Methods for creating an engaged community

Service providers have an important role in facilitating members of the community's involvement in decision making.

PostboxService providers and stewardship organisationsGlossary: are organisations, sometime charitable, that have a specific role to manage community assets into the long-term for the benefit of the local population as a whole in the new communities need to be facilitators of social engagement. This means:

  • demonstrating a commitment to listening and responding
  • providing a range of openings - formal and less formal - so that residents are able to influence decision making in a way that suits them.
  • identifying stakeholdersGlossary: A group of people or an organisation with a legitimate interest in a given situation, action or enterprise and tapping into their motivations
  • cultivating people as individuals
  • having an appreciation of timing - and acting to secure people's involvement
  • multi-agency working to pick up on issues and residents' concerns from other services - such as the police, health and education providers - which also have contact with the community
  • being creative in order to involve all sectors of the community, including people of all ages, sexes, ethnicities, income levels and occupations

In some cases, residents will take up formal positions on the boards of local organisations. Engagement can also happen very effectively in an informal manner through regular contact and constructive dialogue between decision makers, service providers and local residents. Both will rely on the creation of a local culture of engagement and participation so that people know how to become involved and feel that their contributions will be taken seriously. One of the simplest and most successful approaches to securing positive engagement is to make it fun - games, festivals, food, celebrations or whatever activity that invites people who normally wouldn't be tempted to get involved in a formal activity, as has been done in the redevelopment of New East Manchester.

Formal methods include:

  • setting up a Community Governance Board or Community Management Organisation
  • serving on the board of a local stewardship organisationGlossary: an organisation, sometime charitable, that has a specific role to manage community assets into the long-term for the benefit of the local population as a whole
  • creating issue-based or thematic sub-committees reporting to the board of stewardship organisationsGlossary: are organisations, sometime charitable, that have a specific role to manage community assets into the long-term for the benefit of the local population as a whole and which include local residents
  • connecting local stewardship organisationsGlossary: are organisations, sometime charitable, that have a specific role to manage community assets into the long-term for the benefit of the local population as a whole to already-existing local democratic structures, for example ward-level committees, or parish councils
  • regular public meetings to discuss issues affecting the community
  • Participatory budgeting - a mechanism that allows people to influence priorities and spending of local budgets.

Semi-formal methods of understanding people's views:

  • surveys to find out local people's opinions
  • forums or Round Tables - workshops to debate key topics with local people and to agree some recommendations that are then integrated into the decision-making process
  • planning and design sessions - events that bring together members of the community and professionals to work creatively to identify local issues and generate strategies for the area. Methods include visual, hands-on tools or interactive three-dimensional models such as the Planning for Real, Enquiry by design and charettesGlossary: Charrettes are meetings where groups of individuals collaboratively design a solution to a problem.

Informal methods of engagement might include:

  • internet facilities - e-technology is easy and cheap and is a useful tool to reach many people, undertake on-line surveys and demonstrate openness. Plans, blogs, chats, public consultation and project progress can be viewed online or downloaded, although web-based tools can never serve as a substitute for face-to-face engagement
  • providing opportunities for contact between residents and local agency representatives. Neighbourhood managers or wardens can help here but other ways might include, for example, web-based communication
  • having a presence at local events such as fetes and festivals where local service providers an opportunity to have meaningful conversations with residents in a relaxed setting.