Community engagement is the practice of gaining community input or feedback, or collaborating with communities, to make better decisions or to implement changes.
The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Australasia defines community engagement as:
“an intentional 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.”
IAP2 says community engagement shifts the focus from delivering decisions for individuals to broadening the scope to the collective, and talks about the importance of considering the diversity within communities.
There are several core parts of community engagement including:
- The IAP2 spectrum which includes five levels of engagement – from informing through to empowering the community.
- Being purpose-driven – including engaging to make a decision, to support community resilience, to innovate or to gain feedback
- Being clear about the scope – including having a clear focus for engagement and being clear about which items are negotiable and which items are non-negotiable.
- Having a decision maker – and that’s not the engagement professional / team.
In practice, the methods vary from online surveys through to forums, workshops, citizen juries and gamification.
Community engagement is used across many sectors including:
- Community visions
- Community plans
- New government policies
- Major projects and infrastructure
- Improving health services
- Research projects
- Economic development
- Aged care
- Mental health service planning
- And so much more.