Community Engagement Planning: Starting with the End in Mind

We hear a lot these days about “engaging the community,” whether that community is online or in our real life neighborhood. Often “engagement” is seen as a form of marketing – yet another way to get others to do what we want them to do.

That is not what this post is about.

This post is about community members participating together to help their community thrive – and the role your work could play in making that happen.

We’ll be talking about that a lot in the next few months, as Creating the Future is embarking on its own Community Engagement Plan.

Community Engagement Planning: The Steps
There are 3 basic steps in community engagement planning. As you read them, you will likely think, “Duh! Of course those are the steps!”

  1. Determine what you want the plan to accomplish.
  2. Determine who you need to engage to accomplish that.
  3. Determine how you will engage them.

While those might seem immensely logical, the truth is that, in our real lives, this is not how we plan. Instead, we start by brainstorming Question #3 – the doing question. “What could we DO to engage our communtiy? We could have a meeting! We could create a Facebook page! We could have one-on-one meetings!”

Then we  ask Question #2: “Who should we invite to the meeting? Who should we tell about our Facebook page?”

And we then rarely, if ever, get to Question #1 – the question that holds all our potential to accomplish results that matter. Without explicitly defining what we want our efforts to achieve, how likely are we to achieve those undefined goals?

So the first step is to ask:
• What would engagement make possible, and for whom?
• What would it make possible for our existing programs?
• What would it make possible for new programs?
• What would it make possible for the people in our community (however we define that)?
• What would it make possible for our staff, our board, our volunteers?

From there, you’ll find the rest easily falls into place. We can easily define groups to engage for each of the answers to those questions – people we already know, and the people they already know. Within those groups, we can easily find names of individuals to engage.

And from there, the how will fall into place on its own as well.

But until we know what we want our engagement efforts to accomplish, the rest is just a long to do list, the results of which may or may not happen, simply because we have never defined what we want those results to be.

Oh – and one more thing. The highest potential result for any Community Engagement activity is the simplest and most elegant: Building an engaged community. And just imagine what THAT will make possible!