Community Engagement : What Does It Mean? Why Does It Matter?

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There is no simple or single answer to the question, “what is community engagement?” It defies definition because everyone, it seems, has a different answer! So, who gets to decide?

Community engagement refers to the process by which community benefit organizations and individuals build ongoing, permanent relationships for the purpose of applying a collective vision for the benefit of a community.

Community engagement works best where it is an ongoing cumulative process enabling relationships and trust to build and strengthen
over time. Individual engagement events should be planned and designed with this in mind and aim to contribute to the overall aims of the engagement process. Community or voluntary groups may want to participate at a range of levels – from providing advice to co-designing the process and from undertaking some aspects of the engagement to delivering projects to meet some of the outcomes.

What is the purpose and scope of the engagement process?

From the outset be clear about the scope and purpose of the engagement process. For example, is the process designed to:
• Identify or prioritise what the needs and priorities for Community Planning should be?
• Develop a consensus on a proposal or plan?
• Inform the decision-making or service
delivery of a community, council or
department?
• Develop new or collaborative ways of
implementing elements of the Community
Plan?
• Review progress on the Community Plan?

Agreeing a clear purpose will help identify engagement objectives, anticipated outcomes and help to determine the scope and depth
of the engagement. This can range from consultation to involvement in decision making through to community and voluntary groups
delivering projects and services. Providing information on proposals, plans or services is part of any communication plan to support
engagement but is not in itself community engagement. Often communities will need support to help them engage meaningfully. The Community and Voluntary Sectors (CVS) are skilled in providing this support – but may need access to resources to do so.

What level of participation are you hoping to achieve?
Community stakeholders can participate in a variety of ways, and to different levels of influence, in identifying needs, generating solutions, planning new initiatives and service delivery as illustrated in below:

Users and Beneficiaries
of the activities and funds of the partnership.
This is the most basic level of engagement.
Advisers
to the partnership through their involvement in
consultations, working parties and evaluations
which seek their guidance and feedback.
Contributors to Management
through membership of forums and steering
groups that work alongside staff supervising
progress on partnership activities.

Decision Makers
primarily through their membership of the
partnership board, but also when periodic
consultations are taking place about strategic
choices and other major decisions.

Deliverers
of projects and programmes on behalf of the
partnership and as local successor bodies that
are being developed to take over projects and
programmes from the partnership

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