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community engagement
7 min read

What Is Community Engagement: Concept and Methods

Community engagement can have a strong influence on the outcomes for communities and organisations.

From a business point of view, community engagement should be part of every organisation’s strategy, regardless of its size or industry, as it is key for supporting long-term success.

In this blog post, we’ll go through the community engagement concept, why it is important, how you can plan it and the methods you can use to get started (or to improve what you are already doing).

Keep reading or use the menu below to jump to a specific section:

What is community engagement?

Community engagement – which can also be referred to as stakeholder engagement, public participation or community collaboration depending on your industry - is the process of working with and involving the community in order to create meaningful relationships between the organisation and the people it serves.

It's all about communication, involvement, and collaboration, where organisations seek to connect with their stakeholders, identify shared interests and concerns to make better decisions, and achieve sustainable outcomes.

Why community engagement matters? Benefits & challenges

Allowing stakeholders to express any concerns and show they are being heard can lead to community support for the project and increase the likelihood of planning success. And of course,  engaging community members in the process can ensure that they benefit from (or are not negatively impacted by) the development in question.

When it comes to community engagement, you need to put yourself in a stakeholder or a community member’s shoes. Multiple devices, time constraints, and limited attention spans are part of our modern life. 

They will have to weigh up between answering your questionnaire, attending your event or doing something fun, something for the family or another commitment. But at the same time, everyone wants and expects their say, on their terms.

The Community Engagement Good Practice Review by Dr Mhairi Aitken, Dr Claire Haggett & Dr David Rudolph has a great quote on this topic:

“We find the importance of wide-ranging and innovative methods; methods which strive to facilitate dialogue; instances where the action is taken on the basis of responses gathered; measures to keep engagement ongoing through all stages including approval and construction; the role of identifying and implementing tangible benefits.

We also find that where minor influence only is granted, and people are not perceived to be affected – even though they may feel that they are – this tends to cause resentment, and the benefit of taking people and their concerns seriously has an impact on acceptance across all cases.”

This quote reinforces how organisations that work collaboratively with their communities and adopt a mutual decision-making approach can build trust and nurture long-term relationships that benefit both sides.

Creating a community engagement plan

If you can show your community members how appreciated they are, and that you bring them value, they will be more likely to be present with you.

Community engagement is an ongoing process. It must be constantly worked on so relationships are nourished over time - but that doesn't mean asking the same people time and time again, you need to diversify and leverage multiple engagement methods.

A stakeholder engagement plan is essential to organise your engagement approaches. To create one, you must think about the answers to the following questions:

What will be the purpose of this engagement?

It can range from a consultation for a large project on a national scale to involving a voluntary group in a small community for a specific service.

Determining the overall purpose will help you establish the engagement objectives you’ll work towards.

Who are the stakeholders and communities involved?

You’ll need to identify the stakeholder groups you have to engage with. Stakeholder identification and categorisation will be essential to prevent you from leaving any group out.

Depending on the scope of the engagement you’ve determined previously, you may have to consider not only local residents and communities but also the cultural, ethnic and faith-based groups.

What’s the engagement level you expect to achieve?

Stakeholders will engage with you in different ways, depending on their levels of influence and interest, amongst other factors.

Using the stakeholder mapping technique will help identify who are the stakeholders expected to engage at a very basic level, those who may want to contribute and even those who may present resistance to the project.

What are the potential limitations to the engagement process?

In terms of the engagement process itself, you might face potential barriers to reaching some communities, such as socially excluded groups, rural communities that are more isolated and even literacy issues.

Stakeholders with limited abilities or with a lack of internet access won’t be able to engage in online activities, whilst hosting a face-to-face event or a public exhibition must consider transport availability and venue accessibility.

Other limitation factors to the process can be the resources available, such as staff and supporting materials, budget and time constraints.

Community engagement methods and examples

Exploring more than one engagement method can certainly help drive more active engagement with community stakeholders and increase greater dialogue and interaction.

There are several different methods that can be used to engage communities, such as:

  • Public meetings
    Public meetings and drop-in sessions are a great way to engage with the community and learn about the community's needs. These meetings can be open to anyone who wants to attend, or they can be invite-only. City councils usually hold this type of meeting to talk about transportation, budget and public safety.
  • Events
    Holding events such as open houses or town halls is a good option to bring the community together, inform stakeholders about the organisation and its projects and provide them with an opportunity to give their input.
  • Surveys
    Surveys are another communication channel that can be useful for gathering information from the community. Using open-ended questions helps obtain more detailed opinions and comments from stakeholders. Many organisations with national coverage conduct annual surveys to gauge the needs of communities across the country.
  • Focus groups and workshops
    Focus groups are a more intimate way to engage with a group of people and get their views on a particular issue, theme or project. Tech companies often use this method to get feedback on new products and features.
  • Citizens’ panels
    Panels involving a couple of thousand stakeholders that represent their local communities are surveyed throughout the year by phone, post or even online. As the panels are held with the same people, it’s possible to identify changes over time.
  • Website and blog
    Another method is to create a website or blog where stakeholders can go to learn more about the business and its work in the community. It’s important to always keep it up to date with the latest news and information, otherwise, it won’t achieve its purpose of informing stakeholders.
  • Social media
    Organisations can also use social media to engage with their stakeholders. By creating a Facebook page or Twitter account, they can provide updates on their work in the community while giving stakeholders a platform to voice their concerns.

Choosing community engagement methods

As you can see, there are plenty of options to support engagement with communities, and the best method to use will vary depending on your organisation's goals and the community's needs.

Also, the scope of your community engagement, who you will be engaging with and the level of participation you expect should guide you in choosing the best engagement methods to support your plan.

Some organisations may have projects that will have a small impact on stakeholders, and therefore choosing a more straightforward community engagement method may suffice, such as creating a blog and sending a series of newsletters.

On the other hand, more complex or sensitive projects that affect hundreds or even thousands of stakeholders will require a robust community engagement plan, where more than one engagement method is required and advisable.

We have seen consultation processes that included access to a free-phone number, a free-post system and a consultation website through which people could get in touch with the developer directly to raise concerns or provide questions.

Planning your community engagement strategy

Engaging with your community is essential for any business that wants to be successful.

By taking the time to listen to your stakeholders and address their needs, you can build trust and create lasting relationships. Use the methods mentioned above to get started on your community engagement journey.

If you are looking to amplify and accelerate the innovation in your engagement, consider a stakeholder engagement system.

SRMs (not a CRM) are designed specifically to help you implement your community engagement plan, centralise your engagement data and communication tools in one place and keep track of every single engagement.

Tractivity is an all-in-one SRM for stakeholder communication, engagement and reporting used by a whole range of organisations in the Energy, Utilities, Transport and Healthcare sectors to manage their stakeholder interactions.

Discover all the benefits Tractivity offers for effective community engagement and stakeholder management, contact us to learn more.

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