idea that community members need to be involved to some degree in the community
development process is an important element to the
process' success and the community's continued progress. The people in the
community are integral parts of the system, so of course they should do what
they can to have a part in improving their community. Sitting back and letting
someone handle things isn't going to help matters, and it makes it harder for
your voice to be heard in the community forum.
This article will look at the
role that the members of the community have in community development. Topics
will include engagement, participation, and the value that people hold in their
community. There will also be information on how community leaders can improve
engagement and participation to better benefit the community during the
What Is Engagement?
No, not that engagement.
Community engagement is a term that gets thrown around a lot in community
development and leadership practices. It has multiple meanings, depending on
who you talk to and what the context is, but community development treats it as
the method of connecting people with the intent of ensuring that their needs
are met within the spaces of the community.1 For many community
leaders, it can be a way to check on the value the community and its facets
have for the people who reside there. It's a connection that allows for a
relationship between the different parts of the community and makes it so
people feel like they belong.
Does It Matter?-Due
to the variations of view regarding community engagement, there is some
question as to whether or not its inclusion is really worth it. Should
community leaders dedicate their time and resources in the community
development process towards measuring and instigating engagement with
residents? To some degree, yes, it matters and it should totally be included.
There are a ton of benefits that engagement can offer a community, including
solutions to problems, increased project success rate, and the development of
healthy community partnerships.2 There are very few downsides and
those really only occur when engagement is poorly done. The only circumstances
where engagement does not have any role in a community is with smaller
communities, where there are fewer factors that can impede connections amongst
Its Value In
The concept of engagement is
both a process and an outcome, so its value for communities and community
development can be rather extensive. There is so much that is changing in
today's society that engagement is one of the few tried-and-true tools that
community leaders can use with little modification. The effects and importance
of engagement in community development will depend on the factors involved.
Namely, how it's used, why it's used, and the demographics of the community. For
example, engagement tactics in rural communities are going to be slightly
different than those used in more urbanized areas, usually much more direct and
attentive in order to reach their intended audience.3
Universally, engagement does
have some value that will be of benefit to the community development process
regardless of the circumstances it is used in. They include:
usually encourages dialog between the different parts of the community. This is
crucial for information and feedback to be able to spread throughout the
community. Open communication lines makes it easier for community leaders to
understand the gravity the effects of their actions have on the community and
its residents.4 It also gives those same residents the chance to
have a real shot at providing input and having a voice when it comes to
decisions made in their community that can affect them.
order for engagement to work, you need to catch people's attention first.
Residents are more likely to engage with their peers in the community if they
have an actually interest in what's going on. The little bits of information
that community leaders first through out to start the engagement process act as
bait, which prompts people's interests enough to paying attention or at least
start to pay attention. If the issues occurring in a community are enough for a
person to get involved and have a genuine interest, then they are going to seek
out others in the community who feel the same way and bring the situation to
the attention of their peers.
engagement brings people's attention to certain aspects of the community and
gets conversations going, it often allows for news about what the community
needs to spread. This can, in turn, alert those in and outside of the community
who have access to certain resources of those needs. Such information routes
can prompt donations and offerings of those resources that are needed the most,
simply because people are talking about them. There are less resources used in
the process, which can make such efforts a much more sustainable and
budget-friendly option for the community. It's not going to be something that
happens all the time-it would be perfect if it did-but the occasional
occurrence can make it a valuable commodity.
Improves Decision Making-To put it mildly, engagement's ability to prompt more
people to get involved in their community means that there is going to be a
wider variety of viewpoints and problems solving abilities present. Everyone
has a different perspective on things and knowledge that allow them to provide
different solutions to the same problem. The more information a community has
about a particular issue, the more likely they are going to find an efficient
solution that has the best results. In community development, where the biggest
task is problem solving, that can be a very valuable resources in and of
itself. Decision making is one of the aspects that guides the community through
the process, so anything that can improve it improves the community.
