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Navigating Community Engagement in 2024 and Beyond

As we look approach a new civic year, I want to pose two questions for your council to consider:

 

  1. As a council, what would you like your community to know and understand about the work you do, the services you provide and your strategic priorities? 

  1. Over the coming year, what would you like to know from your community and how would those conversations benefit you as a council?

 

On face value, these questions ought to be easy to answer. After all, working to ensure our community knows who we are, what we do - and what we don't do - sits at the very heart of what effective council communication is all about. Councils know it is important to communicate.

 

Councils also know it is important to ask questions, seek feedback and ultimately build a sustainable cycle of two-way communication and engagement with the community.

 

Yet these two seemingly straightforward questions stand at the foothills of a community engagement mountain that can sometimes feel out of reach for many parish and town councils.

 

This might be because councils lack particular technical skills or knowledge, or perhaps lack the human resources necessary to give appropriate consideration to these and other strategically important questions that give shape and definition to their approach to community engagement.

 

This is compounded by the challenging financial landscape in which many councils operate, characterised by tight budgets and an increased focus on necessary-only spending, which often sidelines communication and engagement efforts. However, this approach overlooks the immutable fact that effective communication and community engagement is not just a line item on a budget spreadsheet, or merely a human resource issue, but a vital cornerstone of good governance.

 

Do you have a resource-appropriate strategy and plan?

Good governance is built on transparency, accountability, trust and participation. Community engagement sits at the heart of these principles, offering an opportunity for councils to not only inform but also involve their communities in decision-making processes. Such engagement has the transformative ability to foster a sense of ownership and trust, which are critical components of a well-governed community.

 

Adopting a strategic approach to community engagement is paramount for parishes and towns of all shapes and sizes. A well-crafted strategy and community engagement plan can provide a roadmap for councils to identify their engagement goals, measurable objectives, target audiences, and preferred communication and engagement channels. This strategic planning ensures that engagement efforts are deliberate, targeted, and measurable, rather than ad hoc and reactive.

 

The choice of communication channels also plays a crucial role in the effectiveness of community engagement. By using a resource-appropriate mix of traditional, high-visibility, digital and in-person channels to broadcast information from the council ensures that messages reach a wide audience.

 

Digital vs traditional

However, in an era where the heartbeat of community spirit is increasingly measured by the strength of its digital pulse, parish and town councils find themselves navigating a complex web of communication and engagement tools and tactics.

 

Whilst navigating the interplay between digital engagement and traditional communication methods, the pursuit of meaningful connection and dialogue with our communities must remain the key focus. This challenges councils of every size to reimagine their approach to engagement, transforming it from top-down to a collaborative journey with the communities they represent.

 

When it comes to communication channels and methods, digital versus traditional is a false dichotomy. Councils that succeed at community engagement know it's not about one versus the other, rather it's about how to use traditional AND digital methods and approaches to achieve their specific community engagement goals and objectives.

 

Best practice

Looking ahead to the 2024/25 civic year and beyond, councils of all sizes need to be mindful of ever-evolving best practice to realise their community engagement ambitions. This could include adopting new social media platforms for outreach, using data analytics to tailor engagement strategies, or exploring innovative engagement methods like 'virtual town halls'. These tactics should be underpinned by a commitment to inclusivity and accessibility, ensuring that all members of the community have the opportunity to participate.

 

The Council Communications and Community Engagement Health Check service from Breakthrough Communications will help parishes get the most from this ever-changing landscape.

 

Whatever your shape and size as a council, the importance of community engagement in fostering good governance cannot be overstated. However it does require a strategic, inclusive, and adaptive approach, one that embraces best practice and is managed within the human and financial resource constraints of the council. By doing so, parish and town councils can strengthen their connection with the communities they serve, ensuring that governance is a shared responsibility and a collective achievement.



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