All things come and go and especially in the world of professional helping (otherwise known as “consulting”). I’ve been around the world of enghagement and consultation long enough that I have seen various names for this work: focus groups, advisory groups, public participation, consultation and now community engagement.
Mostlyover all those years, my practice and the practice of the field in general has gone from monolithic broadcasting of ideas to “tell and sell” consultation to much more complex dialogue based work. And now I think I and we are coming to a more seismic shift in how community is engaged. Since the dawn of the social web, citizens and stakeholders have been able to access as much or more information than proponents of engagement projects. It is wise when planning these kinds of things to assume now that your audience and your advisors know more than you do. it was always the case but now it is much more evident.
And so it is occurring to me, after working with some boundary pushers on this stuff that we are at the point where the term “community engagement” is now redundant. If you have community, you don’t need to do engagement. And if you have engagement, you have community.
My friend Tim Merry has taken to saying that we can’t do community engagement we can only do community. Or not. I think this is a compelling idea. Engagement is meaningless now as a term. We are seeking real community, a genuine sense of being in this together. Whether it is public policy or building infrastructure you have the choice to do it to people or do it with people. Just using the word “engagement” is not enough.
Time to put real power behind the idea of community.