Six years ago, our co-founders Wietse Van Ransbeeck and Aline Muylaert started CitizenLab.
They were new graduates eager to get involved in their local community, but facing the same roadblocks as others—lack of clarity on processes, long waits and bureaucracy, and traditional feedback methods that seemingly went into a black hole.
They firmly believed in the budding potential of Civic Tech and the power of digital tools to empower communities and facilitate the co-creation of cities and towns. So they launched CitizenLab to bring our democratic institutions into the 21st century.
Since those early days, CitizenLab has worked with over 300 local governments and organizations across 18 countries. And that has taught us a thing or two. For example, that community engagement doesn’t have to be hard, and that it should be accessible to all local governments and organizations. All it takes is an adequate community engagement strategy. Now, let’s take a look at what that entails.
1. A clear purpose
Community engagement doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be intentional. Never underestimate the power of a clear purpose. Aligning on the “why” upfront can help you grow buy-in internally and within your community, stay on track with your timeline, and adjust your strategy if needed.
Deep dive? Check out our beginner’s guide on digital community engagement to help set you up for success from idea to execution.
2. Smooth internal organization
Often, we’re so focused on engaging our communities that we forget to convince our internal teams. Along the way, you might need to get your Mayor on board, or engage other departments in the process. They’ll also need to know how you want them to be involved, who leads and supports projects, and how they can launch their own community engagement efforts. Community engagement is a team effort, and internal organization can make or break your chances of success.
Deep dive? Learn from Stirling Council’s experience in organizing internally for a smooth and successful project.
3. An inclusive approach
If you’re looking to engage your community, setting up an inclusive project that represents its unique diversity is vital. All voices should matter equally, and special efforts should be made to empower those who aren’t usually heard. Only by involving different groups and demographics within your community can you develop solutions and policies that truly benefit all.
Deep dive? Learn how to set up an inclusive community engagement project that is accessible to all and represents a variety of voices.
4. Clear and continuous communication
Actively involving community members starts with the basics. Making sure people know about your project and have all the information needed to participate. A solid communication strategy will help you reach your target audience(s), identify the right channels, and tweak your messages accordingly. By bringing people along on your project’s journey, they’ll feel more committed to it.
Deep dive? Read all about setting up a communication strategy to make sure your engagement project is seen, heard, and trusted by the community.
5. Action, please!
The main goal of community engagement isn’t just to hear what your community has to say, but to use that input as a catalyst for positive change. Once you’ve collected and processed your community’s ideas and opinions, it’s crucial to turn words into action, set up an implementation plan, and measure the impact of your efforts.
Deep dive? Learn all about measuring the impact of your participation project to make your efforts count.
6. A continuity mindset
Once you’ve made an effort to engage your community, why not keep it going? Setting up cycles of engagement, rather than isolated or stand-alone projects, is a surefire way to keep your community engaged and receptive. On top of that, it shows community members you’re serious about involving them. This, in turn, will make them more motivated to participate in future projects.
Deep dive? Read more about strategies for closing feedback loops to ensure you maintain trust and promote continuous engagement with your community.