We are currently developing a tool to help you identify which engagement method to use in different situations.

In the meantime, we recommend an online tool called the Dialogue Designer. This was created by Traverse, a consultation and engagement firm. The tool guides you through 3 key questions (about objectives, target audience and sensitivity) before suggesting appropriate methods.


What is the timeline for your key milestones?

In this section, you need to set out the key milestones for the project. You will want to agree these with the people listed in the Oversight section of your Canvas.

But what is a milestone?

This will depend on the scale of your engagement project. A multi-year engagement project will have different kinds of milestones to a two month engagement project with a small number of stakeholders.

To help define your milestones, ask yourself:

What are the key points in the project where we need people to pause and reflect before we keep going?

It’s helpful to have a small number of milestones. If you have more than 10, they will lose significance. Milestones are useful only if they help people understand where your engagement project is at.


What could prevent your desired outcomes?

We added this section in after testing the Canvas with a number of councils. It’s very helpful to identify anything major that could prevent your project from failing to achieve its objectives. This may prompt you to go back to the other sections and make changes.

For example, we completed the Canvas with a council that had identified a local democracy solution for a community. But then we identified that the biggest risk was the community feeling the solution was being done to them rather than with them. This resulted in a complete change of direction for the project - moving away from a pre-existing solution to working with the community to identify what they felt was the core opportunity and the best solution for them.


Why evaluate? How much time and resources can you dedicate to evaluation?

Notice that we are not asking you to write down the actual metrics you will track, the questions you will ask or the method of eliciting information. You can figure these details out later. 

First, you need to answer these two higher-level questions and get feedback from others to check you are on the right track:

  • Purpose: Why evaluate? For this question, think about what you would like to learn from this engagement project. Will you need to defend your process to others? How much do you need to understand whether you have met your desired outcomes? How much do you want to share the outcomes and lessons from the project with others?

  • Scope: How much time and resources can you dedicate to evaluation? Evaluation is not cheap. A good rule of thumb is to spend between 3-10% of your budget on evaluation. And evaluation is not easy. You also need to think about the time and skills available for evaluation.

Once you get some feedback on these high-level questions, then you will be ready to dive into the details of your evaluation metrics and methods.


How will you continue to engage after the project is complete?

Engagement is about building strong relationships. So what’s the point of spending time, money and effort on building stronger relationships if you don’t keep engaging?

At Business Lab, we work throughout the engagement to actively recruit people to participate in implementing the outcomes of engagement.  To achieve this successfully, we put in place some kind of structure for people to continue to work together. That might be a legal structure or simply a simple terms of references to guide efforts.

In this section, you might want to think about:

  • How can we identify and support new leadership that emerges out of the engagement?

  • How much do we want to enable participants to be part of implementation?

  • How can we share the results of the engagement process to build relationships?

  • How will we continue to monitor the topic in question?


What people and resources do you already have available? What extra people or resources do you need? How much have you budgeted for the engagement?

Venn diagram - good, cheap, fast.png

The purpose of this section is to help you understand whether you have the resources to make your engagement project happen.

This is where using the Canvas as a feedback tool is invaluable. Take your first draft of the Canvas to your budget-holder so you can have a well-informed conversation about what is realistic with your budget. 

Can you achieve your desired outcomes with the resources you have available? If not, you need more resources OR you need to scale back your desired outcomes, methods and timeline.

You may like to remind your budget-holder about the project management triangle. You can only ever choose two out of fast, cheap or high-quality.

You may also want to think about involving an independent expert to manage and facilitate the engagement. If you’re unsure whether to invest in this, we’ve developed this 6-question multi-choice tool to help you decide.

Remember, completing the Canvas is only step one…

Once you have completed a first draft of the Canvas, you still have three more steps:

  1. WRITE on a printed copy of the Canvas with your team

  2. REVIEW and REWRITE so others can understand your Canvas

  3. SHARE the Canvas with a few relevant people to get their feedback

  4. INCORPORATE the feedback you’ve received.

These other three steps are crucial. If you don’t do these, you will lose a lot of the value of the Engagement Canvas. It’s designed so it’s easy for you to share your ideas with others in a structured way.



We would love to hear from you

What was it like completing the Canvas? Has it left you ready to get your project started? 

If not, or if you have any further questions or feedback about the canvas, get in touch.  We’re only a Zoom session away and we’d love to hear from you.