How to engage your community

Why engage?

Local experience and national evidence demonstrate the benefits to communities and organisations when they communicate effectively. These include:

  • strengthening the democratic legitimacy of government and the civic life of the community
    more efficient and effective services that better reflect the needs of service users and have higher levels of customer satisfaction
  • reducing inequalities
  • providing an opportunity for people to be involved in council matters such as housing and planning
  • making communities safer and stronger, with a more attractive built environment that meets people’s needs
  • giving greater local ownership of council services
    developing a better understanding of how and why local services need to change and develop
    improving local reputation
  • building community engagement, cohesion & ownership
  • Give residents the ability to help themselves and each other and a sense of place and belonging

We have suggested five key aims to ensure that you can engage with your community in a consistent and joined-up way:

  • to put community involvement at the center of everything you do
  • to strive for a broad representation of your residents
  • to be honest, open and transparent with your community ensuring there is easy access to clear and relevant information
  • to make sure that the views, needs, expectations and outcomes of engagement activities are used to inform the decision-making processes.
  • to listen to your community and give feedback to participants about outcomes of engagement activities.

Do I need to engage?

Thinking about the project that you want to get off the ground, consider each of the questions below.


Do I have information that all or some of my local community might like to access?

Yes, I should inform them

Do I need to know the views of my local community?

Yes, I should consult them

Do I want my community to take action or change their behavior?

Yes, I should empower them


If you have answered yes to more than one question you might need to consider more than one type of engagement. However, please remember that using one engagement method successfully will be more valuable than using two ineffectively.
If you have answered no to all of the questions above it is likely that you do not need to carry out any additional engagement activity at this time. Please look through the rest of the toolkit to decide for sure and remember to ask yourself these questions at each stage of your project.

Informing

Giving people information so that they can make informed decisions and take appropriate action.

 

Social media and web-based information

Think about:

  •   what information you would like to give out
  •   who your audience is and if they will proactively seek out your site/pages and whether your information is accessible (consider those with visual impairments or those for whom English is not their first language)
  •   how you will make people aware that this source of information exists
  •   do you have a local Facebook page or Parish Council website

Do:

  • plan ahead to make sure that you have professional-looking site/pages
  •  bear in mind the possible cost and time implications of hosting and maintaining web pages and social media accounts and committing to keeping them up to date
  •  keep information clear and concise with obvious links to
  • documents and other sites
  •  use summary documents for lengthy policies
  •  make sure downloadable documents are in a universally
  • accessible format
  •  make sure response documents/online questionnaires are short and to the point, rather than complicated and time-consuming
  •  let people know what will happen to their information and any potential outcomes of responding
  •  remember that some people do not have access to the internet

 

Leaflets and newsletters

Leaflets and newsletters can be useful if you want to keep people informed about a project or service, attract interest or recruit people for projects.

Think about:

  •   what message you are trying to get across
  •   who your audience is
  •   how and where it will be distributed
  •   how much will it cost to design, print and distribute
  •   whether you need to consult on the design (and if so, go to the 'consulting' section of this toolkit)
  •   alternative formats or languages
  •   how you will evaluate its impact

Posters

Posters can be a good way of getting a large number of people interested in what you are doing.

Think about:

  •   what message you are trying to get across
  •   who your audience is
  •   where it will be displayed
  •   how much it will cost to design, print and distribute
  •   whether you need to consult on the design (if so, go to the 'consulting' section of this toolkit)
  •   whether you need to consider alternative formats or languages
  •   how you will measure the success of your poster campaign

Information stalls

An information stall at a local event can provide information in a way that allows people to give their views and ask questions.

Think about:

  •   what information you would like to give out who your audience is
  •   whether you need people with specialist knowledge to be there
  •   how you will advertise the event (if you need to)
  •   what staging and/or props you will need
  •   how you will measure results

Do:

  •  plan ahead to make sure that you have all the equipment you need to make the stall look professional
  •   allow plenty of time to set up
  •   have a backup plan if the event is outdoors and the weather is bad e.g. how will you stop leaflets blowing away in high winds?
  •   have a post-box or comment board to allow people to make contributions – you will need to commit to follow up on these after the event
  •   ensure you get back to people if you commit to do research/provide information to someone

News releases

Issuing news releases to your community can be a great way to let your people know about a project you are launching or where there is likely to be a large amount of interest or potential controversy.

Think about:

  •   what message you are trying to get across
  •   who your audience is and what publications and social media you need to target
  •  whether there could be any negative response from your press release

Consulting

Asking people, including young people, what they think so that decision-makers can make informed choices.

Questionnaires and surveys

Surveys can be an effective way of gathering information about people’s experiences and views. They can be carried out by an interviewer or left to the respondent to complete on their own but are unlikely to provide in-depth information.

