Community engagement is not the next big thing...
Let me explain. The reason community engagement is not the next big thing is because it has always been a big thing. The very concept of community engagement is at the core of the way society has evolved and developed for thousands of years.
I am certain there were times in history when cave men and women gathered and talked about things that were happening, shared ideas and made collaborative decisions for the greater good of their community. While the community engagement undertaken by our ancient ancestors may be speculation, we know that public meetings regarding community issues have been ongoing well before our grandparents were born.
So if it's not a new concept, why is there so much 'buzz' around community engagement at the moment?
It has to do with the fact that the way we are engaging is changing and evolving (much like humans have been doing since those pre-historic community gatherings) as technology continues to provide better ways to engage and spread information.
More now than ever before, our interactions have evolved from primitive community gatherings and formal public meetings to the online world. Young and old are connected through social media; we have tremendous access to information and we do it all at a time and place of our choosing.
The fact that we are online and connected means that organisations can reach us with less effort and at a lower cost. Using online tools to benefit from engagement is now an option for all projects - not just big budget, highly resourced ones.
As a result we are seeing dedicated resources and significant budgets being allocated to community engagement. Frameworks and models are being adopted and engagement practioners are gathering, forming professional associations, discussing projects online and sharing ideas.
This shift to online engagement doesn't come without its challenges - facilitating the engagement, content moderation and dealing with large amounts of data, to name a few. However, the reality is that these challenges can be overcome by using the right online tools and processes; and the benefits from online engagement far out-weigh any issues that may arise.
So as we move into the future and continue to evolve the engagement process, the reasons we engage will stay the same. But, just like our cave man ancestors, we will continue to build better tools to improve the process in order to achieve more successful outcomes.