I was reading an interview of Diana Jiang, a candidate running for the Irvine City Council elections in 2020. She mentioned the role of community engagement in the development of any place. It was genuinely refreshing to see a policymaker understanding of what actually matters at the grassroots level. Inspired by the interview, I started doing a little digging myself. One thing I realized was that I was quite wrong in assuming that the benefits of community engagement are already well-known. Actually, there is a lot more than what we comprehend. Right now, we are just scraping its surface and probably that is why we carry out community engagement programs half-heartedly. Before implementing a community participation initiative, it is essential that everyone understand why they are working toward a higher level of community engagement and the project goals could help the city in the long run.
Diana Jiang explained that beautifully. She closely associates herself with the community engagement initiatives and feels that it could prove to be influential in the development of Irvine. I couldn’t agree more. We all know how hard it is to get things done in any government organization. Procedures have to be followed. Then there are several cautions, lengthy sign-off chains, and finally after all that – a political decision. It is great that the government just wants to get on with things. But what disturbs me is that this desire to get moving creates an atmosphere where the community engagement is viewed as something to get past of or like a box to tick rather than giving it the due importance and diligence it requires.
So, before you tick a box, consider how community engagement can help build momentum behind your project. Here are 5 ways it can minimize your efforts while maximizing your outcomes.
For any leader and policymaker, it is essential that your community trusts you. With all your wits and expertise, you want the people to be on your side and believe in the future that you are providing them. In community engagement, peer-to-peer influence has become more popular than information shared through other platforms such as top-down. This makes it even more essential for an institution to get accurate, shareable, good quality across to the community members. That is why policymakers must make sure that information is shared with the community accurately.
An engaging community could be influential in the decision making of the policymakers. You as a leader would get better results if you ask your community to engage from the beginning of the project. When you hold an office of public importance, you will come across ideas, concerns, and issues that affect your project that you won’t have any control over. There the community will help you. History will tell you that community engagement will not only help you get over these hurdles but also build more understanding and avoid political landmines at the end of a project which often takes back the process by several months or sometimes even years. For instance, if you have a project of removing plastic from your city, but don’t have the support of the community, there might be chances that the policy won’t see the light of the day. In other words, no matter how good your idea may be, if you do not engage with your community, nothing will work.
In the end, all that matters is that your community is satisfied with your performance. An engaging community will be there with you always to provide you the support that you require. When they are in contact you with you, they are more likely to think that you are doing a better job. For instance, if you are like a blue moon and you don’t engage with them often, why will they trust you? It should come as no surprise that when a community is informed about their council’s business and has the opportunity to be a part of making those influential policies, they would be happier with the institution.
For any group, reaching a consensus is a thing of rare significance. Most times you would have to choose something or come to a decision that a section of people like while other do not. However, if you base your decision upon a robust community engagement process, the people will more likely understand and accept your decision. Seems fair, right?
Being a political leader is not all clouds and rainbows. With community engagement, you get all the benefits as mentioned above. And with all that comes political robustness. By this, I mean that the project you are working on is less susceptible to opposition or a legal challenge at the final approval stage. When I saw the Diana interview, I felt that political robustness in her demeanor. Her personality came across as if the voice of people which I really liked. I hope Irvine hears that voice and in the next two years witness the development she advertises.