Local authorities should assess the cost of community engagement and ensure adequate funding is available for effective engagement with a robust, agreed delivery plan and realistic timescales and effective risk management.
In this section
Local authorities, with lead responsibility, should assess the costs of community engagement and ensure there is adequate funding. This needs to be accompanied by a robust, agreed delivery plan, realistic timescales and effective risk management.
While it is important to be ambitious and start with an ‘ideal’ strategy for community engagement, ideal objectives and techniques should be reviewed against available resources: including money, people and time. This may mean making more use of some time-intensive methods, such as stakeholder workshops, whilst sacrificing others that require more money: such as high quality audio-visuals and local publicity campaigns.
Budgets should be allocated according to priorities. If budgets are restricted, prioritise the planned activities that are most important to the project and to fulfil objectives for community engagement. It is important to ensure that community engagement requirements are integrated into the project’s financial planning, and monitor this spend against budget.
Agree who is best placed to lead on community engagement, whether it is the local authority or a community and voluntary sector partner; and identify who can provide specialist services should you need them.
Experience from the New Deal for Communities programmes found that the range of skills required for community engagement are:
When putting together a team to deliver engagement activity, make best use of the skills and knowledge of your partners in understanding the various dimensions of an area’s problems and possible solutions.
Engagement activity could involve close working with officers from across a number of council departments, such as planning and development control, housing, education, community services and the press and policy unit and others such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, the police and health services, developers, private sector partners, and voluntary and community groups including tenants and residents groups can bring specific insight and skills. Because the team can branch out into so many areas it is necessary to identify a single point of contact within the local authority to lead on the engagement.
Make sure that those involved have the skills, experience and ability to do the tasks allocated. Engagement is a people as well as a resource heavy process, and managing a project, providing technical input and engaging with the community require different skills.
A lot of ‘people time’ is required to successfully engage the community, and to do this will need the right kind of people. Plan and budget accordingly: delivery of engagement activity will need to be adequately staffed; but be careful not to go in mob-handed.
Top tips for assembling the community engagement team
Build on strengths
- Build on the skills and potential of people in the team. Decide who to involve for each engagement technique, and identify people who are best suited to designing maps, drafting leaflets, producing a briefing.
- For interaction with the public, identify people who have softer communication skills and empathy, and who express a willingness to think outside the box to address community concerns.
- Consider professional training for staff that are dealing with the public and speaking to media, particularly on larger projects.
- If community engagement is to lead to involvement and empowerment opportunities for local people, training and support should be offered to local representatives participating in decision-making.
- If community representatives are to be involved in engaging with the design or architectural team and are to be trained in more detailed design, such as how streets and open spaces work together, allow time for this to happen.
- Before engaging face-to-face with the community, ensure that you are familiar with and understand all aspects of the project.
- Assemble a project team that covers the key specialist disciplines you are most likely to be asked about.
- Put together a briefing pack for everyone on the team.
- Circulate a Q&A sheet on questions you could be asked during the engagement activity, and statements of the latest agreed project positions.
Involve has identified six steps to designing and planning an engagement activity:
This should be comprised of local authority officers, partner representatives and, where involved, the HCA staff involved in the project. It will normally develop and agree the Project Initiation Document (or similar) that should inform the contents and management of the project. For larger-scale projects and investments you should set up an executive group of senior managers to monitor progress using exception reporting via tools such as Gantt charts and critical path analysis.
The project plan will include details of the timescale, budget, key dates and actions, engagement methods and monitoring of the activity. You will need to be realistic about how long things take, allowing more time rather than less for planning and for people to get involved. As soon as you can, notify participants about the forthcoming process so that they can assign time to get involved.
Budget: ensure the budget is adequate to cover the activities needed and costs incurred;
Key dates and actions: including when final decisions will be made, who by and how this links with the engagement process;
Methods: if using a range of different methods at various stages in the engagement process, make sure they work well together to make the overall process a success.
Engagement activities require a lot of practical arrangements, particularly in terms of briefing materials, usage of venues and staffing
You may wish to consider individual as well as mass communications, including door to door conversations. Think also about digital communications such as text messaging, Facebook and Twitter.
From the start consider: