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Community engagement toolkit


Agree timescales, costs and delivery plans

 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.

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Costs

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.

Resources

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.

  • List the local authority officers, partner employees and HCA staff available to help with the engagement activity, and do a skills audit
  • List the services you need including any market research, stakeholder and media management, leaflet design and distribution, sourcing venue, producing displays
  • Ask joint development partners what skills and resources they can contribute, from help with designing as well as delivering the community engagement
  • Get the community involved. Even small tasks such as distributing leaflets (sometimes consider offering a small fee) can ease resource pressures and is a practical demonstration of how the project can help the community and could increase local goodwill. Each time you want to do something, consider how local people could get involved and help: from seeking advice about venue hire to poster competitions; the use of cameras to record the area; talking on local radio; to asking older residents who know about the area's history to get involved in intergenerational work with younger people
  • Local social enterprises or the community or voluntary sector may be able to access local expertise which may also cost less than external consultants.

Assembling the engagement team

Experience from the New Deal for Communities programmes found that the range of skills required for community engagement are:

  • project management
  • process mapping
  • facilitation
  • chairing/managing meetings
  • listening skills
  • working with groups
  • working with individuals
  • language skills
  • questionnaire design and analysis
  • imaginative thinking
  • communicating with diverse audiences
  • presentation skills
  • writing skills
  • creating and using databases
  • policy development and review

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.

Training

  • 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.

Briefings

  • 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.

Designing and planning engagement activity

Involve has identified six steps to designing and planning an engagement activity

Set up a planning and design group

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.

Agree Project Plan

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.

  • Timeline: allow time for translation requirements, and time between engagement activities to allow for further work to be completed before moving to the next stage;
  • 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.

Logistics

Engagement activities require a lot of practical arrangements, particularly in terms of briefing materials, usage of venues and staffing

  • Briefing materials: decide what materials are needed by stakeholders in order to take part effectively, using plain, jargon-free language, and breaking information into smaller, bite-size chunks whilst maintaining overall consistency of message.
  • Venues: venues and spaces will be needed for workshops and public meetings. They must meet the needs of the specific project, and be accessible to all.

Communications

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.

Planning follow-up to the participatory activities

From the start consider:

  • How the results of the engagement will be used, how it will feed into decision-making systems and how results will be reported back;
  • How you will know whether the process has been a success: define/review success criteria regularly.

Final thoughts

  • Constraints on the detailed design: identify which constraints on the engagement activity are fixed, and which may be negotiable (eg money, time, resources);
  • Too much design: the role of designing the process is to ensure that the focus and structure of the engagement is appropriate to the context, and too much design can stifle creativity or make the process too formal;
  • Ethics of the process: the engagement must explicitly avoid manipulating or abusing potential participants.

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Community engagement toolkit

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