Community Engagement

CHAPTER

Community Engagement

Community Involvement MODULE

What is community engagement?

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.

Community engagement 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 be 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 focused, effective, and resilient.

 

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.

Encouraging Local People

 

“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.

– Excerpt taken from COMCOT Case Study, Bringing People Together, pages 6 – 9

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 chapter Defining Your Community)
  • How do we reach out across the community?
  • Best ways to communicate.
  • Are there any limitations?

Inclusive engagement

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.

Continuous information sharing and regular meetings mean that local residents are fully involved in the process, and feel ownership of community actions.

Consider using different engagement methods for different groups of people (age, ability, mobility/access etc).

Check out the national standards for inclusivity in community engagement from Voice Scotland.

Communications

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 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 Community Engagement Methods and Techniques resource below, 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. It also provides guidance on creative engagement methods, including street stalls, community mapping, workshops and focus groups. 

Other examples of methods that can be used to bring people together:

  • Personal contacts (face-to-face meetings, phone discussions) 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.

Case Studies

Ross of Mull and Iona Community 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.

Rockfield Centre Memory Montage Podcast

Community members were invited to share their memories and stories of the old primary school, before a local community group renovated the building.

Making a voice recording or podcast is a way of recording a meeting, which is less intrusive than a video.

COMCOT - An Innovative Tool for Improving the Competitiveness of Community-Based Tourism

Gives 3 practical community tourism development cases from Estonia, and 4 from Finland. The resource captures the challenges of community involvement, encouraging communty members to participate, and how to prioritise ideas.

Gives practical methods used to bring people together, and activate the community. This includes methods used to encourage and include new residents and second home-owners to participate in community meetings and activities organised by the village association. 

The resource is formatted as a report, but includes personal interviews, a project plan, and other written material.

Village Development Plan

How to identify rural community needs and ways to activate local actors.

Gives methods to involve community members, with recommendations and examples, specifically for community activiation with typically isolated or excluded groups.

Description of the geographical community (people, economy, infrastructure, history, natural conditions, legislation, manmade landscapes, village movement, and development trends).

Glenbarr Community Investment Plan

Community engagement methods are used to reach out to community members, and keep local residents informed on community activity.

Gathering information and opinions from local people of all ages, ensuring that voices of older and younger generations are heard and valued.

Blending, Braiding, Balancing

Academic report which examines the strengths and weaknesses of formal and informal community engagment, and where they are appropriate.

Author reflects on top-down approach often used by local government and councils, which can quash creativity and collective action.

Demonstrative Farm and Training Centre in Agriculture

Describes the development of an education model (Agricultural Training and Consultancy Centre) and a business model (Agrovision Demonstration Farm) to help small farmers transition from subsistence to commercial farming.

Example of good practice which enables rural inhabitants to transform their farm into a business using a demonstrative farm model.

Report format, gives a step-by-step guide for set-up, and practical advice on hosting programs and demonstrations.

Community engagement highlighted through partnership work with local schools, classes for international volunteers, and further education opportunties for local women.

Sustainable Village Card - A Tool for Rural Development

Hämeen Kylät association has been among the first to adopt playing cards from Wales to Finland as one way of developing villages.

The playing cards inspire and act as an aid in arousing thoughts in rural village development.

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