With the discussion this week focusing on women’s rights, it comes with a gentle reminder around the origins of community and stakeholder engagement, specifically its roots in citizen rights movements across the world.
I now find myself reflecting on the fact that the strength of engagement and its role in raising the voice of people, is often lost, or forgotten in our day-to-daywork.
Driven by my background in community development, engagement has always been “a holistic approach grounded in principles of empowerment, human rights, inclusion, social justice, self-determination, and collective action (Kenny,2007).”
We have a great privilege and responsibility as practitioners, to honour the basis of our profession and consider how we as consultants can work with clients to deliver amazing outcomes. These outcomes should reflect the rights of citizens to participate in the decision-making process, for them as individuals and as members of the community.
What does this mean for our work?
Sometimes it is easy to see where rights, inclusion, social justice, self-determination, and collective action fit – if you have worked in health, or youth and family services, or housing – there are clear messages that the people who are being impacted have a right to be involved in the decision-making process.
Infrastructure stakeholder engagement presents more difficulty. As outcomes are often decided without the voice of the community, even though its impacts to people can be intrusive and over a longer period of time.
How do we support those principles?
It comes down to how we approach individuals and communities – with respect and reverence that we are entering their community, often without invitation and in some instances, causing quite a bit of disruption to their day-to-day lives.
As practitioners, we must ensure there are genuine and meaningful conversations about what the community can and cannot influence. We are honest and upfront. We advocate for community participation. We understand we can be a conduit between community and client. We always maintain integrity.
As a process, we develop communications which are clear and accessible. We provide as much information as possible, early, and often. We ask people – how do you want me to communicate with you? What is the best way I can connect with your community? What information will you need? How can we help minimise disruption? What do you need to keep your community or household functioning?
By focusing on creating something meaningful for the community, whether that be a new park, shopping centre or perhaps something entirely different, we are respectful and provide genuine pathways for people to participate. Instead of the one-way communication we’ve no doubt seen in the past.
Let’s create meaningful relationships together.
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