Community engagement is an approach in which communities foster trust, increase collaboration, communication, and involvement. This approach is based on principles that respect the right of all community members to be informed, involved, and empowered.
This approach can empower collective decision making and gives people the opportunity to work towards and communicate their goals and vision for the future.
Community engagement takes into account the broad range of views and perspectives across the community to establish a shared vision and common purpose. This fosters a shared ambition between community members, and encourages individuals to act together to achieve their common goals.
Creating the right environment, in which everyone is able and confident to contribute effectively to the shared team goal is essential for good community engagement.
Importantly, community engagement recognises the need for adaptability to meet complex and ever-changing needs. The shared community ability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate and the challenges of a shifting environment will become increasingly valuable in coming years.
Social enterprise is a dynamic business model which is adaptable and flexible to the needs and priorities of your community and can provide an array of socio-environmental benefits in keeping with your aspirations and goals.
The growth of a shared community consciousness can produce positive and sustainable outcomes. Effective communication and strong community engagement can overcome resource limitations, enabling communities to become more focussed, effective and resilient.
Adaptable to Different Contexts
Community engagement can adapt to suit different contexts and there are different strategies and tools for community engagement, which inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower community members.
Empowering local residents through encouraged and valued involvement results in greater numbers of participants, and retention of volunteers for delivering action. Continuous information sharing, and regular meetings, means that local residents are fully involved in the process, and feel ownership of community actions.
Encouraging Local People
Case Study: COMCOT, Bringing People Together, pages 6 – 9
“The Finnish people need a lot of encouragement to take part in activities. When persuading new actors to take part in the development process, you need to be able to confirm to them that their ideas and skills are needed and are “good enough” to bring to the common discussion. It is also a matter of building the self-esteem of the local community” tells Pirjo Sjögren from the Lohja Island Village Association.
“Otherwise most of the people do not consider that their ideas are relevant for local development nor do they feel that it is their “place” to participate in joint development schemes. For this, general information on a development or e.g. events is not enough. Personal invitations and connections are the key to getting people interested. It is also vital to maintain the atmosphere in local associations and development groups open for new ideas and people. “Everyone easily gets stuck in their own routines and way of thinking. You need to keep your mind open for new possibilities. Your way is not necessarily the only or even the best way” Pirjo continues.
Things to consider for community engagement
What is the purpose and scope of the engagement process? It is important to be clear about this from the outset.
For example, is the process designed to:
- Identify or prioritise what the needs and priorities for the community should be?
- Develop a consensus on a proposal or plan?
- Develop new or collaborative ways of implementing community priorities?
Thinking through the following questions and issues will help in the planning and organising community engagement.
- Have we defined the community (geography, households, demographics, any hard to reach groups within the community, etc.) (See Defining Your Community)
- How do we reach out across the community?
- Best ways to communicate.
- Are there any limitations?
Inclusivity is an important factor to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate in community engagement. Inclusivity in rural areas often means ensuring that people with access issues (e.g. live in remote or rural location outside of the community, or farmers/fishermen or hospitality/tourism, who are unable to attend due to working hours) are still given the opportunity to voice their opinions.
In the Mull and Iona case study, the community group overcame the challenge of accessibility by having one-to-one telephone conversations with people living in very remote areas to ensure that all community members were able to participate and contribute.
Inclusivity ensures representing all of the social and economic groups present in your community. Page 5 details how the Mull and Iona Community Plan was created, taking care to equally represent different community areas, groups and the main employment sectors by including them in a steering group, who gave feedback on proposals and ideas.
Thorough engagement across the community is important to create a meaningful community plan, which empowers, and attracts participation from local residents.
- Consider using different engagement methods for different groups of people (age, ability, mobility/access etc). National standards for inclusivity in community engagement – http://www.voicescotland.org.uk
Communication materials should be jargon free and in plain English; available in accessible formats and provided in alternative language(s) as appropriate. Given the strong oral tradition in many communities, events where individuals can discuss the issues first-hand are invaluable.
In order to maximise levels of participation communication materials should use clear examples or case studies of how the issue or proposed plan is likely to affect different individuals and sections of society. Use existing community networks and forms of communication to publicise events and identify opportunities to align or hold combined events for greater impact.
The Glenbarr case study shows how local residents were contacted and informed about ongoing activity in their community in a range of different ways.
- Informational leaflets distributed to all households, with invitations extended in each. Continuous information sharing on a monthly basis, ensuring residents are kept up-to-date with the process.
- Outreach work to ensure inclusivity of all residents who wish to take part.
- The identification of local residents who are willing to volunteer in the implementation of the plan.
- Including local young people in the creation of an informational video, including them in a meaningful, and creative way.
Creative processes are important, as they can be used to reach out to groups in a less formal manner, sparking ideas and conversation which might not occur in a more formal setting. It can be used to get people of all ages interested in the needs of their local community, ensuring inter-generational continuity of empowerment and involvement.
The importance of creative processes is highlighted in the below resource, which gives a good overview of these community engagement tools, explaining how to use them and recommending when and with who you should use them.
- Public Meetings
- Art and Creativity (• Photography • Video Format • Songs, Poems, Artwork Blank Canvas)
- Street Stalls
- Community Mapping
- Workshops and Focus Groups
- Web-based Engagement
Community Engagement Methods and Techniques
There are a variety of Community Engagement Methods and Techniques that you can use. Here are some examples of methods that can be used to bring people together:
- Personal contacts (face-to-face meetings, phone discussion) with key people. This has proved to be the most important method for engaging people in the process. Do not underestimate the role of personal contacts, even though it is rather laborious.
- Email marketing: usually on its own it is not effective enough to engage people in the process but still provides an easy method to inform a wide group of people.
- Organising local meetings and describing the aims and methods of the process to a wide audience. Note! It can be effective to join forces with other groups when organising meetings rather than organising one on your own.
- Newsletters, stories in the local newspapers to increase awareness with the wider community.
- Do not underestimate the role of team building in forming your core group! For example, study tours for local key people can be very effective in growing a team spirit among the group, devoting time for discussion and understanding of each other’s motivations and goals to the development initiatives.
Ross of Mull and Iona Community Plan (Scotland)
- A good practice case study which uses community engagement to identify and prioritise local issues and create a community action plan.
- Identifies the community research methods and processes used: Survey, focus groups, open public discussion, visit to local groups and households.
- Focus on community participation that is thoroughly inclusive and accessible for community members residing in extremely remote and rural areas.
Glenbarr Investment Plan Film & Community Investment Plan (Scotland)
- Illustrates a detailed case study, accompanied by a community survey template.
- Community engagement methods are used to reach out to community members and keep local residents informed about community activity.
- Gathering information and opinions from local residents of all ages, ensuring that the voices of the younger and older generations are heard and valued.
Memory Montage Podcast from Rockfield Centre (Scotland)
- Below is an example of a memory montage from the Rockfield Centre in Oban, where community members discussed individual and shared memories of their old primary school.
- This was recorded when a local group formed a community enterprise to take over the old derelict primary school, to turn it into an arts and community centre.
- They involved local people by hosting this meeting of previous students to share their memories of the old school.
- Making a voice recording or podcast can be a good way of recording a session or meeting, which is less intrusive than video.