Although all engagement consultations come with their own unique set of challenges, one of the hardest things one can do when considering working on any community project is to make sure we’re able to grasp input from a variety of people.
While easier said than done, there are some methods and strategies that we’ve seen used over the years that can help to improve project outcomes. Once again, all projects are unique but this might be a guide to those looking for a simple outline to begin their engagement with.
Let’s use an example! Let’s say a company plans to open a factory on the north side of Oceanville, America – an imaginary vibrate town with a large art scene, tech offices, and history of Minority-owned businesses. After careful consideration, the city wants to add a few lanes to Main Street to help make it easier for people to get to work once the factory opens. The question is, what’s the best way to do it?
The First Step
The first step is to think about what sort of feedback you’re looking to gain. Are you looking for the best time to do construction? Do you need to outreach to a whole city or town, a zip code, or just a neighborhood? Each has its own diverse environment teeming with people from all walks of life looking to contribute, but reaching and getting community members to contribute is a large task in itself. While some people think social media may be a way to advertise a project, what about those who are a bit older or not really into using Facebook and Twitter?
In the case of Oceanville, the first thing you want to do after you decide on an area to focus on is hop on a call, (since face-to-face meetings are still limited,) and reach out to nonprofits or civic organizations already working in the area. They can not only tell you about the people in the area, but what’s worked in the past, and what has had little success. They can also offer a really unique insight into the diverse population of an area because not only do they work there, they work with the very residents you may be seeking, which means you get a warm introduction to the stakeholders you’ll be reaching out to down the line.
Another way which is atypical but can be helpful is to go to local independent restaurants, especially ones with a long history in the area and talk to the managers and staff. They’ve already established themselves as pillars of the community and may be able to suggest crucial input on the path of your project and how to get your projects noticed. How you do this is completely up to you, and there’s no wrong or right way so try different methods to see what works best for you.
Depending on the area you’re going to be working in, a tried and true method depending on the engagement is to reach out to religious institutions. More often than not they can help you find civic leaders and provide you with groups that have already been established, while also giving a way to include people that may already be involved in community activities and projects.
Using These Insights
By doing these few things you can not only get a grasp on just how diverse a community is and how to structure your outreach so you get the most broad understanding of an area but also hear about some of the questions or issues that you may want to reference during your engagement.
Don’t forget that although they are all different, each group and individual has a vested interest in the area, and when you reach out to the leaders and organizers for each, make sure you do so in a way that makes them comfortable and excited to speak with you.
Whether it be familiarizing yourself with what they’re currently involved in, or simply dressing down or up to match the environment, small things lead to great projects and being curious to learn about an area is the first step to seeing all the unique people and situations that will bring life to your engagement.