The importance of engaging with communities.

When working with communities it is important that you engage with them effectively. People that live in the communities that you serve know their community best. They are your best resource, treat them right and they will be the best asset in your community engagement work that you can have.

When we were setting up Community Group Training we knew there was a market for interactive, enjoyable, sector specific learning. We knew that often small community groups couldn’t afford traditional classroom training and decided that there had to be a better way. Instead of just designing and developing what we thought community groups wanted, we spent 12 months talking to the very communities that we wanted to access our training offer. They supported us in deciding that e-learning was the way to go, what topics to cover, how the training should look and what content they wanted to see. Without that engagement I doubt we would have the product suite that we have today.

It is now time for us to give something back and if you are thinking of engaging with communities we hope that this blog will help, happy reading!

4 Tips YOU need to know

Organise your activities/focus groups/engagement activities at a time and place that suits your target audience – for example, if you want to engage parents, don’t put on an event that starts at 9.00am as most parents will be dropping their children off at school.  Also, think about where people already go – for example, if you want to engage with young people, check out the local youth clubs, find out where they go after school, or work with the school to see if you can speak to them there.

Think carefully about people who you want to attend your activities/focus groups/engagement activities and take account of broad cultural issues – this is particularly important when you are talking about things like race and culture, as some people might be uncomfortable discussing issues in a large and varied group or may not have any understanding of what is acceptable in certain cultures – for example some cultures do not shake hands.  It is also important to recognise that people from different groups will often want to discuss different things.

Use appropriate language and stay jargon free– Make sure that you speak clearly, do not use jargon, abbreviations or acronyms and check that the people you are engaging with understand. Often communication can get lost ad it is always good practice to summarise what you have said and check understanding. Research shows that inappropriate language can be very off putting, think before you speak – for example, many travellers do not like to be called gypsies, they find this very offensive and if you are trying to engage this community, calling them by the wrong name is not the best start. It can often take a long time to recover from, if at all.

Provide feedback – Especially to those directly involved in the process.  A common complaint from communities is that they are often approached to engage in activities or research, but never hear what happened as a result.  It is important to let people know what you found out, and how it has helped and how that information has changed, improved or informed practice.