The role of member
participation, especially in regards to community development, is just as
equally debated and valued as engagement. The two often play off of one
another, with engagement prompting participation and participation improving
engagement. However, its importance in the community development process is
something that people are unsure about. Sure there are instances in every
community where community development still worked despite a lack of
participation, but it's necessity to the process is still heavily documented
throughout history.5 There's no requirement stating that everyone
needs to participate in community development in order for it to work, just
that there needs to be a significant amount of participants. There are options!
A person can say 'no' to participating in something that they have no time or
interest in participating in. Forcing yourself or someone else to participate
isn't going to accomplish anything, and may just end up sabotaging the efforts
of those that willingly participate.
It's Value for Community Members-When it's done correctly and willingly, participation can
be rather valuable for community members. For the most part, it can offer them
a sense of fulfillment and belonging as a member of the community. It also
allows them to be in the thick of the community development process, which
means they have options and power in the process that they wouldn't have
otherwise. Things that they want to see in the community-certain improvements,
resources, or services-can be suggested in the planning stages and actually
considered as a real option. They will most likely be more invested in their
community if they feel like they have actually contributed to it in a
meaningful or helpful way.
Limitations and Obstacles-As wonderful as participation can be, it's not perfect.
There are limitations in place that can prevent it from working as well as it
should and curb the progress of community development. Aside from people not
wanting to willingly participate and there not being enough people involved to
get things done, there can also be too many participants. It can overload the
process and make it too difficult for things to get accomplished due to the
sheer amount of people jockeying to get their own agenda into plans. There are
also administrative positions that need to be filled in order to manage the
amount of people involved, which can get to be an issue when participation
turnout is high.6 For those in leadership positions in the community
development process, it can be overwhelming.
How To Improve
When engagement efforts
fail-and it's always a possibility that they can-different methods need to be
used. It is entirely possible that the wrong means are being used in the wrong
environment, or that the effort being put into generating engagement is simply
not enough. When engagement isn't working as well as it should, you often need
to take steps to improve the method(s) being used. Some things that can be done
to improve engagement include:
Focus on Empowerment-As
one of the key principles of community development, empowerment can help with
almost anything in the process. Empowerment can be strategic in helping people
identify what interests them in the community and what motivates them to seek
them out.7 Appealing to the wrong interests through engagement
doesn't get results, and it can even alienate members of the community if the
community's interests are presented as opposite of theirs. Empowerment can help
the leadership and members reevaluate what it is that they want for the
community, and allow for engagement to act with that in mind.
obstacles can impede engagement's success, just like they can impede community
development. Even if you are appealing to the right interests, there can still
be something that you are doing wrong. Looking at what it is exactly that is
being done to generate engagement or participation can help pinpoint issues
that are preventing success. The smallest of issues can still have a large
effect, so it's best not to overlook anything just because you think it may be
insignificant. Addressing obstacles of any kind early on can help stop any
damage that they cause from developing.
recent years, there has been a boom in the use of creativity and art to engage
members of the public in community development efforts. Creative measures have
been shown to offer more strategies that can be used to engage with others and
have a wider appeal.8 The various details in the backgrounds of
community members means that anything that can work on a large-scale to engage
the public is a valuable tool. There's more attraction and interest when people
get creative with their pitch and come up with something unique. More options
means that there are going to be more people reached. That creativity can also
be continued to retain engagement and participation, as the same old thing
isn't going to work for long.
isn't going to work if people think that there are better issues that need to
be addressed than the ones that the leadership is focusing on. The members of a
community may view a certain issue as being more of a priority than whatever
the leadership is focusing on. In some cases, this can translate as community
leaders being out of touch with the needs of the community. That in turn can
alienate potential participants who may think that their opinions won't matter.
Prioritizing projects based on what the community members want means that there
will be more enthusiasm and likely more responses to engagement efforts.9
are not just for the improvements in the community development process. Successful
engagement requires putting some effort and using whatever you got to catch the
attention of community members. In some cases, there may be resources available
that can make it easier to reach those members. Technology, for example, has
become the go-to resource for community engagement, with nearly every community
connecting with members through social media. It's fast and it allows community
leaders to measure engagement responses in real time.