In a rapidly changing world where local communities are becoming more diverse, and needing to be more holistic in their thinking, public engagement can get people talking, learning from each other, and working together to identify problems and create solutions.
Community planners often struggle to effectively reach out and engage a broad spectrum of the community. It is important to extend beyond the typical meeting-goers. What about the young, the elderly, the new immigrants, and so many others who typically do not attend public meetings? Here are our top 10 suggestions.
1) Go – Go to the places where communities you seek gather, e.g. a community room, a church, a basketball court/playground, boy/girl scout groups
2) Engage – Engage people at their regular meetings or gatherings e.g. after church on Sundays, become a line item on a monthly meeting agenda
3) Visit – Go to the place you are planning for and provide a way to talk/listen with users, e.g. a lemonade/cookie stand in a park or on a trail
4) Chat – Sometimes be informal e.g. lemonade on the porch at Historic Washington
5) Innovate – Workshops must be engaging and fun, providing an opportunity for new partnerships, friendships, and connections
6) Learn – Understand the communication and leadership hierarchy of the community you want to engage, e.g. Native American tribes typically begin contact through the tribal chair even though ultimately you may never meet the Chair but work with tribal staff or elders
7) Promote – Promote in local media
8) Connect – Make use of social media sites
9) Listen – Be sure to use the information provided from outreach and not treat it as one more task to check off a list
10) Commit – Engaging a truly diverse audience takes more time, money, and resources than the traditional approach of hosting a meeting or conducting a workshop. If diversity is truly the goal, then appropriate resources need to be assigned to ensure success