The purpose of undertaking community engagement is to inform the project. If you have already made up your minds, community engagement is tokenistic. In effect it is a public relations exercise. This can lead to scepticism and disillusionment.
Community engagement should be stimulating and enjoyable. The aim is to engage with people’s imaginations, so try using visual methods (such as pin boards or washing lines for comments) as well as surveys. Food and music is also a great way of encouraging people to take part and creates great community spirit.
Don’t just talk to people like you. Identify who is in your community and make an extra effort to find and engage people from as many different parts of the community as you can – by age, ethnicity, and class. Ensure you talk to people who will be affected or can benefit from your ideas.
Don’t expect people to come to you. Go to where and when people are, whether that is by knocking on people’s doors or standing outside the pub on a Friday night. If you need to run an event, plan carefully to make it accessible, thinking about the location, timing and format.
Let your community know what they have told you and make sure you collect contact details if people want to be kept informed. Let people know how their views have influenced your project and how they can continue to have their say.
The best reason to consult with people is to get them active in your project. If people are as passionate as you about the issues you care about, ask them to get involved. Look for future leaders, fundraisers, volunteers, users and members of your project and make sure you collect contact details and follow them up.
Sometimes, a referendum is required as part of the process, and this is where community support can help achieve the required turnout and majority when you come to hold the vote.