Community Engagement

Community engagement is a balancing act of careful preparation and an openness to listening to the ideas of others, of marshaling support while being willing to accept opposition.

When should you engage community members? 

In addition to ongoing public awareness efforts, there are two primary opportunities to more directly engage community members in thinking and learning about housing – long-range planning efforts and specific initiative proposals.

  • Long-range planning efforts are ideal to conduct an interactive public engagement process that results in a community master plan or housing plan. 
  •  A specific initiative proposal, such as a housing development, zoning amendments, or use of local funds to create a new housing program, can also be used strategically to promote support and awareness.
Methods of engagement 

It is ideal to utilize multiple methods for community engagement and to keep the public informed – for example, face-to-face forums of both small groups and large groups as well as online, including social media.

Face-to-face engagement techniques can include interviews, focus groups, as well as community-wide meetings, such as workshops or open houses. Community gatherings, such as Farmer’s Markets or community festivals, can provide opportunities engage community members through distribution of information, questionnaires, one-on-one interviews, and the like.

Many of the objections to new affordable housing initiatives follow similar patterns across communities. For a handy guide on how to respond to typical criticisms, check out this piece on Addressing Community Concerns. 

Online engagement platforms, such as coUrbanize, allow development sponsors to explain proposals, add maps and answer questions in real time. Information can be organized in one location and misinformation can be countered swiftly. Such platforms can also be useful tools to enable broader participation for long-range planning initiatives. Online surveys and social media platforms can also be utilized to garner community feedback, however a few caveats. Online surveys should be carefully designed to avoid bias and social media platforms need to be carefully monitored to counter misinformation.