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Turning the Narrative on Community Engagement

Posted on February 28, 2019
By Duncan Field

Turning the Narrative on Community EngagementThis past month the Tamarack Institute was joined by Max Hardy, a citizen engagement expert from Australia. During his webinar Max outlined some principles and practical steps we can take to ensure that we are meaningfully engaging and empowering ordinary citizens in our community change work.

The idea of engaging community members to solve complex problems is nothing new, but Max's comments highlighted a common problem: often our approach to community engagement has already missed the mark by the time community members enter the room. We can sometimes view community engagement as a means of getting feedback on our own solutions to community problems, rather than allowing the community to help frame the problem in the first place. 

Max illustrates this key point in the short clip below, taken from his recent webinar Rethinking Democracy: Strategies that Put Citizens at the Centre.


HubSpot Video


This tendency for community members to view engagement work as an inefficient use of time is likely related to common practices that exclude them from the most foundational or most meaningful elements of community change - agency in the process, ownership over the problem, and the ability to broadly affect the outcome. To truly put citizens at the centre we must not only engage with community members, but empower them. 

This element of empowerment and ownership runs through Max's work, and is one of the reasons we are most excited to be hosting him on a cross-Canada tour with our Citizens at the Centre: A Community Engagement Thought-Leader Series workshops. Whether by investigating our upcoming workshop series, or by watching the full webinar, I invite you to dig further and examine your own Community Engagement practice. To what extent are you inviting ownership over the issue, not just the process? I think following questions like these will take all of our initiatives further with better solutions, more buy in, and sustained impact.

Learn More:

Community Engagement, Blog

Duncan Field

By Duncan Field

Duncan is a researcher, writer, and editor with an interest in supporting community organizations. He works as a Community Animator to create and produce engaging content and learning materials, and help maintain Tamarack’s online spaces. Duncan comes to Tamarack by way of York and Queen’s University, with experience studying Psychology, Philosophy, and Law. Most recently, Duncan worked in the charitable sector designing and producing e-learning courses, as well as building online communities of practice.

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