Community engagement is about involving people in the process of change or in decisions that will affect them. They might be small-scale changes which may only affect a small number of people, such as adding a set of swings to a new park. Or they could be changes that will affect a large number of people, such as the planning, development and ongoing management of community services. Or it could involve tackling the problems of a neighbourhood: it could include addressing a lack of parks or play areas for children, or it could be trying to address crime problems such as drug use, theft or vandalism.Instigating change by working with the community is a great way of promoting a stronger community. It means new and ongoing relationships are formed, which can be beneficial from grassroots to government.
Communication is key
Ultimately, good community engagement is more than just communicating ideas to the community – it’s about working together with the community to instigate positive change. This means engaging the community to find out what the needs are out there, and then fulfilling them. If a local government has a project and it’s highly unpopular, often talking through people’s issues will help smooth out potential speed bumps before the project is begun. As the local community has a vested interest in what is going on around them, they may pick up on aspects of a plan that are just not feasible. In this way, community engagement benefits everyone involved.
Know the community
Introducing your message can mean using a number of different mediums. Modern technology means that you’re almost unlimited in this – anything from Social Media to videos, advertisements or even a school bulletin can be used. Many of these mediums are excellent at allowing discussion and creating a positive image of your project. As people discuss the project, it becomes more personal and they are more likely to get involved in working to make it succeed.
Knowing the demographic makeup of a community is a big part of knowing how to adequately engage them, which means taking into account culture, creed, ethnicity and age. Good communication can help you survey what the community actually thinks about the issue. This way, when changes have to be made, the community is already on board.Having good relationships with the people around you will essentially help extend resources where they are lacking. In many instances, many of the things you would like to achieve have been started by others, which means all you need to do is coordinate efforts or help establish connections between people so they can work on them themselves.Getting the community involved increases awareness of an issue and it strengthens the goals you are trying to achieve because the community is empowered by its involvement. In this way, it gives them valuable ownership and appreciation for the project.