Why is Quality Community Engagement So Important?

If done well, quality community engagement can deliver some amazing benefits for both your organisation and the community. However, if done badly, it can actually create more problems and challenges than if no engagement was done at all.

 

quality community engagement can occur anywhere

Quality community engagement does not have to be in a “town meeting” format

 

Undertaking quality community engagement can be a daunting prospect for some people and organisations.

 

The “fear of engaging” is often the result of previous negative experiences where the engagement approach has led to unpleasant interactions, antagonism, outrage and aggression, rather than positive and productive outcomes.

 

Poor engagement is usually the product of ineffective planning; a limited understanding of the community is engaged; and the use of inappropriate engagement techniques.

 

Like anything that your organisation seeks to do well, quality community engagement requires effective research, a considered strategy and expert delivery.

 

Quality community engagement includes all members of society

Workshops allow people from all walks of life to come together and discuss the future of their community

 

Quality community engagement can:

 

  • Develop relationships – it creates the conditions and culture that foster relationships that engender commitment, investment and buy-in into your priorities, projects and initiatives
  • Inform decision making – it will inform your planning and decision making to ensure it responds to your priorities, while also creating mutual value for your organisation and the community
  • Build capacity – it provides the platform for targeted support, collaborations and partnerships with organisations that will support your organisation’s approach, as well as developing community self-sufficiency

 

Organisations who do not engage effectively with stakeholders and the community may, in fact, generate a number of negative consequences, such as:

 

  • A lack of support, opposition or outrage in regards to your project or services, which can result in delays, additional costs and reputation diminishment
  • Little awareness of the benefits of what you are proposing
  • Skewed feedback, with only those with the loudest voice, or the most resources being heard (i.e. too much influence given to too few – who may not represent the interests of the community)
  • Poorly informed decisions – that may not be reliable or representative
  • Inefficient targeting and allocation of resources
  • A diminishment of trust in your organisation and its governance processes
  • Disharmony – where the community may perceive that their views are not valued (or worse – that one group’s views are more important than others)
  • A failure to identify and harness local capacity investment and community buy-in for your initiatives
  • A public perception that engagement opportunities are just exercises in public relations or one-off events, rather than a genuine opportunity to connect

 

Walking tours are a great way of engaging with community in a quality way

Walking tours are a great way to achieve quality community engagement

 

Some tips for ensuring your engagement is effective, include:

 

Ensure there is a clear and consistent understanding of what level of influence the community will have.
If this is not clear, it can be damaging, especially if people they think they were having a greater level of influence than they actually are
Select and apply the most effective methods to deliver a balance of representation and depth of involvement.
Ensure the methods give you the information, feedback or input that you need
Develop strategies to engage the “hard-to-reach” or “ambivalent”
…rather than just the same old customers who have the time, resources or self-interest to have their say.
Be careful about allocating your time.
Do not to give greater credence or influence to those that may be the most aggressive, resourced or persistent.
Keep an eye on your own capacity to deliver.
Ensure there are enough resources and commitment from your organisation to enable you to engage properly and effectively
Achieve internal alignment before undertaking any external engagement.
Any inconsistency in what your team communicate regarding the purpose and process of the engagement can have a negative effect on the integrity of the process
Avoid consultation fatigue
This is where people are extensively consulted but see little evidence of that consultation resulting in actions or benefits. Targeted engagement is essential – with evidence of how it has impacted planning and decision making.
Avoid the common call to hold a public/town hall meeting
The “town hall meeting” is one of the most overused methods of engagement in local government. This form of engagement should only be used in conjunction with other more interactive and diverse methods as it usually is an ineffective, inefficient form of engagement. The process is time-consuming for attendees, is often avoided by those who don’t like to speak in public; provides an audience to those who wish to exert undue influence over others (aka “the grandstander”) and can give a false impression of community sentiment.

 

Here at Creating Communities we are passionate about community and finding ways to reach all people who make up the communities we work in. Our Community Engagement Continuum shows the powerful effects that engagement can have on support for a project.

 

Community Engagement Continuum ©Creating Communities