Top three tips on engaging your community
The most basic kind of community engagement is a survey through someone’s door. It’s probably the least inspiring way of asking people what they want and it doesn’t make allowances for people with low literacy levels. If this is the only option available to you (and it’s unlikely that it is), make sure it is short and to the point. If you need survey data (because your funder requires it), consider running the survey at an event.
You could also hold meetings and focus groups to get more personalised, qualitative feedback too.
Events are a really good way to gauge interest in your project.
The best community projects are for the people, by the people. If you’re planning a new project for your neighbourhood, whether it’s a green space, a lantern parade or a wind turbine, you need to get your community behind the project. Here’s how.
- Give people plenty of notice and ensure that the venue is accessible, that there’s parking available nearby and that the event is held at a time when your target audience is available — people often have plans at weekends, so an evening might be better.
- Promote your event — posters in shop windows, leaflets through doors (if you can afford them), use Facebook and Twitter to get the word out. Talk to other community groups and organisations in the area.
- Don’t worry about making it professional — just make it convivial; good old-fashioned hospitality goes a long way. A cup of tea and a piece of cake shows people you value their time.
- Ask simple, open questions that give people the chance to express themselves; limit the number of questions that can be answered with ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘maybe’. Ask them what they might use a community garden for, or the kind of community garden they might want, and you can use that feedback to inform its design.
- Provide lots of inspiration. Mood boards are a really easy way to show people the range of options out there and encourage them to think beyond the obvious — a community shop could also be a cinema or a cafe as well, for instance. Have a look at our collection of community stories; they could help spark some ideas.
- Make it interactive. Give people the chance to respond to the suggestions and make their own. Use Post-it notes or encourage people to write on a poster, so that everyone gets the chance to have their say and react to other people’s suggestions.
- Use maps. Show people where you have in mind, or ask them for suggestions. You can get a satellite map of your neighbourhood from your local council. It’ll bring the whole idea to life, and you can get people to annotate it with their favourite places to gain a sense of what people really value about their community.
Don’t forget to collate all the responses — funders and local councils will want to see evidence that this is a project that people want and need before they give you any support.
Report back! If you’ve asked people what they think, ensure that everyone gets to hear the conclusions — collect email addresses and put together an article for a local paper or newsletter. Keep everyone informed of the project’s progress.