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Community Engagement


When it comes to putting theory into practice, or technology into society, community engagement is a tool to increase the likeliness of your efforts being effective, relevant, and appropriate to your context. Community engagement will allow you to achieve long-term and sustainable outcomes by working in collaboration with the groups of people affiliated by proximity, interest, or similar circumstances regarding the issue(s) of concern.  

 Unit Objectives: 

  1. The learner has an improved understanding of community engagement 
  2. The learner as improved capacity to practice community engagement practices in an inclusive and appropriate way

Understanding Community Engagement 

Community engagement offers a framework that can  guide your strategies and approaches while ensuring members of the community are respected in their right to be informed, consulted, and involved. Depending on your project, building a sense of trust and loyalty with the community can be critical. Developing quality relationships will require understanding, sensitivity, flexibility, and consideration of a variety of perspectives. Engagement integrates political sciences, anthropology, organizational policy, community development, and psychology. Community engagement leads to many benefits and positive outcomes for your project and community, including:  

  • Building  trust between you and the project stakeholders 
  • Developing a greater understanding of stakeholder needs and perspectives towards a common purpose 
  • Gaining a better understanding of project scope, and prioritization of issues to refine or refocus your problem definition 
  • Joining together resources of knowledge, people, finance, and technology 
  • Fostering collaborative and innovative decision-making 
  • Enable co-creation and mutual learning resulting in more thought-out solutions 
  • Building relationships that foster equitable and socially just participation in the development of solutions by those who have the right to be involved 
  • Creatinge open and transparent channels of communication to properly inform and educate stakeholders and the potential negative or positive impacts and implications of your project 
  • Developing solutions that stakeholders are willing to support 

Building trust within your community and with the stakeholders of your project is critical to project success because engagement gives you and your solution accountability and credibility. There are many instances within the Energy System where an organization does not honour their accountability and are therefore not trusted by  their community because they did not consult the relevant stakeholders, or they did not consult them in a meaningful and inclusive way. This lack of accountability has resulted in many of the social and environmental issues we see within the Energy System today.  

Case Study: Failure to meet legal community engagement and consultation requirements in the TransMountain pipeline project 

 Some Types of Community Engagement:

  • Community Building: Projects that intentionally bring people together to simply get to know one another. 
  • Community Education: Projects that provide instructional services or curricula, or serve to educate the public about a social issue (in a non-partisan way).  
  • Community Organizing: Projects that bring people together with the goal of solving a community issue.  
  • Deliberative Dialogue: Projects that intentionally bring people together to build understanding across differences. 
  • Direct Service: Projects that provide a service or product to an individual, group, or the community as a whole. 
  • Economic Development: Projects that work on developing the regional economy in a sustainable way.  
  • Engaged Research: Research that directly benefits the community by clarifying the causes of a community challenge, mapping a community's assets, or contributing to solutions to current challenges and also fits a faculty member's research agenda. 

 Important Considerations When Putting Community Engagement into Action 

 As you are following your engagement process, here are some things to consider:  


1. Bias and Unconscious Culture: It is impossible to be “unbiased.” Societal messages about people, groups, or ideas that are untrue embed themselves in our unconscious automatic mind. Internalization happens even when we disagree with them in our reflective minds; our conscious minds may reject stereotypes, yet the associations that we reject are nonetheless part of our unconscious. This is bias, and it is often unconscious.[Text Wrapping Break][Text Wrapping Break]Unconscious culture is often a source of unconscious bias. It is useful to understand how the two interact when we’re seeking to build our own bias awareness. Unconscious bias, when unchecked, can manifest into acts of overt racism, intended or not. This can inform how you not only perceive conflict, but also how you understand your role and responsibility to conflict. 

How can we reduce the influence of unconscious bias in our actions and attitudes, especially in regards to conflict? Well, this always begins with understanding what unconscious bias is and where it can come from, and then to engage in critical self-reflection. This is where privilege awareness intersects with bias awareness. 

2. Privilege of the Facilitators:  Privilege is the experience of freedoms, rights, benefits, advantages, access and/or opportunities afforded to members of a dominant group in a society or in a given context; privilege is not limited to race, and may take place for a number of different reasons. In the context of community engagement, consider how your privilege may impact or be perceived by the audience. This is especially important when trying to create equitable space for your participants to share authentically, and for you to be able to reach your audience. Often, acknowledging your privilege and that of your team can be a way to demonstrate self-awareness and build trust with your audience. You can assess the privilege of yourself and your team by reflecting on the following questions using the Privilege Wheel Tool 

3. Community Protocol: When engaging with communities around the world, especially Indigenous communities, it is important to follow their community and/or traditional protocols. These will be unique to each community, and may look like: 

  • Smudging (a traditional ceremony) before the event begins 
  • Having a community Elder present and contributing to the discussions, and associated protocol 
  • Land acknowledgements and associated protocol 
  • Having elderly eat first, or bringing the elderly their food 

This will be an important element of your community engagement planning, and will require that you have contact with a community member before hand (if you are not part of the community). Many communities also have protocol information on their websites or in university publications from the area. Honouring protocol will be one of the most important factors of engagement.  

