BEST PRACTICES > COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT  
 

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Community Engagement

What is Community Engagement?

Community engagement is about dialogue between citizens, government, businesses, and not for-profits. Public engagement has been important for many communities who have had success with Community Economic Development. In many successful communities, citizens are active participants in the decision-making process.

Different Levels of Community Engagement
Informing One way flow (ie. open house)
Consulting Two way flow (ie. public meeting)
Engaging Equal decision making

There are different types of community engagement. The types you choose will depend on the community and the goals. For example, feedback on a report would require a low level of participation, whereas partnering with citizens requires a higher level of participation.

Why Community Engagement?

A well planned community engagement process can...

  • Open doors for a diversity of citizens to get involved which brings in wider perspectives and potential solutions
  • Build relationships and common ground within the community
  • Ensures that governments operate democratically
  • Encourage citizens to take ownership of the economic development process
  • Enhances ability and knowledge of citizens to act beyond the engagement process
  • Meets growing demand for public participation.

How Do You Engage Citizens?

There are many ways to involve citizens. It depends on how many people you want to engage, available time, and the type of project. Who will be participating? Who has important information? Who will be affected? Who will make or influence the decision?

  • Build relationships with community members who exhibit strong leadership skills and who want to build on their visions of community development
  • Understand the history and culture of the community and the different visions and interests of different members (ex. newcomers vs. locals)
  • Be inclusive, but anticipate the potential for conflict. Ensure you have an experienced facilitator who can ensure meetings and other events run smoothly.
  • Know your target audience and use creative methods
  • Show participants that their input is used – record, publish, and implement ideas; this builds legitimacy
  • Be aware of the reasons people don?t participate: inadequate notice, belief that their input will not be used, long and boring meetings, inaccessible location
  • Inform the community through media such as radio, television, newspapers, and through social media such as blog, Facebook, etc.

Looking for More? Please see page 41 for more resources on Community Engagement.

Hearst Community Summit

Hearst increased community awareness by hosting the “Our Children; Their Future” summit, which was a two day event promoting the reduction of individual carbon footprints. The summit included multiple speakers from the local community and abroad speaking on climate change, youth, and community involvement.

The summit succeeded in capturing participation and support for the event, and created the groundwork for participation in the community-wide creation of a sustainable community brand. The youth of the community were the focus of the event, which sparked some passion for community and environmental thinking, while fostering future community leaders.

Open Doors at Marathon

The Town of Marathon maintains an open and transparent process to ensure the business community can have input into the future direction of the town. They keep an open invitation to all businesses to have a one-on- one conversation at any time. They also recently finished a year and a half long series of interviews with the local business community. Their aim was to speak personally with every business in the community.

Lake Huron Water Quality: Circle Talks

For several years, water quality issues along Lake Huron created conflict between lakeshore residents and farmers. Poor communication about septic tanks and farm practices contributed to threats of lawsuits. With no formal mechanism for dialogue, few could see the potential for positive outcomes. Preliminary findings from the Lake Huron case indicate that Circle talks can effectively bring people together while encouraging dialogue and deep understanding of issues.

Circles draw on the First Nations tradition of using a talking piece, an object passed around a group, to grant the holder sole permission to speak, while requiring all others to listen. Lake Huron Circles were initiated through a partnership between local planning departments, farm groups and community members. Small groups of farmers and lakeshore residents met to discuss their perspectives on water quality. Participants had an in-depth and passionate conversation, expressing divergent opinions on potentially divisive issues in their community.

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