All communities that we work in are seeking some sort of change. This change could come in the form of attracting talent and jobs or seeking to improve the quality of life in the area by leveraging an existing asset, such as a river or theater. Change is naturally difficult. It is challenging to envision the change that is necessary, work to develop it, and ultimately implement this new vision. However, realizing change is much more challenging when the process lacks input from every corner of the community.
As our team at Fourth Economy works in communities around the country, it is clear that engaging new voices in these efforts is critical. Most planning processes are driven by a usual group of stakeholders, including representatives from government, businesses, universities, and funders. While these voices are important, exclusively relying on the same opinions and perspectives limits the potential impact of community change efforts.
Therefore, it is essential to look for opportunities to grow the number of stakeholders and the variety of backgrounds in order to genuinely engage new perspectives. This engagement of new voices goes beyond an invitation to a meeting, but should strive to provide ample opportunities throughout the process to listen to this group, allow their thoughts to inform and guide the process, and offer chances for them to lead.
Many communities have attempted to incorporate new thoughts and ideas in their planning processes, but struggle to connect with populations that have not historically been engaged, such as minority communities and those living in rural areas.
To engage these new voices, it is important to meet them where they are. It may be difficult to engage them in the usual monthly meeting, during the day, in a boardroom downtown. Meeting people where they are requires communities to think creatively about how to facilitate the engagement of these individuals. This may involve identifying existing meetings where the desired population is already convening, such as meetings at schools and local community centers, hosting conversations in spaces in their communities, and working with individuals and organizations from the area to conduct outreach to engage people in their networks.
Engaging the “unusual suspects” in community and economic development processes is important for a variety of reasons.
- It will help your project generate new and diverse ideas.
- It will build stronger social connections in your community as people are encouraged to work with individuals that they do not normally.
- It will increase the likelihood of your community change efforts being successful because those individuals critical to implementation have been involved in the development of the strategies.
Engaging new voices is a best practice in community engagement, but more importantly, should be a standard that drives planning efforts in communities around the country. At Fourth Economy, our goal is to engage these new voices to strengthen the impact of our work and we would encourage all communities to do the same. Reach out to learn more about our creative efforts to engage new voices.
Have you had success or unique challenges in engaging diverse voices in your community engagement? Reach out – we’d love to hear about it or problem solve with you.