Insights into the Work of Authentic Community Engagement

Posted on March 22, 2019
By Sylvia Cheuy

Insights Authentic EngagementThe value and necessity of engaging multiple sectors to work collaboratively to address complex issues is now a widely accepted practice. As recognition of the value and importance of engaging the wisdom and knowledge of “context experts” in Collective Impact initiatives has grown, it has also contributed to a heightened interest in better understanding how to embed authentic engagement as a practice in community change efforts.

A new publication entitled Pre-Community Engagement: Setting the Stage for Authentic Community Engagement by the Vitalyst Health Foundation highlights the need and value of viewing community engagement as an opportunity to both build relationships as well as achieve positive community results.  

This report highlights the value of developing community knowledge and fostering trusting relationships across the community and recognizes that this work should be ongoing and should precede any specific Community Engagement efforts. Investing time and energy in understanding a community and its history helps to ensure that a “future community engagement plan and strategies will be successful in inspiring community participation and connecting with residents in an authentic way.”  Vitalyst Foundation’s Pre-Community Engagement methodology focuses on the following 3 elements: 

  1. Understand the Layers Within a Community – There is no such thing as ONE community. The first step in any pre-engagement effort is to understand the sub-communities that make up the community. Your understanding should focus specifically on the following four areas:
  • Identifying and building relationships with existing groups in the community
  • Understanding the history of the community from both formal and informal sources
  • Engaging community leaders to identify existing community networks
  • Learning about current and previous community engagement efforts
  1. Understand a Range of Community Member Perspectives – Your effort to get to know the community should focus on gaining a better understanding of the opinions and perspectives of different groups. Obtaining specific information about barriers and challenges to engaging various groups and learning about their communications preferences will help you to develop effective engagement plans in the future.  Acting on this information also helps to build trust in your capacity to listen and respond.
  1. Identify Engagement Strategies that Support Community Preferences – Future engagement efforts should reflect the input and advice of community. It is equally important that your engagement efforts demonstrate a respect for and valuing of the wisdom, knowledge and contribution of “context experts.” 

Done well, Community Engagement creates opportunities to bring together a diversity of perspectives, develop a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities the community faces, and allows people to work together to implement new solutions and seize new opportunities that benefit everyone. The Tamarack Institute recently hosted Max Hardy, an Australian Community Engagement thought-leader, who underlined the point that authentic engagement efforts empower those it seeks to engage with to make changes. This final point is essential to engaging community members to take responsibility for bringing about change and improvement. Without agency or the power to actually affect the outcome of the change effort, the community's response will always be lessened.

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Community Engagement, Sylvia Cheuy, Blog

Sylvia Cheuy

By Sylvia Cheuy

Sylvia is a Consulting Director of the Tamarack Institute’s Collective Impact Idea Area and also supports Tamarack’s Community Engagement Idea Area. She is passionate about community change and what becomes possible when residents and various sector leaders share an aspirational vision for their future. Sylvia believes that when the assets of residents and community are recognized and connected they become powerful drivers of community change. Sylvia is an internationally recognized community-builder and trainer. Over the past five years, much of Sylvia’s work has focused on building awareness and capacity in the areas of Collective Impact and Community Engagement throughout North America.

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