Today I want to ask, ‘What do people want from community engagement?’
This may seem like a simple-enough question but I suspect, from plenty of feedback and conversations, that most community members (especially those who are ‘involved’ in their communities) have a high level of disillusionment.
They tell me that the hours of time (volunteered) given to many projects fail to achieve desired outcomes for anyone except maybe the corporate or government organisation that paid for the community engagement which was needed to tick the ‘community consultation’ box.
Perhaps this is because projects are not run by professionals but rather community members with ‘ideas’, or untrained people who think they understand how to ‘engage’ with their community.
Or it might be because, when all the work has been done, reports written and submitted, a change of government or leadership somewhere in the bureaucracy (Local, State, or Federal and Corporate) occurs and all the work is left to gather dust. There is no follow through.
And this has very negative outcomes for us. People are no longer able to ‘trust’.
In a 2013 survey, 53% of those surveyed had little or no trust in political parties and 52% had little or no trust in Federal Parliament. Trade unions, TV news and the legal profession also did not fare well in the survey.
The survey also asked participants to choose the most important national issues from a list of 20. First amongst respondents was the economy (33%). Second was trust in politicians and government (14%), then the rest of the list (environment, health, education, etc). (Thanks to Vern Hughes Director, Centre for Civil Society and the scanlonfoundation.org.au scanlonfoundation.org.au )
This ‘loss of trust’ is disheartening not only for community members but also for community engagement practitioners. So many now ask,
‘Why bother?’ and ‘It’s all a sham and a waste of my time,’ or ‘We are burnt out and disillusioned’.
This failure of ‘community engagement’ has meant different approaches are being used. The mining sector has developed a concept called a ‘social licence to operate’ which I take to mean: ‘We have consulted and given you this much in $$$ for certain projects, we can now get on with our business’.
There are many problems with this for communities and there are several blogs in that topic alone.
On the other end of the spectrum, models of ‘deliberative democracy’ and ‘participatory government’ are developing rapidly even here in Australia. Universities around the world have whole research centres researching this area and soon it will become main-stream. And recently the City of Greater Geraldton embarked on a Participatory Budgeting project for their 10 Capital Works Plan. http://www.linkedin.com/redirect?url=http%3A%2F%2Fcgg%2Ewa%2Egov%2Eau%2Fmajor-projects%2Fchanges-cgg-community&urlhash=JGtc&_t=tracking_anet So I ask the question: ‘what do you want and expect from community engagement?’