Each individual experiences a progression of reactions or stages when confronted with a problem or an opportunity. The Five Stages of Engagement gauge the level of commitment the person has toward resolving the problem or capitalizing on the opportunity (see figure below).








The What? Stage

On first contact with a problem, a person often responds with, “What are you talking about?”

“What makes this problem more important than all the other things I have to deal with?”

“What does this issue mean to me?”

An individual in the What? stage does not understand or accept the problem.

The No! Stage

As a person is exposed to more information about the issue, disinterest shifts to various strategies of resistance.

“No, I never use that government service. Why would I care where the building is? And I have to mow the lawn right now anyway.”

“No. Why do I care where my water comes from? I have important things to deal with; the school just called, and my son is in trouble again.”

This initial resistance can be overcome when the individual sees his or her own interests as closely aligned with the consequences of the problem or the possible outcomes of the opportunity.

The Oh! Stage (or the Moment of Oh!)

As an individual gathers more information and achieves an understanding of the consequences of the problem, there is a realization that something must be done. This is the Moment of Oh!

“Oh! You mean folks are going to drive right by my house? How many cars a day will that be?

“My water rate is going up 50 percent? That has to be a mistake!”

The Whoa! Stage

After experiencing the Moment of Oh!, individuals want to find a solution. Oftentimes the solution requires accepting some negative consequences. Then people experience the stage of Whoa!

Whoa! If the office isn’t moved, my taxes are going up?”

“I need water for fire protection, and clean water is essential, but there has to be a cheaper solution.”

The Let’s Go! Stage

Once people assess the pros and cons of the solution and make their decision, the response is Let’s Go! Communities that manage to engage people through each stage of engagement will be able to implement community decisions more effectively. Community members will regard public officials and community leaders as responsive stewards of the community’s best interests.

Assessment of which stage of engagement community members are experiencing is critical to designing strategies to arrive at widely supported community decisions. Next we will examine each stage of engagement in more detail.

— Previous book post: Introduction

— Next up: Leading with the Five Stages of Engagement

Greg Ranstrom and John Blakinger are authors of the new  book The Moment of Oh! a guide to help communities make tough decisions.