Think about:

  •    what you want to find out and what you will do with the results
  •    who you want to survey and how you will gather responses (face-to-face, telephone, postal, via existing groups, online)
  •    if you need a statistically significant response rate (good practice suggests 10% is the minimum useful response rate)
  •    what budget you will need

Do:

  •    allow plenty of time for people to respond - if you are surveying voluntary sector groups, for example, you are expected to allow 12 weeks
  •    remember that the look and layout of your survey will either encourage or discourage responses
  •    there are many online survey providers such as Survey Monkey

Remember, some population groups are more likely to respond to postal or web-based surveys than others. This could affect your results.

Focus Groups

Focus groups are small discussion groups of approximately eight to 15 people and are usually led by a trained facilitator. They can help you to get in-depth responses to an issue and evaluate concepts and explore new ideas.

Think about:

  •    how you will recruit participants
  •    what you want to achieve from the group
  •    how you will select participants e.g. do you want a random sample or community members?
  •    what the focus group will involve
  •    where the group will be held
  •    how to make the focus group accessible to everyone invited
  •    what budget you will need

Do:

  •    allow plenty of time to work with the facilitator to develop an agenda, script and materials
  •    give people plenty of time to decide if they want to be involved
  •    make sure that the results are fed back to the participants
  •    ask participants to complete a simple evaluation sheet at the end of the discussions to find out how the process was viewed

Events

Events can be valuable for gaining and sharing information and good practice, networking and building interest in your engagement work.

Think about:

  •    what you want to get from the event
  •    involving a few of the intended participants in the planning if
  • it’s a community event
  •    how to make the event accessible to everyone invited
  •    doing a risk assessment
  •    what budget you will need

Do:

  •    plan well in advance, allowing at least four months for a large event with hundreds of people
  •    book the venue, refreshments, facilitators and/or speakers early
  •    send out a programme
  •    make sure that you have emergency plans in place in case there needs to be an evacuation
  •    ask attendees to complete a simple evaluation sheet at the end of the event to find out how they viewed it and what they gained

Round table workshops

Round table workshops tend to involve relevant local stakeholders coming together to brainstorm ideas. The stakeholders can be members of the community, for example, service users, elected councillors, parish councils, businesses or service providers.

Workshops can focus on very specific issues or be more general in order to develop strategy or vision. They can also help to build relationships.

They are different to focus groups, which often only involve service users.

Think about:

  •    who you want to be involved?
  •    whether you need a facilitator on each table if you have
  • more than one
  •    how to make the workshop accessible to everyone invited
  •    what budget you will need

Do:

  •    present relevant specialist and technical information in a way that is easy to understand
  •    use a range of exercises that encourage participants from differing backgrounds to analyse what is presented and make decisions
  •    use flipcharts, rich pictures and spider diagrams to make the discussion engaging
  •    allow time for each table to report back to the whole group
  •    make sure that the results are fed back to the participants
  •    think about how you’ll capture information
  •    book rooms and refreshments early

 

Written plans, policies and strategies

Getting feedback on draft documents can transform a service or initiative.

Think about:

  •    what information you want
  •    who you want to consult
  •    what consultation method/s you want to use e.g. focus groups, workshops, survey, web-based
  •    what parts of the document people can change
  •    ways to limit the amount of reading that participants will have to do
  •    how to let people know about the consultation e.g. by letter for targeted groups
  •    what budget you will need

Do:

  •    be clear about which parts of the document can be influenced and why
  •    allow plenty of time for people to respond set up clear lines of communication
  •    make sure that the results are fed back to respondents
  •    if appropriate, allow time to re-write the document after the consultation closes.
  •    recognise that simply posting a document online is not enough to be able to say 'we consulted'

Empowering

Community Empowerment

The power of local residents within your community should not be overlooked. There are many ways in which local residents can have a greater effect on the problem or need than you realise.

There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests come together to work towards the same goal

Think about:

  •   who you want to be involved
  •   who the beneficiaries should be of such devolved powers whether or not to devolve financial decision-making
  •   what the possible (legal) consequences are of decisions made/monies spent
  •   can your local District Councilor or Parish Councilor help you
  •   could your community control a budget

Do:

  •   look at good practice models – learn from the experiences of others
  •   manage people’s expectations by making clear the parameters of their decision-making role
  •   follow up on community activity – what were the benefits of such an approach, the outcomes, is it sustainable?

Projects and Capacity Building

Community projects can strengthen communities by building relationships within a neighbourhood as well as helping to build confidence and develop skills so that residents can take action for themselves.

Think about:

  •   what you want to achieve – behavioural change or self-help
  •   the type of project you want to do and why
  •   who your project will be aimed at and how you will make contact with them?
  •   whether you will need facilitators for training or capacity building
  •   what budget you will need

Do:

  •   make sure that your project is focused and responsive to a particular need
  •   be clear about the benefits to people of getting involved and manage expectations
  •   be clear at the outset of the project if it will be short-term or long-term and the costs involved
  •   set up clear lines of communication
  •   be flexible and listen to the people involved

Example risk assessment form [DOCX, 11Kb]

Example Venue Access Checklist form [PDF, 0.1MB]

Related Information

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