Successful social change requires nonprofit and government leaders to connect with individuals experiencing a variety of social challenges (i.e., unemployment, addiction, homelessness, justice-involvement, significant behavioral and physical health challenges). Outcomes will only be achieved through our interventions if the communities we desire to serve know our programs exists, believe they are designed for them, and are tailored to their unique needs. As funding sources become scarcer due to the impacts of COVID-19 and the needs are increasing; organizations need to have reliable systems of community engagement in place to create real and lasting changes in the community.

Over the past decade, Measurement Resources Company has helped mission-driven organizations achieve better outcomes by strengthening their community engagement initiatives. Based on what has worked across a variety of difficult-to-reach populations, we’ve developed several best practices that have become a framework for conducting this important work. By putting these six strategies into practice, your organization will be more effective and the communities you serve will benefit even more as a result.

In this blog, we’ve included a high-level overview of these proven strategies and we’ve also developed a more in-depth Community Engagement Guide for Social Sector Organizations, which is available for download at no cost.

  1. Recruit on-the-ground resident leaders.

Once your community engagement initiative has been given the green light, identifying and recruiting on-the-ground resident leaders will be the first step you’ll want to take. It is critical that you identify individuals living in the community you’ll be working with, who understand the challenges residents are facing first-hand, and who have existing relationships that they can tap into to collect feedback and input that will inform the solutions being developed. Be sure to pair them up with the initiative’s team lead(s) for access to resources and training on how to consistently capture information. Together, these resident leaders and your organization will serve as two-way sounding boards, so that you can quickly resolve any issues that might arise and to brainstorm potential solutions to discover what will resonate best with the community. Most importantly, this will help to establish the trust needed across all levels of those participating in the initiative.

  1. Convene facilitated conversations.

Convening facilitated conversations provides an opportunity to introduce the purpose of your initiative, and the desired outcomes you hope to achieve. Community engagement initiatives are iterative, and these conversations should continue to take place at regular intervals throughout the initiative to keep everyone informed, and to incorporate the community’s feedback into each step throughout the process. Including break-out groups as part of these conversations is highly recommended and is just one way to ensure all voices are heard and taken into consideration as the initiative continues to unfold. Capturing this qualitative feedback is just as important as the quantitative research you will conduct.

  1. Make community members central to the policy-making process.

When it comes to developing policies, even when developed with the best of intentions, if policies are lacking when it comes to real-world application, loopholes, or groups individuals who unintentionally get left behind, these scenarios will have a detrimental impact on your initiative. In addition to convening facilitated conversations, making community members central to the policy-making process will help to ensure that many perspectives and interests help shape what the community will experience as a result. And by taking joint responsibility, your organization and the community will be better positioned to work together to address any shortcomings that are discovered after the policies have been implemented.

  1. Engage community partners.

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” —African Proverb

Community engagement initiatives are centered on solving really complex issues, such as addressing health inequities, affordable housing, and so on. Bringing together many community partners will enhance the initiative’s ability to scale and customize the solutions that come out of the initiative. Yes, it will take more time to coordinate efforts with additional community partners. But because each community partner will bring a unique set of talents and resources to the table, your initiative will have more tools at its disposal to leverage into more meaningful and lasting outcomes.

  1. Streamline two-way communications.

To continue to build trust and demonstrate transparency, developing mechanisms for two-way communications will be key to the success of your initiative. Community residents who have invested their time and have shared their lived experiences must be able to draw direct lines between the input and feedback they have provided and the resulting solutions.

  1. Set targets for all activities.

From target dates to the number of services provided and individuals served, your initiative will need to establish a baseline for the number of activities needed to generate the desired outcomes. As information about the effectiveness of each becomes known, adjustments can be made to make the best use of resources possible.

Download our new step-by-step Community Engagement Guide for Social Sector Organizations. This guide includes detailed tactics for each of the six strategies outlined above. Combined, these strategies and tactics will help establish trust, provide guidelines for conducting your work in a transparent manner, and result in long-term, collaborative relationships.

For more information about how Measurement Resources can provide ongoing support throughout your community engagement initiative, contact us today to schedule your call with one of our team members.