What is Community Engagement?

10th April 2008

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What is engagement?

Engagement is the involvement of the public, either as individuals or as a community, in policy and service decisions which affect them. In practice this involvement can take a number of different forms. The three main stages of engagement are:

Information gathering
The collection of information and data about public attitudes and requirements through surveys, etc. There is no ongoing dialogue between the public and the organisation seeking the information. The public usually participate in this as individuals.

Members of the public and the organisation work together for a defined period to discuss a particular policy or service issue. The methods used can range from focus groups to citizens’ juries. People are brought together as representatives of the demographic profile of a particular community.

Members of the public and the organisation work together, on an ongoing basis, on a range of policy or service issues. These tend to focus on the community rather than on individuals. Community forums are an example.

A key difference between the different approaches to engagement outlined above is the extent of the dialogue that takes place. The word ‘dialogue’ refers to the exchange  of views, ideas and concerns between different groups, for example between a local community organisation and a service-commissioning agency such as a local Clinical Commissioning Group.

The information-gathering approach does not involve much dialogue, whereas the participation approach is about a continuing dialogue as part of joint working.

[The image above] provides a new way of looking at Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation as it looks not only at the different types of community engagement, but also at the different levels of community empowerment that can be gained when communities are more fully involved.

[The image above] attempts to show that in empowering communities and groups by giving them delegated powers or handing control to the community there can be added benefits in terms of service improvements and improved social outcomes. With time, this will lead to a greater sense of community wellbeing, as people will begin to address the issues of greatest concern to them.

(excerpt from A Dialogue of Equals: Guide to Community Engagement, 2008)

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