Community and stakeholder engagement are essential to successful decision-making processes and project implementations.
When diverse voices and perspectives are heard, it leads to more informed and effective outcomes. However, many barriers can hinder active participation.
This blog will explore strategies to remove these barriers and foster a more inclusive environment that encourages engagement.
Understand the barriers
The first step in removing barriers to participation in stakeholder and community engagement is to understand the barriers.
Common barriers include:
- Lack of information: People may not be aware of engagement opportunities or how to get involved. The purpose of the engagement, scope and possible results may also not be clear.
- Time constraints: Busy schedules can make it challenging for individuals to participate in meetings or activities.
- Language and accessibility: Language barriers and inaccessible meeting locations can exclude certain groups.
- Fear and mistrust: Some people may hesitate to engage due to past negative experiences or a lack of trust.
- Power imbalances: Unequal power dynamics can deter marginalised groups from participating. Inclusive engagement must include a diversity of voices.
Promoting engagement opportunities widely is crucial to overcome the lack of information barrier.
Use social media, community newsletters or bulletin boards, local newspapers or radio stations, direct mail flyers, and/or door-to-door visits to discuss upcoming engagement or consultation meetings, surveys, or initiatives.
Ensure the information is accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities or lack of access to the internet. Giving people a minimum of two weeks' notice of initiatives and including a reminder is recommended.
Diverse engagement methods
A one-size-fits-all approach rarely works in community engagement.
Different people have different comfort levels and preferences when it comes to participating, so offering multiple avenues for engagement can break down barriers.
Flexible engagement options
Recognize that people have busy lives and traditional meetings may only work for some.
You can offer flexible engagement options, such as making sessions available in-person and online. This allows people to engage at their convenience, making it more accessible to a broader audience. However, offering only some engagement opportunities online is important as people may lack the required access or knowledge to use the technology.
Meetings should be arranged at convenient times (e.g., not during business hours). You could hold meetings at different times and in various locations. Also, could you think about avoiding popular holiday times in the areas?
Language and accessibility
Removing language and accessibility barriers helps create an inclusive environment.
Ensure that your engagement materials and meetings are available in multiple languages if needed. Consider literary issues in the area and how you can better include everyone. Provide closed captioning for online sessions (or sign language options).
Consider accessibility to buildings where meetings are being held. Review if facilities are hard to access by those with disabilities and avoid locations that are hard to get to for people without access to transport.
Build trust and overcome fear.
Building trust is a long-term process. The past conflict between your organization and the target community may account for poor participation.
Begin by acknowledging past issues or concerns and committing to a more inclusive approach. Engage with community leaders and organizations to vouch for the process's fairness and transparency. Address concerns openly and work to resolve them, demonstrating that participation is valued and respected.
Empower marginalised groups
Recognize and address the power imbalances that can come with community and stakeholder engagement.
People may lack the assurance or ability to participate in an engagement process. Conventional public gatherings can feel overwhelming to certain people.
Actively seek input from marginalised groups and provide resources and support to help them participate effectively. This may include training, childcare services, financial aid, or transportation assistance.
Removing barriers to participation in community and stakeholder engagement is essential.
Eliminating barriers to participation in community and stakeholder engagement is critical to creating inclusive, informed, and effective decision-making processes.
By understanding and addressing these barriers, increasing awareness, offering flexible engagement options, and building trust, you can foster an environment where everyone's voice is heard and valued.
Embracing diversity and inclusivity in engagement efforts ultimately leads to better outcomes for all involved parties.