I recently spoke to Australia’s National Local Government Newspaper regarding Community Engagement. You can read more about the details below regarding how to maximise the benefits of community engagement.
There are, certainly, challenges for engaging communities effectively. The rewards for getting it right may be more than you imagine.
For local government it is much more than just gaining input to important decisions; it is also about strengthening communities, improving council’s reputation, building trust, and leveraging the many assets within the municipality or city.
During the Integrated Council Plan engagement process at City of Port Phillip a majority of participants were randomly selected to do a ‘deeper dive’ into some critical issues. Council was thrilled with the output and thoughtful advice.
It went beyond this for one participant who said, “This has been amazing. I never go to things like this. Two years ago my sister, who lived with me, died. I also lost my job that year. I have done nothing for the two years since then but stay at home and feel miserable and useless. I have met some lovely people here and I have found out about some ways I can volunteer in St Kilda. I feel like I am part of the human race again!”
Such stories are not unusual. During a very successful ‘Ageing Well’ project in the Shire of Indigo, a group of community champions helped to design the process. One of those champions said, “I usually get involved in telling Council what they should and shouldn’t do; but by being part of many conversations I have learned so much about services and facilities; what Council’s responsibilities and limitations are, and how things are changing. I believe I can now help other people navigate the system and introduce them to people and services.”
It is so important to make space for such possibilities when we design community engagement processes. Engagement is much more than gaining feedback or input; it has the power to transform.