Understanding Community Engagement

Effective community engagement is more than simply talking to, or informing our citizens or constituents about the things we want them to know about.
Understanding Community Engagement - Articles


Have you noticed the growing awareness and use of the word 'engagement'? Have you wondered how it might apply to the work you do in your community or organization? Businesses, non-profit organizations, public officials, and government agencies seemingly all tout their engagement of their customers, clients, constituents, members, residents, or citizens. Yet, most of these groups could benefit from a broader understanding of what we mean by 'engagement' and an awareness of the tools and strategies available to them.

There is an increasing body of research highlighting the changing expectations of our citizens and a growing importance of having a greater voice in the priorities and decisions that affect our daily lives. This is especially true at the community level. More and more, we are problem solvers in our personal and professional lives and expect our public decision makers to be the same. We are also increasingly civil in private but not in public, connected to information but not to each other, more educated with more capacity, but less trustful and with less time to devote to our communities or organizations.

In the face of these changing expectations, it is incumbent upon civic organizations, governments, and communities to incorporate the tools and concepts of effective community engagement into the work we do.

Effective community engagement - whether it is focused on a specific project or challenge, or creating a more engaged organization - is more than simply talking to, or informing our citizens or constituents about the things we want them to know about. Effective engagement goes beyond a one-way communication or public relations campaign. At its heart, it is a purposeful, two-way conversation that embraces the need to understand what our clients, constituents, members, or citizen want and what their values and priorities are - as well as effectively integrating these perspectives and preferences into our decisions, policies and programs.

Community engagement - done effectively - provides your community or organization with the opportunity to build local networks, enhance relationships, identify underlying concerns and values, leverage assets and resources, increase participation, improve decision making, get out ahead or avoid conflict, and perhaps most importantly increase trust in your organization and governance.

Making your engagement efforts successful, however, requires planning and skill-building. We have a wide range of materials and workshop options to better equip you to address this increasingly important topic. Contact us to schedule a workshop for your community or organization or feel free to visit our Community Engagement Toolbox to explore many of the tools, worksheets, strategies and considerations to help you make the most of your engagement efforts.