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Facilitating Community Engagement

Facilitation is the practice of providing leadership without taking the reins. As a facilitator for community engagement your role is to get others to take responsibility and to take the lead on different tasks that will result in collaborative efforts to address the issue around which the engagement is taking place.

A community engagement facilitator provides the methods and means that enable groups and individuals to craft answers to complex issues facing their community without necessarily being a subject matter expert. Facilitators need to balance time, the degree of uncertainty of the issues and the process maturity of the organization/ group - and help them find the best possible actions to address the issue. Facilitators must use the right model/tool in the right place to get the most helpful answer, allowing groups to make decisions and reach a lasting, agreement which has commitment and buy-in. They must understand the continuum of decision making and change which identifies the best tool or technique to use depending on the seriousness/significance of the decision/ situation and the need for the stakeholders - emotionally and mentally – to commit to the decision.

Example

Leaders of several community organizations and interested residents have been working on a difficult problem facing the community. There have been a number of attempts by various organizations to tackle the problem but the problem persists. These leaders have come to you to help them solve their problem. As a community engagement practitioner you offer them a method and process that through which they can develop strategies and projects that more effectively manage the problem.

You facilitate numerous meetings and guide them through discussions that help them:

  • develop a common understanding of the root causes of the problem
  • frame the problem in the context of the community
  • develop shared goals and objectives that will address the problem
  • put together and implement projects that will achieve the objectives
  • evaluate the effectiveness of the projects and engagement process

Rather than being a player, a community engagement facilitator acts more like a referee. You watch the action during the meetings and between meetings. You help them communicate with each other and the community at large. You help them work through conflicts surrounding the problem. Most important you help them define and reach their goals by working together.

There are many tools and strategies that make facilitating community engagement more effective.

As you are surely aware by this point, community engagement is both multi-faceted and affected by the characteristics of the community in which you are working – its history, culture, politics, relationships, and previous experiences. Clearly then, carefully planning your engagement efforts – and its specific goals – and designing your process accordingly is essential.

Whether the ‘host’ or main entity leading your engagement efforts is a community group, special-interest organization, or local, state, or federal government agency it is absolutely critical that your internal policies, communications, and expectations align with, and support your engagement goals and expectations.