Defining the public’s role in community engagement

What to say when the community asks “What’s the point of community engagement, and what do you expect from us?”

The International Association of Public Participation’s (IAP2) spectrum provides a continuum of five levels of community engagement – inform, consult, involve, collaborate, and empower.

As a licensed trainer in Australia for IAP2’s Certificate of Public Participation and the Emotion and Outrage in Public Participation, I have taught hundreds of people about the spectrum since 2006.

But the missing piece in the spectrum is articulating the public’s role in engagement.

For the past few years, I have explained the role of the public. And I am heartened to see that the lingo is now being taken up and explored by fellow engagement professionals.

By understanding the public’s role, we are better able to explain engagement to the community.

At inform, where we share information in a balanced and objective way, the public’s role is to learn.

At consult, where we seek feedback on ideas or concepts, the public’s role is to commentate or to provide feedback.

At involve, where we seek to incorporate the public’s needs and aspirations into our drafts and options, the public’s role is to provide input plus feedback.

At collaborate, where we partner with the community, the public’s role is to be a partner.

At empower, where we facilitate a fair and balanced process where the public decides, their role is to decide.

Though frighteningly simple, it’s important to be able to reframe the spectrum from the perspective of our communities who often ask us “what’s the point of the engagement?” and “what do you expect of us?”