Equitable Community Engagement is a Critical Component of Newly Funded Federal Priorities
Since 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement there has been a growing call for change in our communities—and we are beginning to see these calls for change translate into public policy. From the White House’s Justice 40 Initiative, directing 40% of federal investments to impact disadvantaged communities, to the recently released Disadvantaged Community Dataset, state and local organizations are beginning to get clarity on how these policies will shape project prioritization and funding decisions.
Under the Biden administration federal agencies have committed to operationalizing the priority of advancing equity and racial justice. More specifically, increasing the incidence of community input from disadvantaged communities is of particular importance to local engagement practitioners.
Community Engagement Tactics For Increasing Equitable Community Engagement
It is our hope that these practical suggestions can be used along with a unified engagement strategy to help your community capitalize on engagement opportunities and increase effectiveness in reaching those who are most impacted.
- Inclusive Outreach: A willingness to listen is not the only ingredient needed for inclusivity. Understanding your audience and the environment are critical to lowering barriers to public participation and providing opportunities for education and engagement. There are a wide range of publicly available sources of community data ranging from basic (ex. US Census demographics) to specific (ex. USDA data on food deserts). Community data is designed to help community engagement practitioners and other professionals who are looking for good ways to identify and reach stakeholders in specific project areas.
- Social Characterization: Before “engaging” can begin, every good community engagement strategy should start with a proactive effort that seeks to collect, organize, and analyze the issues and behaviors of the targeted community or project area. This “social characterization” will help you develop an accurate picture of the area in the community most impacted by the anticipated decision-making.
- Segmentation: Once identification and outreach has been done, establishing a rapport and closing the feedback loop is critical. Maintaining a stakeholder dashboard that stores historical data over time and across projects is critical to future proofing community relationships.
Asking for Input: Make opportunities accessible by tailoring your civic engagement approach based on the predominant characteristics of the community. Tailoring incorporates accommodations into the engagement process to make it easier for more people to provide input. Examples of these types of accommodations may include:
- Language translation and interpretation.
- Offering virtual or hybrid meeting options for those who are unable to attend in-person.
- Supplementing with closed captioned virtual meeting options for people with disabilities or language accessibility needs.
- Offering in-person meetings along a bus route for those who are transportation insecure or unable to drive.
- Providing onsite childcare during in-person meetings in areas where there is a large population of children.
- Partnering with credible non-governmental community leaders in areas where governmental distrust is high or language/cultural barriers contribute to engagement challenges.
Inclusion & Transparency
- Visualizing Equitable Input: Visualize your data with data mapping. Equity mapping can show where engagement is either working or potentially falling short by overlapping community data with participant data. For example, seeing the distribution of ESL speakers in a geographic area provides practitioners with a clear perspective on which tactics and approaches should be used when soliciting input and then the relative degree to which the demographic has been engaged.
- Course Correction: as the community contributes input, the unified collection of data by tactic will begin to “paint a picture” of the respondents from a geographic and socio-economic perspective (ex. 85% of respondents to date are over the age of 50). A unified approach that aggregates input in one place can accelerate responses to triggers that indicate a need for an adjustment of tactics/approaches to encourage more diversity.
Unified Community Engagement Tactics and a Central Source of Truth
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