Working so closely on community engagement projects with clients from around the world I have seen first-hand the positive impact public participation can have on the changes to a community, however, often I hear from friends and family 'why should I engage', 'no-one will listen' or 'they will just do what they want!'.
Contributing to community engagement efforts is not a waste of time and there are many reasons everyone should get involved.
1. Your opinion is important
Community engagement is a vital part of many projects and the benefits are well documented, such as better outcomes for all stakeholders, community ownership and lower project costs but more importantly, decision makers genuinely want to hear ideas and feedback.
Most community engagement these days is no longer about spreading information and telling people what is being done, but is a two-way street between decision makers and stakeholders. Regardless of your qualifications, everyone knows what they like or dislike and has an opinion about what needs to be done and where priorities should lay.
2. More perspectives
Community engagement is often heavily one-sided, and engagement projects can be inundated with input from only those community members who have a strong opinion. Without other perspectives being aired, decision makers might not make the best decision for the community as a whole simply because of a minority of loud voice.
If your opinion differs from the more popular opinions, decision makers want to hear from you so they get a balanced understanding of the community's views and enhance the value of the final decision. The more views gathered in the process of making a decision, the more likely the final product will meet the needs and address the most concerns possible and If you fear repercussions of going against a vocal group, engagement can often be done anonymously.
3. New information
Decision makers recognise that the community that uses the space that it's planning for have an intimate and unique relationship to the area that they don't. Because of this knowledge, community members can provide new information on a project that has yet to be considered.
Public involvement brings more information to the decision, including scientific or technical knowledge, knowledge about the context where decisions are implemented, history and personalities. More information can make the difference between a good and poor decision.
4. Community ownership
When the community is involved in a project, they have ownership of it and the decision making process, which is key to a successful project outcome, even if not all individuals necessarily agree with the outcome.
5. It feels good
When a project is finalised and you can see the fruits of your labour, it feels good knowing that you were involved in something that benefits the community.
6. A numbers game
For public agencies with political leaders, the total number of people engaged is important. Engaging higher numbers gives the elected representatives confidence in their decision.
So I've convinced you to get involved but you don't know where to start...most organisations are active on social media and notify followers when they are seeking comment.
Don't be scared to attend a public meeting. Talking to your local representatives in person is a great way to get an understanding of the project and how you can get involved.
If face-to-face is not for you, online community engagement methods are becoming increasingly popular and often surveys, polls and other interactive online tools are used throughout consultations.