Whether it is called community engagement, public participation, stakeholder engagement, public involvement, civic engagement… it is about people being involved in decisions that affect their lives.
When governments engage citizens and communities in decisions, this is participatory democracy at work. Community and stakeholder engagement is just as important in the private sector – whether it is a health service, a surf club or a major corporation – as they will make more effective decisions if they work with all their stakeholders.
Community engagement is about so much more than holding public meetings. There will be times when holding a public meeting is necessary and appropriate. But often there are far more effective options in producing good dialogue and finding better solutions.
Community engagement activities are more purposeful and easier to plan if considered the beginning of the project, at the same time as the project plan. Early steps are to:
- Clearly understand and state the decision being made
- Decide what is negotiable and what is not negotiable in the decision
- Identify all the stakeholder groups, community groups and people who will be affected by the decision.
- Consider how much influence the decision maker is promising the stakeholders – is it inform, consult, involve, collaborate or empower on the IAP2 spectrum
And then and only then decide on whether it is a meeting, a survey, a focus group or one of hundreds of possible techniques.