A Community Engagement Story – sixteen houses

While we were in the midst of delivering a series of one-day community engagement courses for The Wildlife Trust some years ago, we suddenly realised that we couldn’t train on ‘community engagement’ without putting a real practical emphasis on the ‘community’ bit – and getting to grips with what that means in different contexts.

One of our participants was asking why she repeatedly struggled to engage local residents in a green space project. She had gone door to door and asked people about their level of interest and received a generally positive response, but nobody ever turned up to take part in arranged activities. This account prompted the following story, to try to explain what was happening:

“As a neighbourhood example – imagine a street of 16 houses. You want to gain an understanding of the issues and ideas for improvements from the local ‘community’. If you knock on all 16 doors you may get a general idea of common dissatisfaction around street lighting or rubbish collection but if you dig deeper you are likely to get up to 16 different responses about bigger issues and frustratingly conflicting suggestions for ways forward.

In this example, there is little or no existing ‘community’ – imagine if you brought the 16 households together to discuss their ideas and suggestions – provided a forum for them to work together to agree the major issues and the most promising way forward – with knowledge about how your agency could support the work … you will get much more coherent, ‘sophisticated’ and workable information and a relationship will have started to develop. There is also much more onus on you to be very clear about why you want to engage with this neighbourhood in the first place and recognition of the skills required to do so.

Crucially, community engagement is about ‘communities’ – not about individuals. One assumption is that communities already exist and are just waiting to be approached and ‘engaged’ but just because a statutory agency may identify a particular community or neighbourhood – doesn’t mean that the people identifying as that community, or living in a particular area, have any collective understanding of the issues you want to prioritise or the primary needs of their area”.

 

If you are interested in the challenge of illustrating the value for money of community engagement then you could check out our webpage on community engagement

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Monday, November 4th, 2013 Uncategorized

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