1. Plan your community engagement activities at the same time as planning your project.
For every step in your project, there is probably some action you should be taking in relation to the community. Don’t wait to the end – you may have a very agitated group of affected people and you may be tempted to hold a public meeting without thinking through the alternatives.
2. Go to the people affected – don’t expect people to come to you.
It is only a very limited group of people who are prepared to come to a town hall in the day or evening. There are many places that your target group hang out – one of my best meetings was at the local bowls club as soon as the match ended.
3. Don’t have a blanket policy to engage on every project or decision.
Rather make a decision each and every time, whether this is a decision for which gaining the public’s input will improve the decision and that there is truly a decision to be made. If the decision has effectively been made, it is better to simply inform people about the decision rather than seek their advice knowing that it will have no impact on the final decision. This only leads to frustration.
4. Tell the community what you will do with the results.
Letting the community think that their comments and input will have a large impact on the decision, when in fact, their comments will only be one element being taken into account by the decision maker can lead to a break down in trust with local people.
5. Join the IAP2 Network.
By attending IAP2 events, you will meet lots of other communtiy engagement practitioners giving you the opportunity to learn from other people facing the same issues and who may have some great ideas for you.
And a postscript about food…
I wrote the above article a few years ago on my previous website and I was going to add the often said postscript “and provide good food.” While good food is important in terms of being a good host, a more important postscript is “and provide influence.” People will engage with you if you promise and they believe that their efforts will influence the project or decision that is under consideration.