Community engagement and public participation have become critical for efficient, inclusive, and productive democracies, writes Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar in this week’s instalment of #RACSRead.
Last week, we hosted a real-time conversation from our offices facilitated by Lorna Balie and Rene Ngwenya, broadcast directly from our Facebook page. This engaged online conversation revolved around participatory engagement and how it can deliver meaningful and transformative outcomes.
WHY ARE COLLABORATION AND PARTICIPATION IMPORTANT?
Collaborative relationships between communities and government make community engagement advantageous and crucial to ensure that just and viable public decisions improve local communities’ liveability. Community engagement leads to so many positive outcomes and benefits for organisations and the wider community.
Before implementing projects within a community, meaningful community engagement must be conceptualised by the government, organisations, institutions, or corporations. Often, we act as community engagement facilitators on behalf of these institutions to ensure the desired project is rolled out safely, well-received by the community, and sustainable and inclusive.
At its heart, our approach is rooted in meaningful engagement and holistic outcomes that seek to:
- Develop an in-depth understanding of the project
- Frame the project in the context of the community
- Develop shared goals and objectives that will create alignment between the implementor and the community
- Design an engagement plan that will achieve the objectives of the project
- Facilitate the engagements
- Monitor and report back on the progression of the project as it relates to the community
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the project and engagement process
WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE, AND WHAT DOES THE PROCESS ENTAIL?
Each community engagement and public participation process is unique. However, we approach each project with a focus on creating community capacity to (1) plan for the long-term, (2) identify community priorities, (3) design projects, (4) mobilise resource investments and (5) implement community development projects. Once we have developed and built capacity within communities, we initiate a 5-step programme to not simply communicate project objectives but also to facilitate and support transformative outcomes:
- Start with a transparent community selection process and share results
- Map community priorities and identify community leaders through community assessments
- Hold preliminary meetings with community leaders and enlist their support to mobilise community participation
- Hold community assembly meetings to elect local representation to coordinate program activities
- Allow communities to prioritise and select quick impact projects to solidify support and galvanise local participation
A COLLABORATIVE APPROACH
Community engagement takes a strategic approach to the relationships, communication and interactions between community members and an organisation to influence outcomes for both. Ultimately, our approach is about achieving equitable outcomes and supporting the people engaged in the engagement, the process and working towards achieving the project goals and objectives.
OUR WORK IN THE FIELD
We have an abundance of experience in this field, spanning well over 20 years, and some of our key engagements in this area include:
- Designing the public participation process as well as implementing the public participation programme relating to the Olympic Concept Plan for the City of Cape Town, in the pursuance of becoming the host city for the Olympics in 2004
- Facilitating workshops for the Department of Community Safety on developing a Constitution for Community Police Forums
- Designing and facilitating the community engagement process on behalf of Sea Harvest and the Sea Fisheries Fund in the West Coast region
- Facilitating the Go George community engagements on behalf of the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works
- Facilitating and supporting engagements between government and the Minibus taxi industry that has resulted in the implementation of the 2020 National Taxi Lekgotla, Red Dot pilot project as well as Blue Dot pilot project (all supporting transformative agenda of working towards integrating paratransit transport options within more formalised transport arrangements)
Public participation allows us to look at and consider things more holistically — a win for democracy. By enabling the public to have a voice, citizens can provide more meaningful input into the decision-making process, bridging the gap between the government and the people and ultimately benefiting all parties involved.