Pauline McCartan of HOPE for Autism recently presented at Local Autism Planning and Implementation: a National Event, at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.   She spoke about how her organisation engaged the local community in the development of the North Lanarkshire Local Autism Action Plan.  HOPE held two engagement events, one with young people and one for parents and carers, in which participants were asked about their familiarity with The Scottish Strategy for Autism and the North Lanarkshire Action Plan, with participants then giving feedback on the local action plan.  HOPE also asked how participants would like to be involved moving forward.

Young people asked for more social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. They also preferred online and digital forms of communication, indicating they would prefer email, texting, video messaging and online questionnaires.  For in person events, they preferred consultation through familiar people (like HOPE).  They also suggested starting a campaign to get the word out about the local strategy, including things like television and newspaper advertisements, posters, leaflets, and a forum.  Parents asked for plain, simple language, particularly on documentation, consultation events, newsletters and online surveys.

Since then, HOPE has become active on Facebook, setting up closed member groups in addition to their public page.  They are now using Survey Monkey for online surveys, which they post via Facebook, allowing them to target their member groups or the community at large.   They have also used the mobile messaging app WhatsApp to stay in touch with their stakeholders, and are using Talking Mats to gather input from people with communication difficulties.

Near the end of the presentation, some data on how and why not-for-profit groups were using social media, with “engagement” being the top reason agencies were using platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs.   Agencies wanted to interact with their customers and service users, and wanted to enhance brand awareness and reach potential new customers as well.

The local authority representatives in attendance at the event went away with new ideas on how to engage with autistic people as they work on their local autism strategies and plans, and a view of the value and impact of using social media to engage with a wider audience of stakeholders.