Why is Community Engagement Important?

By Sally Hussey

With the rise in deepening and expanding public engagement globally, community engagement has become pivotal for well-functioning, twenty-first century democracies. Constructive relationships between communities and the institutions of government make community engagement not only desirable, but necessary and viable as it is likely to lead to more equitable, sustainable public decisions and improve the liveability of local communities.

Where traditional, executive-led approaches are ineffective, community engagement is important in its collaborative approach to the design and/or delivery of services. For the complexity of issues in any given community – where traditional approaches have been ineffective if non-inclusive in the extreme – community engagement enables better understanding of communities’ needs and aspirations.

With the rise in deepening and expanding public engagement globally, community engagement has become pivotal for well-functioning, twenty-first century democracies. Constructive relationships between communities and the institutions of government make community engagement not only desirable, but necessary and viable as it is likely to lead to more equitable, sustainable public decisions and improve the liveability of local communities.

Where traditional, executive-led approaches are ineffective, community engagement is important in its collaborative approach to the design and/or delivery of services. For the complexity of issues in any given community – where traditional approaches have been ineffective if non-inclusive in the extreme – community engagement enables better understanding of communities’ needs and aspirations.

“Community engagement enables better understanding of communities’ needs and aspirations.”

Community engagement builds and sustains cohesive communities

Community engagement is, primarily, part of a dialogue where organisations and communities can make decisions to create social capital.

Compelling stories of community engagement impacts range from creating (or indeed preventing) change in local policies and service provisions that not only enrich everyday lives and liveability of communities, but help shape and envision a community’s future, bringing with it not only wider societal change but global impacts.

Community engagement leads to improved outcomes

Community engagement ensures access and community empowerment

Community engagement helps local governments to promote sustainable decisions

“Community engagement is important as it takes action to influence stakeholders with government, political or funding power to implement public projects and policies that primarily benefit individual communities and drive social change.”

Community engagement drives social transformation

Community engagement is critical to deepening democracies

Depending on the types of community engagement, and level of influence given over to communities in a public decision-making process, community engagement strives towards deliberative democracy which facilitates a collaborative exchange regarding a set of policies or actions.

Researchers have observed a pronounced expansion in community organising since the mid 1980s – where they have increasingly become a locus of engagement during governments’ deregulation of power. Broadly speaking, since the 1990s, we have witnessed a rapid expansion in formal, state-based initiatives to facilitate public participation in decision making, where communities are invited to engage beyond voting.

The attendant mistrust or loss of faith in government and information on public policy through traditional and social news channels walks hand in hand with the shift from top-down governance to more horizontally organised governments. Here, all stakeholders of public policy projects – local governments and organisations, businesses, residents and communities – are brought into the decision-making process, nurturing the very democratic idea of community engagement that people should have a say over decisions that impact their everyday lives.

Increasingly, over recent years, through digital democracy and digital participation in open government and e-democracy, digitisation has spread into policy and decision making. This is coupled with wider social transformations as there is a call for transparency around public decisions and residents and communities are more motivated to weigh in on policies affecting their cities, towns and neighbourhoods.

This is not to overlook the unbridled enthusiasm for technology that has, paradoxically, fuelled the current digital mistrust of tech and big data and the unreliability of information via social media. But, governments now must create intentional interactions that facilitates community engagement. In this way, digital-first engagement has a vital role. While the benefits of online community engagement are manifold in the current global state of digitisation, digital-first engagement supports a continuous democracy and can enhance transparency and trust. For, primarily, digital-first engagement is more efficient – giving community leaders added opportunity to focus on community issues.

Why should we use community engagement?

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