How Community Engagement is Changing in the midst of COVID-19

Posted on April 22, 2020
By Lisa Attygalle

In traditional community engagement there were clear and delineated roles about who is engaging who: the municipality looking for community input on a program; a collaborative is inviting community members with lived experience to play an advisory role; etc.

Over the past few years we’ve seen a trend towards more community-led initiatives. Neighbourhood granting is a perfect example. There was often a sense of hesitancy though—what if the community wants something we don’t, what if it requires our oversight, what about health and safety?

Fast forward to now, COVID-19 has helped us to break the traditional rules and has expedited organizational adoption of, and comfort with, all things community-led. It’s understandable that we may not have the capacity, or the staff, or the ideas right now. We need to prioritize, focus, and put out fires. So instead of hoarding the control, instead we can say, “If you have an idea, go for it.” It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation.

We’ve seen wonderful examples of citizens stepping up and organizing—from Care-mongering Groups to small businesses providing food for health workers. It’s happening at the local level, and it’s also changing at Provincial and Federal levels too.

Ontario Together is a great example. It’s Ontario’s invitation for community leadership to help fight Coronavirus. On the website it states that Ontario has $50 million to support submissions that can be actioned quickly. It asks for innovative solutions, ideas, supplies, and volunteers. It’s basically neighbourhood granting at a Provincial scale.

Our hope is that once we’re on the other side of this pandemic, that the desire for community-led initiatives remains. They are mutually beneficial. And they build community.

What can you do to help foster community leadership?

  • Be transparent – Be honest. Share your priorities. Name what you can’t do.
  • Ask for help – Create the space for someone to lead by inviting their help.
  • Welcome ideas – People are inherently creative. Invite innovation.
  • Connect – Be a resource to connect ideas and people.
  • Give up control – Don’t hold the reins. Now is the time to let the community act.

Take your Learning Further

Community Engagement, Lisa Attygalle, Community Building, COVID-19

Lisa Attygalle

By Lisa Attygalle

In her role at Tamarack, Lisa works with cities and organizations to improve the way they engage with their communities. Over the last seven years, her work has focused on creating engagement strategies for municipalities and organizations, integrated communications planning, and the use of technology and creativity for engagement. Lisa constantly advocates for simplicity in infrastructure, frameworks, and design and loves applying the principles of marketing, advertising, loyalty, and user experience to community initiatives.

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