Effective community engagement should be part of day-to-day business in the PPRR phases of emergency management.

What is community engagement?

There are many different kinds of communities, including communities of place, interest, belief and circumstance. Communities are dynamic—they change over time and interact in different ways. Community engagement is the process of stakeholders working together to build resilience through collaborative action, shared capacity building and the development of strong relationships built on mutual trust and respect.

International Association of Public Participation -IAP2 suggests that:

Community engagement is a planned process with the specific purpose of working across organisations, stakeholders and communities to shape our decisions or actions in relation to a problem, opportunity or outcome.

The National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (the Strategy)recognises that emergency management is a shared responsibility for all of society. It is important for those working in emergency management to understand the key role the community plays in contributing to its own safety, and to develop and strengthen the partnership between emergency management agencies and the community.

Three Tasmanian Community Engagement Frameworks

The Hobart City Council discuss in their Community Engagement Framework  that Community engagement is the process where the Council works together with the community to achieve common goals through genuine relationships built on trust, goodwill and respect. Community engagement creates an active and informed dialogue that seeks to understand the views and aspirations of the community.

The Launceston City Council Community Engagement Framework consider their ideas of Community Engagement as any process that involves the public in decision-making, and that uses community input to make better, more informed decisions. It includes:

  • Giving, seeking and sharing information
  • Responding to community initiated issues
  • Continuously seeking different communication methods for those community members most affected by Council decisions prior to making the decision.

The Burnie City Council document Making Burnie 2030 plan consulted and engaged the community to develop a Strategic Community Plan. Over 500 clever, creative, audacious, inspiring and compassionate people interested in and passionate about the future of Burnie joined together to share their thoughts, dreams and ideas about what the future should hold for their children. This community engagement strategy enabled community partners to commit to develop their own goals and strategies enabling the community to work together to ensure they developed achievable, innovative community goals through engagement and commitment.

The 5 elements of Community engagement

The Community Engagement model outlines five elements of engagement—information, participation, consultation, collaboration and empowerment—with each having a particular goal. Any given engagement activity may incorporate one, several, or all elements, depending on the required outcome of the activity.

The model makes clear that for all types of engagement it is essential to be guided by community engagement principles, to understand the broader context of the engagement, and have a clear purpose for engaging the community in the first place.

Community engagement approaches should build upon and connect the knowledge, experience and strengths of the community, with the expertise, resources and capabilities of emergency management agencies and organisations. Establishing these partnerships requires long-term commitment, cooperation and goodwill. It is a challenging and complex process that is critical to ensure more resilient communities and better outcomes for all Australians. The model above is formatted in the accordion below as well. Click to reveal:

Sharing information, questions or problems to obtain feedback and understanding of objectives and expectations.

Partnering with communities to support action, including developing alternatives and identifying a preferred solution.

Individuals and communities have capacity understand risk and accept responsibility and implement initiatives.

  • Sharing information between communities and agencies to come to a mutual understanding
  • Everyone is informed and able to take responsibility for decisions and actions.

Building connected networks and relationships, ownership and trust through mutual involvement.

Effective Community Engagement

The primary aim for community engagement is to build a sense of shared responsibility with the community and empower them to exercise choice and take responsibility, thereby reducing their reliance on emergency services. A range of effective community engagement strategies are employed to ensure emergency management stakeholders use a range of strategies to enhance public safety.

These include:

  • Community education
  • Community engagement
  • Community development
  • Partnership development
  • Legislation, Codes and Standards
  • Influence and advocacy for innovation and improvements.

An example from a community in Victoria

The Victorian community of Bendigo suggest in their Community Engagement Guidelines and Toolkit that the linking of the term ‘community’ to ‘engagement’ serves to broaden the scope, shifting the focus from the individual to the collective, with the associated implications for inclusiveness to ensure consideration is made of the diversity that exists within any community.

Engagement is a planned process with the specific purpose of working with identified groups of people, whether they are connected by geographic location, special interest, or affiliation and/or identify to address issues affecting their well-being. By linking ‘community’ to ‘engagement’ the scope and focus shift from the individual to the collective, with the associated implications for inclusiveness to ensure consideration is made of the diversity that exists within any community.

Fundamental principles for community engagement

There are three fundamental principles for effective community engagement in the emergency management context. Each of these principles is supported by some key actions. Click on below to see what these include:

  • Its capacity, strengths, priorities, knowledge, experience and shared history of communities are invaluable resources that emergency management practitioners should draw upon
  • Communities know how they functioned pre-disaster and what they aspire to post-disaster
  • They can be trusted to identify solutions to mitigate against the risks they face.
  • Effective community engagement recognises the inherent complexity in engaging with the community
  • It embraces community diversity, including groups or individuals with specific vulnerabilities, and formulates strategies to engage in meaningful, inclusive and culturally appropriate ways.
  • Every community has networks, structures and ways of working that are familiar and meaningful to its members
  • The formation of partnerships that connect with and reflect these characteristics is crucial to effective community engagement
  • Partnerships should be based on mutual interests, values and goals for increased disaster resilience, creating a sense of shared responsibility, and a commitment to coordinated planning and response.