5 tips for community engagement
Since April 2018 Random Creatives has helped develop the community engagement aspect of THE 49TH UNION WORLD CONFERENCE ON LUNG HEALTH, which was held in The Hague from the 24th till the 27th of October 2018. The largest conference ever held in this city, the event was visited by more than 4500 delegates, ministers, royal guests and interested organisations from all over the world.
Creating the perfect atmosphere for community engagement
Random creatives was in charge of developing the concept and program for the community space. An area open to all interested parties. Participants or non-participants to the conference were all welcome to join over more than 48 sessions, cultural activities and exhibitions. An area where all walks of life come together and discuss issues around lung health in an open inviting environment. Live community engagement.
During the developing months (including community engagement activities at the AIDS 2018 conference), Random Creatives encountered several challenges and opportunities. These are the 5 tips for live community engagement.
1. Common goals cross borders
Regarding (international) social issues, opinions can be plenty. Especially when engaging different communities around a certain topic. The opinions may vary, but the overall goal is the mostly the same. Be it curing the world of AIDS, sustainability or creating a smoke free generation. Keep that goal in mind when talking to advocacy groups, policymakers, affected people. Reminding them of the common goal, will eventually lead to more understanding amongst the different parties and eventually reaching shared goals.
In a live event it is preferable to really show the shared goal before a discussion or meeting. Visualize why we are here together. It creates unity amongst the attendants.
2. Be aware of backgrounds
One easy mistake to make, is not taking into account the different backgrounds of the different parties involved. Although the goal might be the same, different backgrounds might influence the process.
The best tip: be open. Or even…be ignorant. As I have noticed as an anthropologist, it is ok to not know things. Communicate with the different stakeholders and communities and get to know their backgrounds. It doesn’t matter if policy, cultural issues, religious interpretations are of influence. Just don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.
Taking this open approach will eventually lead to a better community engagement, because normally unspoken issues around background and motivation, have been raised in advance.
Side note: also beware of your own background. Try not to let this influence what you are trying to create.
3. Being the outsider helps
Being open is the best approach. And being open as ‘an outsider’ is even better. When I started working with The Union on the subject of lung health, my knowledge of the issues was non-existent. And I embraced this. Tell me everything! In conversation I would be surprised, curious and eager. I wanted to know everything. And this helped the organisations and people I was working with. Everybody loves to share their story and passion. Be a good listener and be curious. It will strengthen relations and help with creating the best community engagement.
4. Create surroundings where there is no hierarchy
Everybody should be heard and feel heard. Create an environment to do just that. When looking at events or live communications, make sure no one is ‘elevated’ above the rest. Each opinion and voice matters.
Create an open space where dialogue amongst people is possible. By losing stages, podia, and theatre settings equality is met. It is experienced. Which makes an open conversation possible.
If you want to go the extra step…loose speakers. Make them part of the audience. Make them part of the community. By using a great presenter or facilitator subjects can still be brought to light, but don’t need speakers to introduce them from the stage.
5. Combine wishes and goals to create an ambition powerhouse
Having an open dialogue where everybody is heard, is a great start. Setting the goal and being aware of different backgrounds, are a must. And when you have achieved this. Do not hesitate to draw up an action plan. Or stimulate a manifesto.
Turn the shared goal into a shared ambition. This is what we as a whole want to achieve! Be bold and get the communities to commit. A lot of community engagement tends to end with just engagement. Try to change this engagement into action. A call to action for everybody.
Community engagement is a very complex matter. But in the current time of polarisation, truly needed. I hope our tips for live community engagement help you out when bringing together different groups around a certain issue.
And of course. If we can help out in any way. Do not hesitate to contact us. As mentioned before: we are curious by nature. And are curious about your challenges and possibilities.
Speak to you soon!
Photo by Marcus Rose/The Union