Community Engagement in Action  

One of the most widely recognized and used frameworks for guiding engagement processes in Western social sciences is the AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard (2015) available here. The processes used within this standard can be applied to a wide variety of engagement initiatives and provides step-by-step best practices that you can follow and adapt to your project.  The below text has been sourced and adapted from the AA1000 Standard, though the process itself is common across many community engagement methodologies. 

All organizations who follow this process are encouraged to adopt and think about three principles of accountability as they are preparing for and completing their community engagement: 

  1. The Inclusivity principle is about the inclusion and participation of all relevant stakeholders in developing and achieving an accountable and strategic solution. Your team must accept accountability to those who you will be impacting and those who have an impact on you.
  2. The Materiality principle is about determining the most relevant and significant issues to your project and your stakeholders. Material issues may influence your decision-making, the objectives you set, and the actions you take. 
  3. The Responsiveness principle is about responding to your stakeholders in a meaningful and respectful way, ensuring their input is effectively incorporated into your decision-making to influence the outcomes of your project. 

A robust community engagement process will typically follow five main steps. As you’re going through the steps below keep in mind that there are several options for each step, and it will be essential to consider what makes the most sense for your project. Each step has unique considerations, and some may contain more detail than you will need for your project so that you may spend more time on specific steps than others based on you r purpose for engagement, your understanding of the problem, and your capacity. A high-level summary of the five steps are outlined below. More details can be found by clicking this link to read the full standard. 

          1. Establish purpose, scope, and stakeholders. Setting yourself up for successful community engagement will require a good understanding of why you need to engage (your purpose), what topics you need to engage on (scope), and who needs to be involved (the stakeholders). These three items may evolve over time and potentially, some of your stakeholders could even be involved in defining them.  

           Purpose: Think about why you need to engage and what you would like to achieve from this engagement. What information are you missing and how will you use this input for your project?  

          Scope: This involves determining what topics will be discussed, what elements of your project need to be addressed, where the engagement will take place and the time frame of the engagement.  

         Stakeholder Identification: Relevant stakeholders are individuals, or groups of individuals, that can affect your project and/or could be affected by your project and the issues you are addressing. They hold an interest in your purpose and impact your scope. 

You may already have a good idea of who your project stakeholders will be; however, using a consistent methodology for identifying all stakeholder groups will be important. Different types of stakeholders will have different attributes or reasons for being engaged. Here are some attributes for you to consider when identifying who you could engage with: 

  • Those who may be dependent on the issues or activities of your project or whom your project is dependent on for successful completion 
  • Those who you have a legal, moral, or ethical duty to engage 
  • Those who are experiencing tension from the issues you are addressing 
  • Those who have influence over yours or other stakeholder’s decision-making 
  • Those who bring diverse perspectives and different views to the situation 

           2. Plan your engagement. Now that you have an idea of why and who you will engage with, you will need to determine how you will carry out your engagement. There are several sub-steps within the planning stage, see the full Standard to get more information about all of the factors to consider when making these decisions. 

Profile and Map Stakeholders: This involves thinking about each stakeholder you have identified and writing down what you think they know about the topic of your project and how they could be engaged. You can then make a conceptual map of the stakeholders based on their relation to the issue and/or how important it will be to get their input.


Determine Engagement Level(s) and Method(s): There are different formats, approaches, and levels of engagement you can follow based on your scope and purpose (ex. analyzing stakeholder views, tracking information, creating awareness, etc.). Different methods such as surveys, interviews, or focus groups all have slightly different benefits and drawbacks. See the full standard for a list of ideas! 


Establish Boundaries of Disclosure: This refers to how you will use and communicate the information you will collect. Think about whether the information will be confidential, whether you will attribute what was said to who said it, or something in between. This also includes what information you will share with your participants and what information they can share about your project outside of the engagement. Ensure that for whatever level of sharing you choose, you have received an agreement and/or consent from your participants. 

           Establish Indicators: It can be helpful to determine some metrics to measure and evaluate your stakeholder engagement. This can help you with monitoring your progress, identifying areas for improvement, and evaluating the success of the outcomes of the engagement (i.e., did you achieve your purpose?). Indicators can be qualitative or quantitative. Results-Based Management is a methodology that is widely used approach to identify indicators and charting results goals.  

