We receive regular requests for advice and information on approaches to community engagement. I have also been teaching the subject to masters students at Melbourne University. So I find myself thinking about the subject a lot. Some insights on the topic come from three recent project experiences, described below.
Physical spaces with activities in them:
BasicNeeds is producing a handbook for the Rangoonwala Foundation. Community engagement in the community centres operated by the Foundation is based on practical activities for which there is a local demand, held in a space that women and children are happy to attend.
I recently visited a remote community of around 12 houses and 50 people, 500km from the nearest town, in a desert location in Australia. I was working for Ninti One. Community engagement here involves an investment of time travelling and sitting down with people to work out ways to tackle local problems. We had most success when using interpreters since people can, of course, best express their views in their own language and trust and rapport are easier to develop.
Sometimes communities can feel that decisions are being made in different rooms from the ones they are in. The Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, with which we are currently working, runs parallel processes. This means that their community of up to 60 young people are part of a ‘Youth Brains Trust’ that considers what the organisation is doing and feeds into its decision-making. The beauty of the approach is that it doesn’t push members of the community into situations where they cannot necessarily be themselves (such as board meetings).
There’s always something new to learn about the policy and practice of organisations when it comes to achieving effective community engagement. We are building up a resource of examples on the subject.