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Authentic community engagement starts with communication

, | May 23, 2022

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Sara Swenson

Vice President, Public Relations

Last month, we walked through questions to ask to determine if your organization or project could benefit from community engagement. Today, we’re sharing our top community engagement strategies that help you authentically reach important stakeholders and build valuable relationships.

Good community engagement starts with good communications. Consistent, transparent and repeatable messages set the foundation for the conversations you will have with key stakeholders. As you consider your communications strategy, focus on audiences, goals and outcomes.

Know your audience

For authentic community engagement, you need to understand who you’re talking to, where to reach them and what barriers may exist to prevent them from engaging with you on your project. Consider the people most impacted and the channels you would use to reach them. Most people in your community won’t be immersed in the details of community planning, but they will have valuable insights and experiences. Think creatively about ways to get their attention. One of the most common tips we give is meeting people where they are at. In addition to hosting an in-person or virtual meeting, join an existing event in their neighborhood or share information about your project at the grocery store. This makes it easier and more convenient for people to participate, and you are more likely to get a representative group of stakeholders.

You should also think about building relationships with trusted community messengers. Who already has access to the audiences you’re trying to reach? You can partner with them to share information about your project and create valuable feedback loops.

Set and share goals

One of the most common public complaints about community engagement processes that we see is audiences feeling like they weren’t heard, or that their contributions didn’t impact decision-making. This can be avoided through transparent communications about what you’re hoping to accomplish through engaging with community. From the outset, be clear with stakeholders about how their information will be used.

  • Are you looking for feedback about current conditions to demonstrate a needed improvement?
  • Are there any aspects of the project where community input can influence the design?
  • Do you need to understand if and how your project may disrupt regular community activities?

If the scope is too broad, community members may feel like they’re wasting their time.

Report outcomes

Community engagement is a two-way dialogue. If people have given you their valuable time and feedback, be sure to report back to your audiences about what you heard and how their input was used. Think creatively about how you can share this information beyond your email list and website. Consider sending a postcard, posting a flyer at popular businesses or tabling a community festival.

Lastly, remember that these relationships are a long-term investment. The connections you build will have lasting impacts for your organization – an authentic process now can set the stage for productive community engagement in the future and grow your reputation as a trusted partner.

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Contributing Team Members

Close-up of a woman with short, brown hair smiling and wearing business attire.

Sara Swenson

Vice President, Public Relations
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