What should you do when history, tensions or conflicts get in the way of ongoing community engagement that is in any way authentic and meaningful?
Perhaps the community feels a sense of consultation fatigue, or that past engagements felt tokenistic, or maybe they felt excluded entirely. There is a lack of trust in your organization’s ability to engage in an open and honest way. Perhaps your organization had some former practices that weren’t in the community’s best interest, but you are striving to do things differently. You try to engage but the community still holds this baggage. And you feel like you’re on your back foot. What do you do next?
Liz Weaver and I recently hosted a webinar where we explored how to move forward. As we reflected on the situations that we and members of our network have experienced, we landed on the following 7 steps as a starting place.
Understand the layers within a community. Establish connections. Go out of your way. Pay attention to people and their preferences. Be humble.
- Read the Vitalyst Foundation’s Pre-Engagement methodology
2. Build trust
Understand that your past experiences may have created turf. Realize that progress moves at the speed of trust and take the necessary steps to re-build trust.
- Read Turf, Trust, Collaboration and Collective Impact for the theory and strategies for building trust
3. Show up vulnerable and ready to learn
Acknowledge that you will make mistakes, that you have a lot to learn from and with this community, and seek to learn from them, and on your own.
- Use the Ouch, Oops Framework to work together to understand unintended negative impacts
4. Treat people as unique human beings
Don’t let being cautious (e.g., being too formal, too afraid to offend) get in the way of engaging with people as individual human beings.
- Consider some of the key questions of Appreciative Inquiry to ask rather than assume
5. Design Authentic Processes
Put yourself in the shoes of the community members and then ask: What are the benefits of engaging? What’s on the table? How are you truly listening? How are you closing the loop?
- Read the Case Study about Poverty Solutions Halifax’s learning journey towards authentic engagement
- Read Community Engagement: A Foundational Practice of Community Change to learn how to build community ownership and leadership for long-term sustainability and success
6. Seek ways to give up power
Power is the ability to affect an outcome. Acknowledge that you hold power and find ways to share it. Aim for transformational experiences rather than transactional ones.
- Watch this webinar with George Aye on Power and Privilege
- Attend the Community Change Festival, happening in the Vancouver area Sep 30-Oct 3, where we’ll be exploring power and privilege further with George Aye
7. Work together
Understand that the community is the solution, not the problem. Suspend any thinking that you have “the answer”. Recognize context expertise. Involve deeply. Work together with the community to co-design solutions. Provide ownership.
- Read The Context Experts which discusses how to increase the authenticity of community engagement and eradicate tokenistic community engagement through the meaningful involvement of context experts.
- Save the date for a workshop, coming up November 13-15 in Toronto, on how to effectively facilitate innovative forms of community engagement, such as co-design, lived experience advisory councils, and hackathons
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