Scared audience

You call it networking – I call it ‘casual stalking’…

Now I say this flippantly, but quite seriously at the same time… I want to explain to you why this is a thing, and if you are afraid right now, please fear not, I’m a nice person. Trust me, I’m Australian!

A French Marxist from the 1960s, Guy De Bord, wrote of the collage, a concept that grew out of integrating past or present artistic works to make a new creation. This was generally used by De Bord and his buddies to create satirical parodies, however, there is an underlying concept here that recognises we have vast amounts of information already and perhaps opportunities lie in piecing it together in the right ways by the right people. And I put it to you that this is the lynchpin behind casual stalking – that the right people are out there with the right information, we simply need to bring it together. This is particularly true along the research to innovation continuum.

So how does casual stalking work? A great example is when you’re putting an event together. You have a rough idea of who should be there – we repeat ad-nausea ‘know your audience’ – but actually this is the most difficult task. And it isn’t just about putting ‘bums on seats’… everyone is busy, you need to make sure what you are offering is worth the effort of attending. Perhaps the principles of casual stalking are difficult to apply to a 30,000 visitor trade show, but you can certainly give it a good shot in your event promotion.

We’ve got LinkedIn and Google to help you find the exact person in an organisation to target. And you should be bold – in sales it’s called the ‘cold call’ and it hasn’t gone out of style no matter how much we’ve advanced in the technology stakes. If you can talk to the person, you can explain to them why they need what you are offering.

This approach might not work for everyone, for example if you are actually selling something on a commercial basis. It is a unique position that the ARCC network operates in, at the boundary of research and the policy and practice communities, and as such we have no vested interest in ‘selling’ other than enhancing the impact of research. Casual stalking to increase sales might very well be considered the wrong strategy for probably all businesses, however, to engage in market research, or make contact with a university research project is probably an appropriate use of this technique.

And the times they are a changin’, as Bob Dylan so rightly said… Let’s consider how casual stalking applies to policy engagement in the modern era. The direction of the serving government at any point is an essential landscape that industry and academia need to understand, and it’s by no means a simple task. It takes going to the right events, knowing the right people, and maintaining relationships. But we have a different civil service these days – certainly in Australia, where we have short-term Executive Contracts – and here in the UK there are far greater staff rotations between departments, with a focus on transferable skill sets which brings a fabulous diversity of approach to the complex task of policymaking. However, it CHANGES THE GAME of engagement. Hence my invitation to casually stalk with me!

This IS a thing – I’m pretty sure that this is the way forward for knowledge exchange, to broaden engagement opportunities beyond the usual suspects, of having the right approach to getting information out there to the right people. With the booming global population being a factor in almost all decision-making, it impacts on knowledge exchange, engagement and communications too… but it DOES NOT have to simply mean more data and bigger contact spreadsheets, it is important to actively pursue your fundamental audience (in the most professional manner, of course).

Do we always get it right? No way… sometimes you’ve assumed incorrectly, you’ve not quite hit the nail on the head, but part of engagement is the process that you go through, of introducing who you are and what you do. By the law of averages you’ll more likely than not find something of common interest, and a different opportunity may arise.

So how does one go about casual stalking? Well, if you want to know more then I’m going to leave it to you to hunt me down 🙂

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