Getting community engagement right

Community engagement can take different forms and there is no fixed method or approach. It can range from giving information, to fully involving residents in the design and delivery of services as equal partners.

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Good community engagement is important because it:

  • Improves plans and how plans are delivered
  • Makes sure that projects and developments reflect the needs of local communities
  • Gets the best value out of scarce public resources
  • Makes sure that everyone living in an area is given a voice, not just the most vocal
  • Helps people understand the competing pressures facing councils and other agencies
  • Helps people feel a better sense of belonging to the neighbourhood, and being part of their local community
  • Builds relationships between neighbours and people living locally
  • Strengthens relationships between residents and agencies so agencies can do their work more effectively
  • Helps people understand how to engage more widely in decisions that are being taken about the places they live in.

There are legal reasons why local government needs to consult local people about changes to their area, for example over school closures, planning applications, plans for redevelopment and regeneration. Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child  establishes that every child (under 18) has the right to say what they think in all matters affecting them, and to have their views taken seriously.

Understanding engagement

Ladder of participation

The International Association for Public Participation has developed a “ladder of citizen participation”. This recognises that meaningful participation in decision-making cannot be achieved without first establishing good communication, providing accurate and appropriate information, establishing a dialogue, building trust and ensuring people are participating from a position of shared knowledge.

And make sure that your activities reach everyone in the population you are targeting!

For more information
  • The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) has mapped a range of different activities that fall under the five different steps on the ladder of participation.
  • Kaizen have written more about the rationale for community engagement and how to think about different definitions, see [Kaizen report]
  • The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) have produced a toolkit for community engagement that is aimed primarily at those developing new housing.
  • For a series of stories intended to inspire the full range of agencies and stakeholders involved in developments, look at the Future Communities website.
  • Three steps to better public engagement in planning is a useful perspective about engagement in planning processes. This is based on the Scottish planning system, but the overall approach holds for England too.