Part Two: What is community engagement?

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Audience Engagement vs. Community Engagement

Part Two: What is community engagement?

“Community” and “engagement” are both buzzwords of the time. Compounded they create a super buzz phrase, but what does it mean? Words come to mind like collaboration, relationship building, connection, participation, collective, development, cooperation, involvement… And the list (every second word beginning with C) goes on…

The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) defines community engagement as “the process of working collaboratively with and through groups of people to enact positive action.  It includes information sharing, consultation and active involvement in decision making.” (Halifax Regional Municipality, 2013). This is an adequate definition for a municipal government to produce. It offers merit amidst the distinctly government diction, but does all community engagement have to enact positive action? To play devil’s advocate, what if a community exists that has a negative goal? When they work collaboratively to enact negative action, does this not qualify as community engagement? When a community works together for any given purpose they are engaged in their community.

Leaving the semantics of that definition behind, another take on community engagement is found in the Association of Alaska School Boards’ (AASB) Initiative for Community Engagement. Their definition is “the intentional action of groups and individuals working together to create healthy environments that support the growth and education of children and youth.” (Association of Alaska School Board, n.d.).

The tell-tale government diction is replaced by a focus on education and youth from the HRM definition to the AASB definition. The essence is the same: working together, collaboration, building something; this is what community engagement is about. Because community engagement means different things to different community groups there needs to be an individual take on the concept for various community engagement plans and initiatives. Mission statements and visions are often dismissed as trite and pie-in-the-sky ideals that don’t mean much to the day-to-day operations, but it is easy to see the connection between a mission statement and a group’s view on community engagement. The way a community approaches engagement defines the community, as mission statements are intended to define all organizations.

There is another all-to-common buzzword mentioned in the AASB’s Initiative for Community Engagement. To quote Jesse Drelick, “[i]f the world were an episode of Sesame Street, “sustainability” would be the word of the day. (Drelick, n.d.). Sustainability is the end goal of community engagement for AASB, as is the case for many communities. The continuation of community is often contingent on funding and external support. Reaching a point of self-sufficiency in which the community can propel forward unsupported by external forces is a simple but oftentimes lofty goal.

While sustainability isn’t necessarily a paramount component of community engagement in every situation, the AASB elaborates on community engagement with a “road map” featured below, Figure 4. The end goal of the road map (or model) is sustainability and merits discussion in this exploration of community engagement.

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Figure 4: The Community Engagement Model

The various components (awareness, consideration, preparation, action, and reflection) all combine to create sustainability, but what if the community had a different end goal? This community engagement model could be applied to another community, a group of runners for example, who have an end goal of running in every electoral district in Newfoundland (MHA Running Checklist). All the components AASB has identified as important (awareness, consideration, etc.) could be applied to this running community, but instead of sustainability, the final component of their version of the model would be “Completion of MHA Running Checklist”.

The applicability of major components of the AASB community engagement model makes it useful for other communities, but there are communities out there with no discernible end goal. Think of a hypothetical association of hazelnut coffee drinkers. The group gets together to enjoy hazelnut coffee. Perhaps they also talk about how and why they love it. The end goal is not to banish all other types of coffee or to collectively drink a thousand cups of coffee; the goal is just to continue engaging with one other and to continue engaging with the focus of the group (hazelnut coffee). If community engagement, in and of itself, is the purpose of the group, does the AASB community engagement still apply? The group cannot be viewed as a linear model because of the unending design of the group. Ergo, the model would need to be regarded circularly.

Anne-Sophie Gaspersz explores a circular model (see Figure 5) that quite nicely summarizes the essence of community engagement, though it lacks the unending cycloid progression. Gaspersz is referring specifically to online communities but the model itself has general appeal to a variety of communities.

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Figure 5: How Online Communities Work: Fostering and Sustaining Engagement in Online Communities

Understanding, participation, and cooperation are the stages in Gaspersz model and those stages could work for community engagement in many communities but in this model the cycle of community engagement stops after members are participating cooperatively in the community. In a way, it is still a linear model of community engagement.

As the community engagement increases there will be natural growth in the scope, role(s), short and long term objectives, and purpose. Even if the community manages to continue somehow unchanged there will at some point need to be new community engagement activities or efforts taken on to keep members motivated and involved. The model Gaspersz used works very well as a preliminary look at community engagement, but what happens next? After a community moves through the three stages of community engagement it would be misguided to stagnate there.

The flow in the model designed by Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) has more of a perpetual strategy that will keep a community from stalling out after reaching the end goal of the AASB model or becoming fully engaged in the final stage of the Gaspersz model.

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Figure 6: CCISCO Organizing Model

The CCISCO “makes it happen” with research and action. The organization analyzes an issue (“listen and share concerns” in community engagement speak); takes action; and then evaluates the environment for surfacing issues and repeats the process. This model is an ongoing proactive call to action that might not work for a more passive community but the linear fashion keeps the community continually engaged. The life cycle of community engagement circles perpetually with collaborative interactions within the community enforcing the mission and purpose.

Next the isolation of the primary difference between audience engagement (part one) and community engagement (part two) is explored:

Part Three: What’s the difference?

Sources:

Association of Alaska School Board. (n.d.). Community Engagement. Association of Alaska School Boards’ Initiative for Community Engagement. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://alaskaice.org/community-engagement/

Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization. (2006). Our Organizing Model. Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization. Retrieved August 30, 2013, from http://ccisco.org/about-us/

Drelick, J. (n.d.). Today’s word is ‘Sustainability’. Jesse Drelick. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://jessedrelick.com/todays-word-is-sustainability/

Halifax Regional Municipality. (2013). What is Community Engagement? Halifax Regional Municipality. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from https://www.halifax.ca/crca/CommunityEngagement/

Gaspersz, Anne-Sophie. (September 15 2012). How Online Communities Work: Fostering and Sustaining Engagement in Online Communities (Model). Think Online Community. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from http://thinkonlinecommunity.com/2012/09/15/how-online-communities-work-fostering-and-sustaining-engagement-in-online-communities/

Figures:

Figure 4: The Community Engagement Model

Association of Alaska School Board. (n.d.). Community Engagement Model. Association of Alaska School Boards’ Initiative for Community Engagement. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://alaskaice.org/community-engagement/

Figure 5: How Online Communities Work: Fostering and Sustaining Engagement in Online Communities

Gaspersz, Anne-Sophie. (September 15 2012). How Online Communities Work: Fostering and Sustaining Engagement in Online Communities (Model). Think Online Community. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from http://thinkonlinecommunity.com/2012/09/15/how-online-communities-work-fostering-and-sustaining-engagement-in-online-communities/

Figure 6: CCISCO Organizing Model

Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization. (2006). Our Organizing Model. Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization. Retrieved August 30, 2013, from http://ccisco.org/about-us/

Recommended Further Reading:

University of California, Berkley. (n.d.). Community Engagement Strategies. Prevention by Design. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~pbd/pdfs/Community_Engagement_Strategies.pdf

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