Over the past few months of IAP2 training there have been some very interesting discussions about community versus stakeholder engagement. On average there have been about 50% of participants who had broken up their broader engagement teams into stakeholder for the groups or individuals that they dealt with every day and community for the broader general public. There were also other groups who were telling me they only did stakeholder engagement and never community engagement.
It’s clear that definitions are important to make sure everybody is on the same page, but as a trainer, what was very clear to me is that all groups were largely talking about the same thing. Regardless of what you call it, community or stakeholder engagement it is a process to help people make better decisions. The IAP2 Australasian certificate of engagement defines community engagement as the following:
Community engagement is a planned process with the specific purpose of working across organisations’ stakeholders and communities to shape the decisions or actions of the members of the community, stakeholders or organisation in relation to a problem, opportunity or outcome.
So what are the key parts here?
- Firstly it’s a process. It’s not some haphazard series of events, but rather it’s a planned purposeful process with some very specific aims in mind.
- Second, there is a decision at the centre of it. You have to be engaging about something. You don’t just do it for the sake of it.
- Third, it is in relation to solving a problem, creating an opportunity or arriving at an outcome. Something happens at the end of the process that has in some way been informed by the engagement process itself.
And what about that community versus stakeholders debate?
Well a community can be a geographic location (community of place), a community of similar interest (community of practice), or a community of affiliation (such as industry or sporting club). The word ‘stakeholder’ defines individuals or organisations with a specific stake in the outcome of a decision to the impact of a policy, project or proposition. Stakeholders can be part of your community, or your community members can be stakeholders. The key part is that everybody understands your definitions so everybody who is working with you are on the same page.