The Definition of Community Engagement

Community engagement is a hot topic with society today. With so many people talking about this subject, it’s important to fully understand what it means.

Though a number of initial thoughts may come to mind, a quick search on the definition for community engagement states that,

“community engagement refers to the process by which community benefit organizations and individuals build ongoing, permanent relationships for the purpose of applying a collective vision for the benefit of a community.”

Basically, we are left with an incredibly broad and vague definition; the process can be anything! And while the initial question posed was “what is community engagement”, not why or how, we may not be reaching the level of full comprehension desired. Let us, then, revise the question in order to really get to the heart of the matter: why do we seek community engagement?

Thinking about why you are seeking community engagement completely changes the dynamic of the question. While the definition above regarding community engagement specifically refers to the process, it does not refer to any specific goal or outcome.  When we only focus on what it is, we may limit our understanding and consequently the benefits that community engagement can provide.  Ultimately, how we use the process stems from the reasons we desire to do community engagement.

When designing a process pertaining to community engagement, it is integral to know why it is being done. Is the community addressing a problem currently, or is it prepping for the future? Perhaps there isn’t even a problem. Do you want to figure out what the community is doing well? One of the community’s biggest values may include the desire to hear what others have to say on an issue. There are an infinite amount of reasons why organizations seek community engagement. In order to design the best processes possible, we have to start with the initial why. How we address the issue at hand depends on the why.

A deliberative process specifically designs how we address your reasons for community engagement--AKA the why--because your desire for community engagement is a unique situation. Not only are the reasons for an organization to seek community engagement unique, but what we do for each case is unique as well.  This depends on who is present, because each community is different. Each process must be its own system, because whatever goal you do have in mind ultimately depends on who you’re engaging with.

These three components—what, why and who-- are all a part of the process design. Creek Consulting is distinct in nature because we find it necessary to go beyond the what and consider the why and the who. Communities deserve a process that caters to the situation at hand, but is also broad enough that it meet the unique needs that every community has. So, instead of just asking about what happens in the process, we start with why we are designing an event, and for who are we designing this event for. After we know why we are doing community engagement, we then figure out how we will address the issue. When we know how to do address the issue, we then design what we will do.

We started out by offering you a standard definition of community engagement, and we realized that we didn’t offer our definition of it. It would be unfair of us to not tell you, and leave you to try and figure out how we define community engagement. We offer a more concise definition for community engagement: What community engagement is, is a process to learn more.