           Draft a Plan: If engagement is a core component of your project, think about drafting a plan that documents all the information we covered up to this point, focus on defining why who and how. The plan can be shared with project stakeholders and help guide you through the process. The document can be anything from 1 page to 100 pages depending on the level of detail you require. While you can likely keep your plans from 1-10 pages for your team projects, many companies and organizations will complete more detailed plans depending on the scale and scope of their engagement. 

          3. Prepare your engagement. Once you have a plan for how you will carry out the engagement, make sure that you have the right resources ready and that your stakeholders have the right supports they may need to participate. 

            Mobilize Resources: Think about how much time it will take to carry out the engagement and other resource considerations such as location, supplies, and/or technology you will need to get in order. 

            Build Capacity: The people who you are engaging may have various barriers to participation, ranging from their knowledge on the subject, geographic distance, disability, language/literacy, conflict of interest, or many other reasons potentially hindering their ability to contribute fully. Think about what these may be for your participants, and if there are ways you can support their involvement. 

            Identify and Prepare for Risks: Try to think ahead of time if there are potential risks to your engagement, either for your project or your stakeholders, brainstorm methods for addressing those risks. Examples of risk for your project could include not getting enough participation, people providing false information, not enough time for engagement, etc. Some examples for your stakeholders could be if they are putting themselves in danger (physical or emotional) to participate, conflict between stakeholders, etc. 

          4. Implement your engagement. Now that you are ready to carry out your engagement, keep in mind the following best practices. 

             Invite and Brief Stakeholders: Make sure to invite your stakeholders well in advance and provide them with enough information about your purpose and the logistics of engagement for them to make an informed decision about their participation.  

            Engage: During your engagement, practice respectful facilitation and think about setting some agreed-upon ground rules to ensure everyone who is participating is respectful and understanding of the project’s purpose and of others’ input (if you are in a group setting). Ensure to manage your time effectively to address all your questions but also be flexible if participants are indicating something about your process that needs to be changed. 

           Document Outputs: To make the most of your engagement, make sure you record the information being collected. Think about the level of detail you need to record so that it can be used effectively towards your project. You can also document the results of the evaluation metrics you set in Step 2. 

          Action Plan and Report Back: Think about how you will analyze the information collected, how it will influence your project or solution and how you will communicate your findings.  

          5. Review your engagement. Depending on the number of times you carry out an engagement session, there may be some opportunity to review and improve your process moving forward. Perhaps you will be doing engagement at different stages of your project, or engaging with multiple stakeholders at different times, or with the same stakeholders multiple times.  

           Monitor and Evaluate: Think about how the engagement has been going, what has worked well and what hasn’t, and consider the evaluation metrics you set. Based on your evaluation, is there anything you could improve about your engagement? 

           Learn and Improve: Whether you are improving your engagement throughout the process for this particular project or learning by gaining more engaging experience for your next project, engagement is a long-term skill that can always be improved. Think about the entire process: your ability to articulate your purpose and use the right method of engagement, your skills as a facilitator, the experience of your participants, the information you gather, and the analysis of your information. 

Community Engagement via Digital Media 

Traditional efforts of community engagement take the form of citizen’s juries, assemblies, public meetings, or consultations. Digital-first engagement is a way of approaching community engagement that takes advantage of the reach and ease of digital platforms; this can include participatory forums, online panels, digital storytelling, or polls and surveys. By utilizing digital strategies, community members can be contacted efficiently, with the possibility of anonymous participation. A digital approach empowers more diverse representation in the community conversation, allowing the development of more meaningful solutions. Digital engagement can be an effective way of getting a larger number of perspectives involved in your project, as well as keeping your community stakeholders up-to-date on your process.  

 Please note, however, that using digital media for community engagement has its drawbacks as well: 

  • Digital media can make your engagement inaccessible to people who do not engage in social media, or have limited digital literacy skills. This is often the case for elderly people, youth, and people living in poverty.  
  • Not everyone has equal access to the internet, which limits their access to your community engagement. This is often the case for remote communities, many of which are populated by Indigenous or racialized peoples who could potentially be valuable stakeholders. 
  • Using digital media runs the risk of “clicktivism,” the idea that liking and sharing and posting on social media equates to in-person activism and action. 

Keep these drawbacks in mind as you determine what elements of your community engagement would be appropriate for digital media. 


Stakeholder: a person, group or organization that can be directly or indirectly affected by your project 

Purpose: Think about why you need to engage and what you would like to achieve from this engagement. What information are you missing and how will you use this input for your project?  

Scope: This involves determining what topics will be discussed, what elements of your project need to be addressed, where the engagement will take place and the time frame of the engagement.  

Stakeholder Identification: Relevant stakeholders are individuals, or groups of individuals, that can affect your project and/or could be affected by your project and the issues you are addressing.