Community engagement is a common thread across all the consulting work for Bruns Wheeler Group – electoral, business, and non-profit. BWG is regularly asked about the best way to start and the best processes for keeping people engaged.
Electoral experience is one of the best trainers for community engagement because it teaches an organizer the importance of collaboratively building toward a collective goal, challenging the engager to constantly ask how to meet people where they are.
In our experience, community engagement is like a puzzle. If done methodically, it can be much easier to solve rather than haphazardly throwing pieces together.
The first piece of the community engagement puzzle is to build a strong coalition of community partners that are interested in the outcome and benefit from the engagement, and represent the community.
This coalition of partners is critical because they will collectively decide the goals for the engagement, how the community will benefit, and how best to engage based on the needs within that community.
The second piece of the puzzle is to listen to and hear from the members of that community.
The third piece is convening the partners in a regular conversation to build the engagement plan. An engagement plan should include the tactics employed to engage the community, communicate the information, and establish goals for the engagement.
So, the fourth step in the puzzle is to collectively determine the goal. The goal for the engagement should be informed by the community that will benefit from what is being offered. A personal preference when we are working collaboratively on a plan is to establish the goal first then work backwards from those goals to determine tactics for the engagement.
For example, a new public policy could provide unique benefits that might specifically solve an issue happening in a rural area. Approaching that engagement plan might be entirely different than a plan for engaging in an urban area. While different, establishing accountability to determine if the engagement is effective is critical to success.
Once the goals are agreed upon, the engagement begins. The plans, as decided by the coalition partners, are implemented, and accountability checks are put into place. The accountability checks should always start with the question: “Are we successfully meeting the community where they are and are they benefitting from this engagement?”