What is community engagement?
IMAGE CREDIT – International Association for Public Participation (IAP2)
Community engagement is arguably public relations in its truest form. The International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) defines community engagement as ‘any process that involves the public in problem solving or decision-making and uses public input to make decisions’.
Technology (especially social media) has been a major driving force behind this increasing trend and a higher community expectation for organisations to engage with them.
Any project planning process should include consideration of community engagement activities.
Examples of what should trigger potential engagement are:
- any proposed organisational change which significantly affects your community
- when a proposed change is likely to generate significant community outrage
- if an organisation needs more information on which to base a business decision
- any time an organisation wishes to build its community relations.
How do I engage?
Although community engagement appears externally-focused, it starts from within. Your external community relations are a by-product of what goes on inside your organisation so it’s crucial to have a culture that lives, breathes, and understands consultation and engagement. Engage with your staff regularly – have conversations, ask for their feedback, and most importantly, show them they’ve been heard. After all, if your own people don’t hold engagement in high esteem, why should your external stakeholders?
Be part of a dialogue
Talk with your community, not at them. Regularly seek their feedback and actively participate with them. Many communities feel powerless and resentful against businesses or management, simply because they didn’t feel part of ‘the conversation’.
Best practice engagement
This involves getting in amongst your community. A great example is the case of a CEO who refused her own office and sat right in the middle of all of the action of her employees. Any staff member was able to approach her at any time, which did wonders for an inclusive staff culture of engagement.
Other internal engagement activities to consider are:
- staff-focused newsletters
- internal Intranet and staff noticeboards
- social club and family days
- regular staff training and educational opportunities.
A best practice example of external community engagement can be seen in the case of a local Council who used a multitude of community engagement techniques to consult on a contentious major Town Planning proposal. Their award-winning campaign employed engagement activities to explain the complex strategy to the community and then obtain their feedback on it.
Such activities included a special edition newsletter ‘translating’ the planning document into plain English, walking tours of proposed planning areas, a publicity and advertising campaign, and even a large ‘Shape you Community’ summit-style event.
Additional external engagement activities include:
- focus groups and workshops
- print and web-based information
- being a physical presence in the community
- community advisory committees.
Note: Many of the above activities can be applied to both internal and external community engagement processes. The possibilities for engagement are endless. For help with your community engagement activities download our community outreach tips below.