By Katie Myers and Tamara Power-Drutis
After years of working with a variety of public agencies, private companies and initiative-based efforts to establish effective outreach with the communities they serve, we’ve come across a lot of creative and unique strategies for gaining community involvement and input.
We’ve also worked with a lot of groups who are banging their heads against the wall trying to figure out why their community engagement isn’t yielding the kind of involvement they seek. So much of this comes down to creating a two-way conversation, and that conversation only works when both sides are both listening AND being heard.
All too often, our team is asked to join an outreach effort after its been underway for some time and to reach a specific “underserved” community. We all know what it feels like to receive a last-minute invitation to a party that’s been planned for months. Not only do you feel unimportant, you are not likely to attend. Now imagine what it would feel like as a member of a typically “underserved” community to be an afterthought in outreach efforts.
At The Vida Agency, we’ve identified the following key Community Outreach Principles to ensure that we effectively communicate with the public, rather than at the public.
- Remove Assumptions: Presuming that you know what a person values, feels or wants before entering a conversation restricts your ability to effectively listen.
- Don’t Shy Away from Difficult Conversations: Highlight the information that matters, even if it’s not what they’re hoping to hear. As a neutral source for the organizations we serve, The Vida Agency shares accurate and accessible information with their audience, as well as documents feedback and input to inform the organization.
- Value Every Voice: Don’t rush the process; take your time with each conversation to ensure that input and needs are heard.
- Make It Accessible: Distill crucial and technical information into digestible content. Providing overly technical information restricts the number of people who will hear your message.
- Go Where People Are: Don’t expect people to disrupt their daily lives or to come to you for information. Strive to meet people where they already are and make engagement convenient and easy.
- Communicate in Their Own Language: Determine your most important messages and then translate or transcreate them into the key languages spoken by your audience. Our extended team of language professionals provide DHSH-and/or Court-certified translation and simultaneous interpretation in over 20 languages.
Community engagement is, at its core, about building two-way conversations between an organization and members of the public. In addition to disseminating information, it is essential to hear from community members so that you understand their needs and concerns.
Be realistic and transparent about the level of engagement you seek (inform -> co-lead), establish early on what the community can expect in return and be inclusive from the beginning.