The purpose of conducting local community engagement is manifold in a cross-sector partnership.
It helps you to gain a deeper understanding of the envisaged needs and readiness of your target group towards a potential solution, build a ‘social license to operate’ in the area you want to be present in, for example by involving local gatekeepers and agents of change who can influence your project either negatively or positively.
In partnerships implementing local projects, a partner from the business sector often seeks a partner with strong community outreach capabilities in a specific geographical area of the world. This is often the ‘home turf’ of civil society organisations (CSO), who work systematically with community engagement and therefore are obvious partners for those businesses or other organisations who do not themselves have this capacity.
Solid community engagement activities may serve the following purposes:
- Identify local structures / actors that are affected by and/or can affect the project positively or negatively.
- Be informed about local needs, concerns, risks, opportunities and potential solutions.
- Understand the readiness of the target group towards accepting your solution.
- Strengthen relations and understanding between the Project Group and community members.
- Ensure community commitment and ownership of the project and its outcomes.
There are many ways to go about community engagement and outreach in your project.
The potential local partner organisations should always have a major say in setting the implementation plan and adjusting the action plans to match local circumstances, as they know what it takes to gain a ‘social license to operate’ in a particular area, while having the local network to mobilise community members and other relevant actors and agents of change, if relevant.
Local actors and agents of change can include local authorities, religious leaders, township or village representatives, local NGOs or UN agencies. Engagement activities can range from briefings, informal discussions and meetings in groups or one-on-one, to more formal community consultation processes, e.g. through surveys, meetings and hearings.
It is a good idea to identify collaboratively where in your governance structure the local stakeholder groups might play a primary role and should have a voice, i.e. at the strategic, tactical and operational levels.
Scoping your discussion on community engagement can follow a simple process:
- Map out all relevant community groups and other actors
- Identify and agree on stakeholders for community engagement
- Decide on a plan and methods of engagement
- Follow up and share relevant information with the rest of the partner group, when relevant
All partners should strive to take some part in the community engagement activities, in order to strengthen the general knowledge and understanding within the partner group on local conditions, barriers and opportunities.