Planning Your Engagement Efforts
The community engagement facilitator will need to inform citizens and stakeholders about the project and gather their input about the project. You will need to understand citizens’ and stakeholders’ concerns, aspirations and ideas for undertaking the project. All this effort will be of little value unless the engagement effort identifies stakeholders and citizens that are willing to contribute to implementing the solution. Planning your community engagement will increase your ability to:
- Inform citizens and stakeholders about your project and/or goals
- Gather input from citizens and stakeholders regarding their opinions and support for, and assessment of, various actions, goals, and priorities
- Help you better understand and consider citizens and stakeholders concerns, aspirations and ideas for addressing your specific need
- Assist you in identifying alternatives, consequences and preferred solutions
- Help you identify stakeholders groups, leaders and citizens that can guide decision-making and contribute to implementation or contributing to solutions
Engagement Plan Steps
The following steps will help you develop your engagement plan.
- Frame the issue or problem – The first step in developing your community engagement plan is framing the issue or problem in a way that the community can discuss alternatives, solutions and consequences. Take care to not propose a specific solution to the issue or project. (ex. Enhancing your opportunities – rather than youth curfews, retail development strategies - rather than the proposed “big-box” store, waste management options – rather than the proposed landfill, invasive animal management – rather than baiting)
- Identify your engagement goals – Why do you need or want people to get involved in your project? What do you want to accomplish by getting people involved? You will likely identify a mix of goals to include in your plan. Consider the following question to help you identify your goals:
- Inform—Do you want to inform people about a project, or help them understand a problem or opportunity? Do you need more information from citizens to make a decision? What are the key things you want stakeholders to understand? What do they need to know to make this effort successful? What information is missing?
- Consult—Do you want to get public feedback about a project, program or decision? Do you want to stimulate public debate about the issue? What specific types of information do you want from your participants? Is the goal to simply gather input into a pre-developed proposal, or is it general perceptions and values related to the issue you are seeking to address?
- Involve—Do you want to work directly with citizens throughout the decision-making process, drawing on their knowledge and expertise to make recommendations? If you are expecting stakeholders to make decisions, what specifically do they have the purview over? How will their input be incorporated into the process or outcomes?
- Collaborate—Do you want to create long-term partnerships among stakeholders (participants and community groups) that will implement the solutions they create? What specific contributions and partnerships do you want from your stakeholders? What can they realistically contribute? What authority are you willing to relinquish if necessary?
- Empower—Do you want the public to take leadership for implementing actions that address the purpose? What specifically do you expect stakeholders to do on their own?
- Develop Your Engagement Project Team—at this stage it is a good idea to develop a project team or advisory group to help plan and implement your engagement process. The team's responsibilities might include:
- Selecting tools and designing the process for citizen participation
- Identifying and recruiting participants
- Publicizing the effort
- Developing background information
- Designing benchmarks and criteria for evaluation
- Reporting the outcomes of the process
- Making recommendations based on the outcomes
- Identify the face to face tools for engaging citizens and stakeholders - There are a number of face-to-face tools and processes that can be used to engage citizens and stakeholders in your efforts. These tools serve to achieve different engagement goals: Inform, Consult, Involve, Collaborate or Empower. The trick is to select the engagement tool(s) and processes that match your goals and capacity to implement the appropriate strategies. A few of the more commonly used processes are identified in the section Pick the Right Tools.
- Participant recruitment and retention – Develop a participant recruitment and retention plan that describes how you will reach, prepare for, and communicate with your target audience.
- Plan for evaluation – Identify your evaluation strategy. How will you measure if you’ve been successful? What constitutes success for the engagement team and the participants?
- Communication plan – What is your plan for maintaining open lines of communication between you and those being engaged?