What is community engagement?
In the simplest form, community engagement means engaging with any group of people whether it be citizens who are living in a city or town, or with a group of employees, customers and stakeholders in any organization. It is about collaboration between groups of people to achieve shared vision or a goal towards betterment of a society or an organization. More participation among community directly contributes to the happiness and well being of a community.
Community engagement is a great tool which brings more participation to a society or an organization. As we all know many brains working towards a goal is better than one brain. Community engagement increases involvement, impact, trust and communication in any community.
Principles of Community Engagement
Several principles need to be taken into account when implementing community engagement.
- Planning - The process should be carefully planned together with all the parties involved and clearly defined to serve the purpose and needs of the participants.
- Diversity - Include groups of people from different walk of life and communities, voices, ideas, and information to achieve the best quality outcomes.
- Collaboration - Support and encourage participants, government and community institutions, and organization to work together towards the common goal. Communication should be bi-directional.
- Transparency - Make decison-making and processes transparent for the public or employees in order to improve trust.
- Trust - Sense of community builds trust between the community and decision makers as well as the public administration.
- Accountability - Accountable operation improves the activity of people and makes it easier to maintain the trust between the community and decision-makers.
- Participative Decisions - Offer your community the opportunity to collectively make decisions. Strong bi-directional relationship is needed to achieve the desired outcome.
- Communication - Establishing a bi-directional communication among the participants is the key to build trust and transparency in the community.
"Community engagement makes peoples' voices heard - and more"
Methods of Community Engagement
- Closed polling - Provide clear question with only closed answers as an option.
- Panels - Bring people together to discuss about common concerns or specific topics.
- Surveys - Gather collective informations through surveys and listen to people regarding the matters that concern them.
- Participatory budgeting - Let people collaboratively choose the projects they like the most by voting in participatory budgeting.
- Idea collection - Collect public information directly from the people to help making better decisions or to provide options.
- Proposals - Offer citizens the opportunity to share proposals on any topic, at any time and get vote on the best proposals.
- Collaborative decisions - Make it possible to make decisions collaboratively by providing processes for making proposals and voting about them.
Community Engagement in Action
The City of Seattle was divided into 13 districts in 1988. Each geographic district has a district council, which is essentially a volunteer board comprised of representatives from community councils, nonprofit organizations, and business groups. Originally created to guide neighborhood planning processes, district councils serve to promote and support citizen participation at the neighborhood level. One of the primary roles the district councils played in the city was to review and rank project proposals submitted to the Neighborhood Matching Fund.
In July 2016, Mayor Ed Murray signed an Executive Order terminating the city’s official ties to each of the 13 district councils, citing a “significant need for more equitable and accessible community engagement processes”. The move to disempower the district councils was seemingly grounded in a 2009 report by the City Auditor that advocated for a “renewal” of the system, and a 2013 demographic snapshot of district council attendees that showed they tend to be over-40 Caucasian homeowners.
The Executive Order did not “disband” the district councils. Instead, according to the Mayor’s Office, they are allowed to “continue to participate/advocate/inform as they do now even if not formally supported by the city”. The Order redirected resources that previously supported the district councils to city departments, directed those departments to develop community involvement plans, and required the 25 Department of Neighborhoods to come up with a new, more equitable citywide framework and strategic plan for community engagement.
Seattle is making strides in effectively engaging its residents—especially members of traditionally underrepresented groups—through its People’s Academy for Community Engagement, Public Outreach and Engagement Liaisons, neighborhood matching fund, and participatory budgeting pilot.
Aalto University, Finland
Aalto University has recognized that community engagement is a necessary path to achieve its future goals to help students. With this in mind Aalto have implemented a platform to share the knowledge with students as an alumni agent or donate to support research and education.
It has developed a mentoring programme for alumni and students. Students get to develop themselves with alumni during the mentoring programme. It connects students and working-life experts to facilitate career design and self-development. It is about mutual benefit and learning. Students from this programme get to understand the outside world from the employer's perspective and develop their skills accordingly. As for the mentors they also learn new ideas from the fresh minds which might be helpful in their business.
Employer collaboration is one of the programme what Aalto has also started. In this CoDesigner collaboration, employers can join in experimenting with news ways of supporting Aalto students and alumni in lifewide learning and career design. Aalto offer two types of employer collaboration. As a key customer, you have the opportunity to strengthen your employer brand and reach its students via targeted communication and campus visibility. As a Career Design Lab CoDesigner, you can join in developing radically creative career design and lifewide learning for their students and alumni and position your organization as a pioneer in the future of work.
In addition to these programmes mentioned above Aalto University and its partners arrange annually several hundreds of events open to alumni, corporate representatives and bigger audience.
In 2010, the KONE Technology Organization wanted to encourage all employees to participate in finding new, innovative People Flow™ solutions by introducing an online tool for sharing and processing ideas. The KONE Innovation Tool gives employees the opportunity to participate in the creation of our industry leading innovations. Anyone can submit an idea, and many have already being turned into real projects.
Employees can submit their ideas via the Innovation Tool at any time, and they will be visible to the whole community. Other users can then contribute by voting and commenting on the ideas. The ideas collected in the tool are regularly reviewed and evaluated, with the best ones being selected for further development.
The tool currently has more than 850 users, and this number is steadily increasing. A built-in idea development process ensures that good ideas will eventually lead to real actions. KONE has already received tens of ideas that have been turned into real projects, product and process improvements, or corrective actions.
Implementation of Community Engagement
In this digital era it is easier and cost efficient to implement community engagement through digital participation. Our digital participation tools enable easy collaboration and decision-making, impacting the way we make decisions – and closing the gap between the community and the decision-makers. The new, digitized world connects people within all kinds of communities and organizations.
PopuliHub is an easy-to-use participation platform powered by the Decidim technology. It provides you with all the technical equipment to create digital participation experiences. It is reliable, trustworthy, well maintained and technically flexible to suit any participation needs.