Community engagement is a great way to develop working relationships between organisations or groups and the local community. Effective and proactive engagement will enable everyone involved to understand and act on the needs or issues of communities, in order to influence services or decisions and achieve positive change.
There are five main types of community engagement:
It’s important to be clear about what you want to achieve from your planned engagement, as it will help you decide which type(s) to pursue.
Keeping people fully informed is incredibly important if you want to successfully engage with your local communities. The information you provide will enable people to better understand problems, alternatives, opportunities and solutions.
There are various methods you can use to keep people up to date and informed, including:
- Social media
- Leaflets / brochures
- News releases
Consulting with and listening to your local communities, not only gives you an opportunity to gain valuable feedback to inform proposals and decision making processes, it can also help with writing funding applications too.
There are a range of different ways you can consult with local communities, including via:
- Surveys or opinion polls
- Focus groups or interviews
- Social media
- Text / instant messaging
Working directly with your local community helps ensure any issues, concerns or aspirations are fully understood, considered and reflected in decision making processes or service provision.
There are different methods available to involve your communities, such as:
- User panel groups or forums
- Public meetings
- Local member / councillor surgeries
- Networking sessions
It is important to work in collaboration with your local communities to ensure all aspects are considered prior to making any decisions or changes, including identifying preferred solutions and developing options. You may find that your local community can offer invaluable information, advice and perhaps even innovative solutions.
You could consider:
- A community needs analysis
- Focus groups
- Service user forums
Effective community engagement ensures final decision making processes are in the hands of the local community. This encourages and empowers local people to take responsibility for designing and delivering the services themselves, to ensure they fully meet the needs of their community.
There are different methods available, including:
- User led commissioning (such as delegated budgeting)
- Community asset transfers
- Direct service delivery
Start by identifying the need for local community engagement.
- Be clear about the identified need or knowledge gap
- Check if the information is already available, perhaps using the Understanding Herefordshire website or an existing community plan
- Identify and rationalise your target audience
- Involve the community from the very start of the process and share local knowledge
- Make a clear project plan with realistic timescales, including details of when any results and actions will be available, along with set deadlines
Consider any other options / information before engaging with local communities.
- Consider co-ordinating your engagement with other initiatives or consultation opportunities, where possible
- Is there any good / best practice already available? If so, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, rather you can ’borrow with pride’!
- Can another organisation carry out any of the work on your behalf, especially if they’re skilled in a particular area?
- Ensure you include the cost of your proposed engagement exercise and finalise the budget
Define your purpose and objectives for the engagement.
- Be clear and transparent about the purpose of your engagement exercise
- Only consult on what is achievable and don’t raise expectations
- Be clear about individual responsibilities, for both you and your target audience
Ensure your chosen engagement method is fit for purpose.
- Give people the chance to get involved in ways which suit them, by offering a range of different methods
- Ensure everyone who wants to take part, is able to do so, where possible
- Allow people enough time to get involved and have their say
Always provide easily accessible information.
- Ensure everyone has the correct information to enable them to get involved
- Use plain language and avoid jargon and abbreviations
- Widely communicate your engagement exercise / consultation to your target audience, using as many channels as necessary
- If requested, ensure you’re able to provide the information in alternative formats, such as large print or audio and have both paper and electronic versions
Ensure you’re inclusive and avoid discrimination.
- Allow enough time and different ways for people to get involved and, if practical, offer more than one approach
- Where appropriate, offer incentives and recognise your participants’ time and knowledge
- Always protect the privacy of your participants and adhere to the Data Protection Act
- If appropriate, ensure those involved in delivering the engagement exercise are DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checked
Remember to provide regular feedback and share your results and outcomes.
- Let people know how their views are informing the decision making process. A ‘You said, we did’ format is always useful
- Be clear, accessible and concise with your communications and include your next steps
- Ensure the results are available to everyone, including those not directly involved in the engagement exercise
Provide the opportunity for complaints, compliments or suggestions during and after your engagement process.
- Give people the chance to comment on the engagement exercise and suggest improvements, where appropriate
Evaluate and monitor the success or failure of your engagement process.
- Ensure good quality assurance is in place throughout the engagement process, as this will enable you to amend the process at any point, if it’s not helping to meet your original identified need
- A comprehensive evaluation can help plan future engagement initiatives and can also help with funding applications / report submissions
There are so many different ways you can successfully engage with your local communities and it doesn’t have to be expensive or too formal. In fact, you may find that more informal approaches to community engagement deliver more success.
Why not try some of the following suggestions, especially if it helps you engage with people who may not normally get involved?
Community events: Attending different community events can provide additional opportunities to engage with people in a relaxed setting.
Flu jab season: Flu jab clinics can often be an opportunity to engage with older or retired people.
Market days: This is often an ideal opportunity to engage with a higher number of people. Your target audience will potentially vary, depending upon the type of event.
Supermarket foyers: This is another opportunity to engage with a high number of people, as they pop into their local supermarket.
School gate interaction: Talk to parents / carers when they’re dropping off or picking up their children from school.
Knock on doors: This is an approach used by local councillors. You can use available local data from the Understanding Herefordshire website, to help you identify a target audience, road or neighbourhood.
Sporting events: This is another opportunity to engage with a high number of people from potentially different backgrounds and areas.
Organised groups: You could ask local organised groups, such as the Women’s Institute or University of the Third Age, if you can attend one of their sessions to engage with their members.
Leisure centres: You’ll again have a high number of people from different backgrounds and areas, whom you can potentially engage with.
Village events / fairs: This is a great way to engage with local people in a local setting.
Church events: Churches are often visited by a wide selection of people from different communities.
Post office / village shop: This is another venue for engaging with local people in their local community.
Please ensure whichever method you choose, you carry out your engagement in a safe and considered manner.
The following organisations offer information and advice on how to successfully engage with local communities.
Grayling Engage and Royal Town Planning Institute: The future of engagement
Herefordshire Council: Best practice community engagement techniques
Involve: Not another consultation! Making community engagement informal and fun
Local Government Association: Guide to engagement