Seven Ways to Increase Community Engagement Levels in Infrastructure Projects

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“An engaged woman is always more agreeable than a disengaged. She is satisfied with herself. Her cares are over, and she feels that she may exert all her powers of pleasing without suspicion. All is safe with a lady engaged; no harm can be done.” – Jane Austen

Over the last 15 years, I have been working on delivering stakeholder and community engagement strategies on large infrastructure projects. While each project has been vastly different from the next, one question continues to haunt me: “Why do people disengage in community engagement activities?”

The idea is that by reflecting on this from project to project, I will be better equipped for the next project that comes my way to develop an effective strategy to overcome this lack of engagement.

While applying a strategy seems easy on face value, in reality, there is a lot more that comes into play. People do not travel in waves – a community is made up of individuals who have their own interests, values and beliefs; all of which influence when and why they engage. For this reason, a ‘one size fits all approach’ that we are often encouraged to implement will always have an element of failure.

However, I can pinpoint three general trends as to why people choose not to take part in engagement activities:

  1. The deliberative process of disengagement – when community members choose not to take part in engagement activities because of culture, attitude, physical threats, etc.
  2. Consultation Fatigue – where community members may choose not to participate because of frustration with government departments, lack of transparency, lack of feedback, finance, time, organization.
  3. They are underrepresented or ‘hard to reach’.

With this in mind, here are my top tips to increasing engagement levels in community engagement activities.

Be selective – for good reason!

It’s important to consider working in partnership with organisations that are already active in communities, or are connected to the stakeholders you are trying to reach. In particular, work collaboratively with the government agencies who are engaging with the same communities.

Spend time developing relationships.

Relationships take time and commitment – that is the only way to build trust.

Make the effort.

Make an effort to go to the stakeholder – don’t expect them to come to you. Never underestimate the value of one-on-one engagement. Group engagement has a time and a place, but group dynamics vs. individual are very different.

Work with the right people.

Identify and work with those people who are motivated and connected. These people may be the glue that holds your project together, as they are likely to bring along those who do not normally engage.

Listen more, talk less.

People will be more engaged if they think you do not already know the answer. Show that you are seeking their feedback and value their opinions.

Be inclusive.

Plan your engagement allowing for people who are not engaged, and allow for their unique circumstances.

Follow up and provide feedback.

You want repeat customers! People will come back if they feel part of the process.

What are your tips to increasing engagement levels in community engagement activities? Let me know in the comments below, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

A blog post by Carmen Marshall, Infrastructure Project Director at P4 Group.