Organizations are collaborative entities; they must interact with other entities to create value. Hence, the reason they have stakeholders. From business partners to investors, customers and vendors, organizations usually have multiple stakeholders with multiple nuances of interaction. One of the most important stakeholders for an organization is the community. Your organization operates in a certain environment and the people in that environment constitute a community, which you are part of. An effective community engagement strategy will ensure smooth interaction with your communities in a way that boosts your company’s image and revenue.
It is difficult to define Community Engagement because it means different things to different institutions and different professions. What an effective community engagement means also varies according to profession. For surveyors, land planners, builders and civil engineers, it is a necessary evil because they think it slows down their work. Effective community engagement to them will be getting the community’s consent for their projects in the fastest time possible, without damaging communication channels.
However, for communications and marketing professionals, community engagement involves creating a positive impression. An effective engagement process will lead to a more positive perception of the organization within the community. Communication professionals are therefore, concerned about whether the community likes their company or not.
Nevertheless, modern community engagement goes beyond communication goals. With the emergence of sustainability as a core policy for organizations in the 21st century, community engagement now goes beyond influencing perception. It also includes avoiding harsh practices harmful to the environment and sustainable practices that contribute positively to the community so that the future is better preserved. Community engagement then becomes the process of working collaboratively with community groups to address issues that impact the well-being of those groups. This is because the well-being of your community also contributes to your own well-being.
According to Dr Crispin Butterriss, chief practice officer of Bang the Table, community engagement is about decision making, relationship management, and capacity building.
Just as the definition of community engagement differs according to industry, so also will the elements of an effective community engagement strategy differ. However, there are certain elements vital to an effective community engagement process. These elements are
- Research: Before you embark on a journey of communication and interaction with your community, you need to do a lot of background research about the people. You need to have an idea of their culture, ideology, and needs. You don’t want to get there and be shooting in the dark. Many companies provide several facilities in certain communities without significant impact because they have been giving the people what they don’t need and neglecting what is important to them.
- Identifying leaders: This is very important. In every community, there are leaders that people respect and listen to. Make sure you identify them, communicate with them and win them to your side so that they can influence their community and mobilize them to respond positively when you engage them. Inviting leadership from community groups will help demonstrate that their participation is valued and that their views will be considered. This can help to build trust, increase communication and create openness to utilizing services.
- Connecting people and resources: Community engagement efforts should aim to improve connections between individuals, community associations, etc and connect people to more resources. Therefore, Corporate Social Responsibility is regarded as a vital part of community engagement. A community will be more open to interacting with you if you connect its people to resources they need.
- Inclusivity: An effective community engagement plan should not leave anything or anybody out. The moment you leave certain people in the community out of your plans, you start creating feelings of resentment. There must be a program in which all members of the community will have opportunity to participate. Also, including a broad array of community residents from the beginning of a planning process will help shape services so they are culturally acceptable and more closely meet specific needs. Through community engagement, community wisdom and science work in tandem to ensure a more balanced set of political, social, economic and cultural priorities, resulting in shared resources and shared power, thus leading to equity and social justice.
- Transparency: Human beings are different from objects and places. That is why an effective community engagement strategy must carry people along. You don’t to be perceived by the people as pursuing only your interest. You want the people to trust you and believe that you have their interest at heart. Transparency engenders trust and participation.