Barriers to Engagement

Beryl sees a poster for a meeting about making the streets safer for older people. The meeting is going to be held on November 30th at 7:30 pm about a mile away from Beryl’s home. Beryl would like to go but doesn’t have any transport. Her arthritis is playing her up. And anyway, last time she went along to a meeting like this, she never got a chance to speak.

Sam also sees a poster for a meeting about making the streets safer for older people. This meeting is on June 20th at 2pm. Sam works full-time and is caring for his elderly mother – not to mention his grandchildren. Sam is concerned about safety on the streets and used to be active in Neighbourhood Watch but he just doesn’t have the time – especially in the middle of the day.


The two mini-stories highlight different barriers to engagement. Both Beryl and Sam would like to become more engaged as citizens – but they can’t. There are things stopping them. They face barriers like unhelpful meeting times, transport problems or too many other commitments.  You need to remember there are also many other barriers that people may face for example not being able to physically get into the building, English might not be their first language or simply not finding out about the meeting in the first place. Many people face more than one of barriers. 

The barriers to engagement aren’t straightforward. It all depends on the people and the circumstances. We also need to remember barriers are two-sided.

Jenny works for a local authority in community safety. She is new to her job. Jenny has to organise a consultation with older people about making the streets safer for older people. She thinks the council has already decided what it wants to do.  She has not done much work engaging with members of the public before so she has decided to do a paper survey. However she is also not sure who or where to send the surveys to make sure she gets them to older people in the area.

This mini-story shows what could be happening ‘on the other side’. Professionals also face all sorts of barriers or obstacles in trying to engage members of the public.

Barriers to engagement – tools

When faced with a barrier, what do you do?

  • Jump over it?
  • Knock it down?
  • Ignore it?
  • Go around it?
  • Tunnel under it?
  • Wait for it to go away?

Well, it all depends on what sort of barrier you’re dealing with. We’ve designed some tools that help with this and because barriers usually have two sides, we’ve thought about that too.

Identifying your barriers

Beryl and Sam face different barriers to engagement. Barriers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some are easily recognised ,others can be hidden – as Jenny has noticed.

Barriers that are most commonly met.

Older People’s view of barriers

Checklist – Older people’s view in use (PDF doc)

Professionals’ view of barriers

Checklist – professionals’ view in use (PDF doc)

Understanding your barriers

Sometimes removing the barriers can be straightforward. For instance, you can arrange transport or reimburse people for the cost of a taxi etc.

In some circumstances, the barriers can be very tricky to deal with. For instance, sometimes people’s prejudices about the person or organisation asking the questions can get in the way and put them off. This is harder to resolve and you need to find a way to understand what the underlying problem is before you can try to find a solution.

Design for group discussion of barriers

Diagram – barriers upon barriers

This idea of ‘barriers upon barriers’ means we need to make subtle changes to both older people’s and professional’s views of the barriers.

Tackling your barriers

Different barriers need different ways of dealing with them. As we saw in the mini-stories, it’s not enough to advertise a meeting. Also, it’s one thing setting up a consultation, the challenge is to make that consultation meaningful for everyone and for there to be practical outcomes as a result.

To help here, we’ve provided tools that allow you a fuller and more rounded view to tackling the barriers to engagement. Just as a hammer won’t sort all your DIY problems, one tool won’t fix all your engagement challenges.

A Workshop that will help you find different approaches

Five ways that we have successfully broken down barriers

Other ways of breaking barriers and making the connections

57 and more! Varieties of engagement (opens a new window)