When we intentionally plan for inclusion, community engagement projects turn into more diverse, representative efforts and can lead to more equitable outcomes. Our recent webinar featured Jacqueline Broadhead, Director of the Global Exchange on Migration and Diversity at Oxford University’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS). Together, we discussed why COMPAS developed an inclusion framework for cities in the UK, how they learned from both local and international best practices, and what other local governments can do to be more inclusive.
6 examples of inclusive community engagement
While the repository of good practices on inclusive engagement is constantly evolving, these 6 points can be applied across projects, issue areas, and councils:
- Inclusion is an everyone question. When we only approach target groups for a project, we inadvertently go against what we’re trying to achieve – which is ensuring everyone is heard and included. Instead, we should approach projects with an inclusion lens that asks what we’re trying to achieve in the long run and which recognises that a shared sense of responsibility is needed across the community for the project to succeed. In some cases, you may choose to create a comprehensive, wide-reaching inclusion project, whereas in other cases you may need to focus on a specific issue area such as a migrant integration plan or a disability equality strategy.
In practice: The Greater London Authority’s social inclusion model is comprehensive and resulted from an intentional period of community engagement. While the plan is general rather than issue-based, they took it a step further by embedding strong links with NGO partners to work across specific topics that emerged as priority areas in the model.
- Reframe what’s difficult. Rather than framing groups as “hard to reach” and excluding them for lack of time, resources, or other reasons, flip that and ask: “why do we find it difficult to hear these groups”? This reframe may help you plan more strategically and properly allocate resources for a more inclusive process from the start.
In practice: When the London Borough of Newham launched their Democracy and Civic Participation Commission, one of their findings was a need to work with more local people when making decisions. As part of the solution, they launched an online platform to reach more residents, businesses, and shoppers for their £4.1 million urban planning project.
- Un-silo inclusion work. It doesn’t always have to sit where we assume, and the more we can build buy-in across departments and levels of government the better the results will be. When we reconsider which team or project inclusion work sits with, we have the opportunity to tap into bridging work that brings together residents across the community to facilitate interaction in a positive way and towards a common goal.
In practice: Glasgow, part of the Inclusive Cities programme, linked inclusion work to its economic regeneration and international strategy. In Germany, integration work often gets places with planning departments to help bridge inclusion and urban planning.
- Consider intersectionality. We often hear about inequities that have resulted from the pandemic, but in many cases, these inequities already existed and have been further exacerbated because of the pandemic. As Jacqui mentioned during the webinar, “we’re all in the same storm but not all in the same boat”. When we recognise the intersectionality that exists between issue areas under the inclusion umbrella, we can make more meaningful advancements.
In practice: The British Academy has been publishing research and policy recommendations for their “Shape the Future” project to explore the intersection of creating “a positive post-pandemic future for people, the economy and the environment”. The Inclusive Cities programme also considered this when identifying pandemic priority areas with their cities, landing on 4 priorities: 1) ensuring public funds are allocated and distributed equitably, 2) maintaining community connection to facilitate contact, in line with social distancing, to ensure community bridging could continue happening, 3) providing reliable access to information, such as making sure it’s clear where to get the latest updates and ensuring language access; and 4) planning for an inclusive recovery strategy that considers what it means to build back together after the pandemic.
- Bring more people around the table. When setting up an inclusion strategy, it’s important to define stakeholders and to engage people who aren’t already around the table. This means bringing in multi-sector partners: NGOs, businesses, employers, local government officials, faith-based institutions, and community leaders. To do this effectively, it’s essential to understand your community’s values and to know who your trusted advisors in the community are. They can often point you in the right direction to addressing key gaps, such as where or what time you offer a consultation period.
In practice: Offering multiple ways to contribute feedback is one way to be inclusive of more of all your residents. One creative example of resident engagement comes from Newport, where they ran quick surveys via their bus wifi. They found that most riders wanted to access wifi on the bus, so it was a prime opportunity to ask a few questions about services to get more engagement.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel, but adapt it. While community engagement efforts are usually aimed at addressing a specific community’s very localised concerns, we can learn a lot from these projects and apply adaptations to our own efforts. There are plenty of good practices to draw inspiration from at the local, national, and international levels – the key is knowing how to contextualise these learnings to your local area.
In practice: Inclusive Cities drew inspiration for their programme and framework from their knowledge exchange with Pittsburgh, PA (USA) which had a comprehensive and thorough resident engagement strategy. Drawing on this and other good practices, Migration Yorkshire launched their Communities Up Close project through which they interviewed over 300 residents in the region to understand how they experienced and responded to migration.
Best practices for inclusive engagement – the summary
Inclusion work is continuous and evolving, but as Jacqui noted: in inclusion work “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” – there is no one solution or perfect formula for an inclusive project. However, if you plan intentionally, engage diverse stakeholders, and build internal buy-in from the beginning you’ll set up your inclusion work with a strong foundation.