The nature of community programs continues to evolve.
More than ever, nonprofits, government agencies, and other programs are being challenged to transform their goals, activities, assessments, and resources in order to motivate, educate, and engage people beyond simple participation. In a time when many communities are stuck in a malaise, community programs require a realignment to grow beyond what they’ve done.
People appear to have more options with what to do with their time, making it ironic they need community programs more than ever. However, the technology, recreation, sports, faith-based activities, and opportunities to earn income that were present just a decade ago simply aren’t in many communities anymore.
Considering these dual realities of increased need and decreased opportunities, it is absolutely vital that nonprofit and government program providers get earnest about successfully engaging all people in their programming.
After more than a decade promoting community engagement across the US and Canada, I have found what works and doesn’t work for engaging all sorts of people. These lessons have to be deconstructed and reapplied in each community, because all communities are different.
I have read the research, worked directly with people, and struggled through many projects focused on community engagement. Following are some elements I consider essential to successfully engaging all kinds of people in community programs.
Elements of Successful Community Engagement
- Focused – Instead of meandering through purposeless activities and focus-less personal activities, every program session is designed to be a concise, deliberative engagement of multiple intelligences, broad perspectives, and varying experiences. Successfully engaging people remains the central goal of all activities, and is the focus of every program.
- Supportive – Youth and adults alike are committed to working together without fear of retribution or alienation. All people are partners with each other in community programs, and everyone works together for the common cause of engaging more people throughout the community.
- Engaging – The experiences, knowledge, ideas, and opinions of people are validated and substantiated with meaningful learning experiences that infuse everyone with a new capacity to visualize, analyze, create, and engage themselves.
- Critical – As co-learners within a community of learners, all people provide vital insight in the learning and teaching process for their peers and facilitators in community programs. These democratic interactions are actively encouraged and supported by all members.
- Transparent – There should be no mysteries about what the purpose of the community program is, or what the outcomes of the activities will be. Community programs should offer numerous ways to make goals, outcomes, and activities fully understandable to people.
These are not simply the keys to successful community programs, nor to successfully engaging people. They are the elements of successfully engaging people throughout their communities all all sorts of programs. Its important to consider that these programs and their organizations are unique and different, and these elements are recognized for paying attention to that.
With these in mind, you can go forth and make a difference in the lives of the people you serve through your activities.