Best Practices for Community Engagement

Written by Jennifer Bring, 106 Group Cultural Resources Director and MNAEP Vice President

What I love most about my job are the interesting projects I work on, the amazing people I work with (both clients and colleagues), and the remarkable collaboration between the two that makes every project work. Collaboration is at the heart of what we at the 106 Group do—with our clients, stakeholders, and ourselves. So, I was excited to coordinate and take part in the Minnesota Association of Environmental Professionals’ (MNAEP’s) February event, a panel discussion about effectively integrating engagement and consultation into project planning and review.

Engagement and consultation can be used in many different ways, so panelists included representatives from tribal, agency, and consultant organizations to provide a broad range of experience to inform the panel discussion. The panelists included:

Bill Latady Bois Forte Tribal Historic Preservation Officer

Katie Troyer Volunteer & Community Engagement Specialist, Medtronic Foundation; Founder, Claim Our Space

Charleen Zimmer – President, Zan Associates

Sam O’Connell Public Involvement Manager, METRO Green Line and Blue Line Extension Projects

The discussion was moderated by Kelly Wilder, Policy and Planning Consultant at the Minnesota DNR.

The panel discussion was enlightening. Each panelist contributed their own perspectives and experience to the conversation; however, many commonalities in approach and techniques were apparent, including:

Engagement is about relationship-building – can take years to build trust

Words can have many meanings – use the appropriate terms so intent/purpose of engagement is clear

Tactics employed impact the outcome – use the correct approach to meet the intent of the engagement

Meet people where they are – facilitates participation in the process and relationship-building

Be educated – understand the depth and breadth of distrust by participants, educate everyone on roles and level of participation in the process

Be authentic – supports a transparent process and builds trust

Be humble and open to learn – understand what you may not know and be open to learning from those participating; ask questions if provided the opportunity

Be friendly and show respect – seems obvious but sometimes can be forgotten, particularly if topic is contentious

Be considerate of timing – effectiveness of any engagement can be influenced by the context of what is happening in a particular community

Don’t prejudge – allow the engagement process to develop as it needs to and based on information presented, not participants’ biases

Allow both sides to express opinions – open and honest discussion is key

Be open to compromise – not everyone will get everything they want, but if each side is willing to give a little, it may be possible to reach a resolution that will work for most if not all

The engagement or consultation process can be complex, even for the smallest projects. However, by consistently using as many of the above approaches as possible to build a relationship of trust, any engagement or consultation process can be more successful.

If you would like to talk about effective engagement and how it may apply to your project, or about the MNAEP, feel free to contact me at jennybring@106group.com or 952-403-8711. To learn more about 106 Group’s work in Engagement and Cultural Resources Management, visit our service pages.

Jennifer Bring

Jennifer is a senior cultural resources planner and project manager with over 15 years of experience in cultural resources compliance, environmental documentation, and engagement. Jennifer is adept at coordinating all aspects of cultural resource/Section 106 and NEPA processes. With this expertise, she has successfully managed a wide range of projects across the nation, from private development and renewable energy projects to interstate pipelines and large-scale transit projects.