Principles of Community Engagement
Before starting a community engagement effort...
Be clear about the purposes or goals of the engagement effort and the populations and/or communities you want to engage. Those wishing to engage the community need to be able to communicate to that community why its participation is worthwhile.
Become knowledgeable about the community's culture, economic conditions, social networks, political and power structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with efforts by outside groups to engage it in various programs. Learn about the community's perceptions of those initiating the engagement activities. It is important to learn as much about the community as possible, through both qualitative and quantitative methods from as many sources as feasible.
For engagement to occur, it is necessary to...
Go to the community, establish relationships, build trust, work with the formal and informal leadership, and seek commitment from community organizations and leaders to create processes for mobilizing the community. Engagement is based on community support. Positive change is more likely to occur when community members are an integral part of a program's development and implementation.
Remember and accept that collective self-determination is the responsibility and right of all people in a community. No external entity should assume it can bestow on a community the power to act in its own self-interest. Just because an institution or organization introduces itself into the community does not mean that it is automatically becomes of the community. An organization is of the community when it is controlled by individuals or groups who are members of the community.
For engagement to succeed...
Partnering with the community is necessary to create change and improve health. The American Heritage Dictionary defines partnership as "a relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal.
All aspects of community engagement must recognize and respect the diversity of the community. Awareness of the various cultures of a community and other factors affecting diversity must be paramount in planning, designing, and implementing approaches to engaging a community. Diversity may be related to economic, educational, employment, or health status as well as differences in culture, language, race, ethnicity, age, gender, mobility, literacy, or personal interests.
Community engagement can only be sustained by identifying and mobilizing community assets and strengths and by developing the community's capacity and resources to make decisions and take action. Community members and institutions should be viewed as resources to bring about change and take action.
Organizations that wish to engage a community as well as individuals seeking to effect change must be prepared to release control of actions or interventions to the community and be flexible enough to meet its changing needs. Engaging the community is ultimately about facilitating community-driven action.
Community collaboration requires long-term commitment by the engaging organization and its partners. Community participation and mobilization need nurturing over the long term.
Source: CDC/ATSDR Committee on Community Engagement. (2011). Principles of Community Engagement.