Capacity, engagement and authentic learning

I think there is probably nothing new under the sun.  Engagement work has been tried, refined and improved all over the world in the last couple of decades that I wonder if there is anything new we can learn?  It does seem to fall into “authentic engagement” and “engagement washing” – if I can coin a couple of phrases.  But I haven’t seen radically new thinking or practice for a while.

What we are getting instead is some terrific collections of tools, handbooks and harvests of processes.  This .pdf of a Handbook for Civic Engagement prepared for a community process in the United States is an excellent example of the kind of harvesting that is useful.  It sums up lessons learned from engagement process, proceeds from practice to inform theory and provides some useful invitations for practice and application.  This is an artifact which has emerged out of the space of engagement “praxis” – the gap between theory and practice.  I’m interested in tis inquiry at the moment, and stumbling across things like this in my quest to understand what is useful in harvesting from initiatives that sustain the capacity and learning begun in real engagement.

“Engagement washing” initiatives don’t usually leave these kinds of documents in the places where the engagement took place.  It should be a hall mark of good practice that process learnings are shared and tools are developed as well as results documented.


  1. I totally agree with you. Working with communities in SE -Asia, many had suffered from participation overload, it was hard not to feel like another consultant coming in enable communities to participate – which has often resulted in disempowerment when communities don’t see a result from the consultation process.

    What I think you can change is how you host yourself as a facilitator, in relation to those you are engaging. I think part of this is look at power in balances between facilitator and community, and being open about your position, and managing this to serve the community..part of this openness is sharing resources, and documenting in detail your process design and outcomes.

    I noticed I was a much better community facilitator when I was aware of the internal/ external dynamics. Also, with resources such as the ladder of participation, you can be clear with the participants on the level they are participating or engaging, and then provide documentation to ensure implementation and learning in relation to the level of influence they have over the outcome. Thanks for letting me ramble!

  2. Thanks Kaitlin! Appreciate your comment. I agree about being immersed in the local culture.