What is Community Engagement?

By Sally Hussey

Community engagement is based on the democratic idea that everyone who is affected by an issue that impacts their community should have a say in the decision making around it. It, moreover, holds the promise that public participation can influence decisions that affect the provision of services, future visions and sustainability of our communities.

Although there is no commonly agreed to community engagement definition and the use of the term varies widely (sharing in notions of consultation, participation, collaboration and empowerment), community engagement captures its meaning in mutual decision making. People, governments and organisations work collaboratively to create – and realise – sustainable visions for their community’s future. For governments and organisations, it’s about working with, and listening to, communities to build long term relationships and develop meaningful solutions to complex issues. By deepening these relationships, ideally, the value of inclusivity is central, where government entities create dialogue with the very diversity of their communities.

In recognising the needs and aspirations of all participants, community engagement promotes the idea that, through intentional interactions between government organisations and communities, community members can – and do – influence policy making. That is, community engagement’s promise is to better engage community to help make better public decisions. It is, thereby, both an orientation toward the importance of community members’ lived experience to influence interactions between government organisations and communities, and an approach that guides the process of those interactions.

Community engagement is based on the democratic idea that everyone who is affected by an issue that impacts their community should have a say in the decision making around it. It, moreover, holds the promise that public participation can influence decisions that affect the provision of services, future visions and sustainability of our communities.

Although there is no commonly agreed to community engagement definition and the use of the term varies widely (sharing in notions of consultation, participation, collaboration and empowerment), community engagement captures its meaning in mutual decision making. People, governments and organisations work collaboratively to create – and realise – sustainable visions for their community’s future. For governments and organisations, it’s about working with, and listening to, communities to build long term relationships and develop meaningful solutions to complex issues. By deepening these relationships, ideally, the value of inclusivity is central, where government entities create dialogue with the very diversity of their communities.

In recognising the needs and aspirations of all participants, community engagement promotes the idea that, through intentional interactions between government organisations and communities, community members can – and do – influence policy making. That is, community engagement’s promise is to better engage community to help make better public decisions. It is, thereby, both an orientation toward the importance of community members’ lived experience to influence interactions between government organisations and communities, and an approach that guides the process of those interactions.

Simply put, community engagement seeks to engage community to achieve sustainable outcomes, equitable decision-making processes, and deepen relationships and trust between government organisations and communities.

Is community engagement the same as citizen participation and public participation?

“Community engagement requires intentional interactions between communities and public decision makers.”

“Community engagement provides participants with information they need to engage in a meaningful way.”

What are the types of community engagement?

 

At a more latent level, these differing types are often integrated in an engagement process that works within an engagement framework. Governments and organisations utilise engagement frameworks, or models, that use traditional and digital engagement within formal engagement processes. (This is different to citizen participation that utilises informal processes to voice opinions about policies.) Formal or ‘state-sanctioned’ participation initiatives invite the public to engage beyond voting – such as citizen’s assemblies, citizen juries or participatory budgets. Although partaking in the same goal – improving public services and projects – these differ from the types of activities created by citizens, residents and community members themselves through their shared identities and common interests. But, as we see when we ask, ‘how do you engage communities?’, formal initiatives don’t preclude communities actively shaping processes and outcomes of public decisions in the improvement of provision of services for their community.

Read the Full Community Engagement 101 Series

Let's activate your community. Request a demo