About Community Engagement
Community engagement is public participation involving people/residents in problem-solving or decision-making processes. It is a multifaceted, ongoing process.
Community engagement is the process of working collaboratively with groups of people who are affiliated by geographic proximity, special interests or similar situations with respect to issues affecting their well-being.
The importance of engaging the community is grounded in the belief that the public has a right to participate.
Government agencies that believe that by using our “collective intelligence” and working together, will more accurately identify problems and develop more elegant and effective solutions.
Conflict is minimised if the public/residents have had a chance to “buy into” the process.
Benefits of Community Engagement
As government agencies face the challenge of building more robust, sustainable and healthier communities, success will depend upon the effort invested in bringing people together, building and nurturing long-term relationships. Multiple benefits will be realized as new individuals and organizations across our diverse communities are included and involved.
Potential benefits to participants include: networking opportunities, access to information and resources, personal recognition, skill enhancement, and a sense of contribution and helpfulness in solving community problems.
Community Engagement Creates Potential
Social justice: It is through community engagement that community wisdom, design and science work in tandem to ensure a more balanced and integrated set of political, social, economic and cultural priorities, resulting in shared resources and shared power, thus leading to equity and social justice.
Shaping services: Including a broad array of community residents from the beginning of a planning process will help shape services so they are culturally acceptable and more closely meet specific needs.
Trust: Inviting leadership from community groups will help demonstrate that their participation is valued and that their views will be considered. This can help to build trust, increase communication and create openness to utilizing services.
Outreach: More residents will feel involved with community activities and decisions and will be able to explain or interpret them positively to others. Spreading the word through this informal approach will improve outreach.
Connecting people and resources: Community engagement efforts improve connections between individuals, community associations, businesses, and churches, which in turn creates greater community “buy-in.”
New leaders: Inviting community members and leaders of community groups into planning processes will help in the identification of champions and development of leaders who understand cultural, design, planning, development and related health issues.
Critical reflection: Community engagement processes provide opportunities for cooperative, co-learning experiences, and critical reflection that benefits from community wisdom.
Principles of Community Engagement
Before commencing community engagement:
Be clear about the purposes or goals of the engagement effort and the populations and/or communities you want to engage.
Those wishing to engage the community need to be able to communicate to that community why its participation is worthwhile.
Become knowledgeable about the community’s culture, economic conditions, social networks, political and power structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with efforts by outside groups to engage it in various programs. Learn about the community’s perceptions of those initiating the engagement activities.
It is important to learn as much about the community as possible, through both qualitative and quantitative methods from as many sources as feasible.
Go to the community, establish relationships, build trust, work with the formal and informal leadership, and seek commitment from community organizations and leaders to create processes for mobilizing the community.
Engagement is based on community support. Positive change is more likely to occur when community members are an integral part of a program’s development and implementation.
Remember and accept that collective self-determination is the responsibility and right of all people in a community. No external entity should assume it can bestow on a community the power to act in its own self-interest.
Just because an institution or organization introduces itself into the community does not mean that it is automatically becomes of the community. An organization is of the community when it is controlled by individuals or groups who are members of the community.
For Community Engagement to succeed:
Partnering with the community is necessary to create change. Partnership is “a relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal.”
All aspects of community engagement must recognize and respect the diversity of the community. Awareness of the various cultures of a community and other factors affecting diversity must be paramount in planning, designing, and implementing approaches to engaging a community.
Diversity may be related to economic, educational, employment, or health status as well as differences in culture, language, race, ethnicity, age, gender, mobility, literacy, or personal interests.
Community engagement can only be sustained by identifying and mobilizing community assets and strengths and by developing the community’s capacity and resources to make decisions and take action.
Community members and institutions should be viewed as resources to bring about change and take action.
Organizations that wish to engage a community as well as individuals seeking to effect change must be prepared to release control of actions or interventions to the community and be flexible enough to meet its changing needs.
Engaging the community is ultimately about facilitating community-driven action.
Community collaboration requires long-term commitment by the engaging organization and its partners.
Community participation and mobilization need nurturing over the long-term.
What Is Public Participation?
“Public participation” is the involvement of people in a problem-solving or decision-making process that may affect or interest them.
Who? “The public” is actually many publics. Their interests will vary from being affected by the decision to having information or insights of value to having a role in acting on the decision. Take the time to see the project through their eyes.
What? The public may be asked for advice and assistance or they may be offered a voice in the actual decision, such as through a committee, because there is more than one way to make a decision. Various kinds of knowledge are generally treated as additive rather than competitive (that is, together they create a richer and common pool of understanding).
When? It should be done thoughtfully, intentionally, purposefully. Preparation and involvement should start early. The public involvement should carry through the course of the effort and be adapted as necessary along the way.
Where? Location costs (time and travel) for participants and for the agency should be thoughtfully considered. Generally speaking, it makes a positive impression on participants when an agency finds ways to make it easier for them to participate.
Why? The “why” is grounded in the belief and the practical reality that the public has a right to consultation and involvement; solutions and decisions will be the better and more durable because of it; and conflict can be better managed through it.
How? The form and degree of involvement can vary within a single project or program and among different projects or programs. Different techniques vary in associated time and expense costs.
Adapted from various sources, mainly those on the Community Engagement website for the Minnesota Department of Health