Six Steps to Community Engagement

This presentation came as a bonus to the work I was doing for the Waiheke Community Supported Agriculture project. As I attempted to find an effective way to communicate the "How" of that project, I found I had stumbled upon a model that could be applied to any community project.

Ever since coming across the Transition Towns work and seeing how the 12 steps in the transition towns work to keep a local initiative on track, I quickly noticed that the same 12 steps could apply to an individual project. The six steps suggested here have distilled and simplified this even further, and you can watch and listen to this 5 minute video and then read the transcript, with embedded links.

Your comments are welcome.

Here is the transcript of the slideshow.

Hi, my name is James Samuel, and I've been involved in facilitating the growth of Transition Towns in New Zealand, Aotearoa for the past two years. Throughout that time I've been attentive to finding simple tools that enable community resilience initiatives become successful and meet their goals. The following 6 steps can be applied to a single project, or to an aspect of a bigger one. It's a way to get a project started, and then keep it moving toward its goals.

Before we can begin a project, we need to name it. Giving the project a name is a simple yet powerful gesture. And using your hand and eyes to put words on paper, may be the first time, you give physical form to the idea.

TEAM UP Find a team you can work with - it may only be two or three people, but look around for those who have the skills and qualities you need -- and who have networks that will add value to the team. Then check that you have a common vision, and make some agreements for how you want to work together. Define your purpose, your vision, and list some measurable targets. Agree how long you are willing to stay with the project, and when you want to be moving on from it. Be prepared to engage in some heart and soul work - because things will come up, but if the project is sufficiently visionary you will be able to put your individual differences in the fire of your desire to see it work.

COMMUNICATE about your project to many people. This is where you tell the story, and elaborate on the vision. Backcasting is one of the great tools for this. Stand at some point in the future and describe the world as you see it - now that you have succeeded in fulfilling your dream. Use words to paint pictures. There are so many ways to communicate. Here are some of them.

  • Phone calls
  • Meetings - formal scheduled events, and relaxed coffee gatherings
  • Casual conversation
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Local newspapers
  • National newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Flyers
  • Posters
  • You might create your own Website
  • Post information on other people's websites
  • Email - one to one and mass email lists
  • Twitter
  • Social networks
  • Youtube

And dont forget the arts

  • Drama, sculpture, critical mass events,
  • Films - you can screen other peoples films that relate to your project.
  • Or you can make your own

If you need more ways to communicate, look around you, and notice how other people spread their ideas. Use the ones that are applicable to your project and the people you need to touch. Now you have put yourself out there and communicated your vision -- created pictures in people's minds. Now is the time to engage in active listening.

LISTEN Engage people in dialogue. Ask questions and listen attentively. Record people's responses. Be prepared to be offended and misunderstood. Now is the time to seek to understand other people and their views. What they will tell you, might reveal better ways to meet your goals, and save you a lot of effort. Gather data, ideas, criticisms.

  • Have Cafe meetings
  • Have more phone conversations to ask questions and listen
  • Setup Open Space events where people self-organise and contribute freely
  • Use World Cafe events
  • Calling a circle is a simple and yet incredibly powerful dialogue tool which anyone can use to good effect
  • Attend meetings of other groups, attend public Events
  • Have a presence at the local Market or expo - setup listening tables

During the course of this listening phase, you will be looking for opportunities to enroll people and have them

COMMIT to progress and evolve your project. In government, corporate and the business world, employment contracts are a common tool. They serve to build a resource list, which gives the project energy. Human commitment is the fuel that can drive a project forward. Use templates to record agreements. It can become as simple as filling in the blanks.

  • what
  • who
  • when
  • how many
  • where

Once a commitment is made and recorded, then the next phase can move ahead with confidence.

WORK This is where the rubber hits the road. Now we have completed the dialogue, and got people's commitment -- we are in a position to move forward and act on the plan. This is where work will be defined and scheduled, and actions undertaken. And where people will assume roles within the project. You may need a manager, an admin person, someone to handle the accounts, a media and pr person, and of course the diggers. And in all of this don't be afraid of hierarchy, it has it's place. And some of the most effective organisations make good use of lines of command and structures of accountability. Certainly, when they are not allowed to be challenged or questioned -- then things can go awry. But think of volunteer fire brigades, working in emergency situations, and dealing with life and death - they have an effective and necessary hierarchy. From all this effective action we come to the point where we can

DELIVER The conclusion of each cycle is the delivery of the targets set when you first Teamed Up. What will your delivery look like? How you deliver, will affect how people receive what you have created, and how they reward you for all your work. And it lays the foundation for the next cycle. Now that you have delivered the goods, and met the targets, now it's time to

CELEBRATE Before ... continuing the process again

  • expanding the vision
  • establishing new goals
  • setting new targets and so on...


If you can dream it, you can make it so.

To borrow from a great man:

Your imagination is a preview of life's coming attractions.

6 steps to community engagement

Good stuff James, very useful and helpful and it came at just the right time as a bunch of projects are kicking off right now in Kaitaia.



Let me know if I can help further

I'm glad the video presentation resonnated and looked like it could be helpful at this time. The more I use this model, the more I think it can help in all manner of projects and sub projects. If you feel some conversation could also help, feel free to contact me and we can set up some time to talk by phone (09 372 8737) or skype (jmsinnz).

6 steps to community engagement

Good stuff James. I would add (maybe at the celebration stage?) a review process such as "what worked well, what didn't work so well, what would we do differently next time". Also somewhere a checking process which asks how do these actions we have decided on support our original vision?

Cheers Peta