Why Community Engagement Matters
Excerpts from the "Engagement Toolkit," Center for Economic and Community Development, Penn State University
"Citizens are engaged when they play a meaningful role in the decision-making and/or implementation of [policies] and programs affecting them. This requires... trust that citizens can and will effectively engage in the issues. The result is a partnership(s) that can more effectively address [community] issues."
In our increasingly cyber-oriented society, it is more important than ever for citizens to connect within their community. It is everyone's responsibility but rests particularly with civic leaders to create opportunities for personal connection and encourage every citizen to be involved in some way. The Penn State Engagement Toolkit cites, "Today's leaders should act as facilitators, supporters and collaborators..." In this way, citizens are armed with the knowledge and networks necessary to resist apathy and alienation.
"Citizens who participate in decision-making show significant commitment to making projects happen."
The Penn State Center for Economic and Community Development summarizes general benefits and measurement parameters of citizen Engagement in this way:
Creates more effective solutions. Drawing on local knowledge from a diverse group creates solutions that are practical and effective.
Improves citizens' knowledge and skills in problem solving. Participants learn about the issues in-depth. Greater knowledge allows them to see multiple sides of the problem. Citizens can practice communication and decision-making skills.
Empowers and integrates people from different backgrounds. Groups that feel ignored can gain greater control over their lives and their community. When people from different areas of the community work together, they often find that they have much in common.
Creates local networks of community members. The more people who know what is going on and who are willing to work toward a goal, the more likely a community is to be successful in reaching its goals.
Increases trust in community organizations and governance. Working together improves communication and understanding. Knowing what government, community citizens and leaders, and organizations can and cannot do may reduce future conflict.
Measuring the Success of Local Public Engagement
There are at least four different public engagement outcomes that local officials can review:
1 Did the chosen process for engagement “fit” the problem, provide the sort of information needed, and meet participation goals? Was it done well?
2 Was the ultimate agency decision different and/ or better than would otherwise have been the case?
3 Has the chosen engagement process made it more or less likely that the public, including appropriate neighborhood/ community organizations, has the interest, information, and skills to get involved?
4 Was the chosen public engagement process viewed solely as a one-time event, or are sponsors using it to build a more sustained agency capacity for soliciting the public’s ideas and recommendations?