Understanding Community Engagement

neighborhood in a rural area

One in 276. That’s the probability of you, falling victim to violent crimes in Kent. The city has a 3.62 violent crime rate for every 1,000 residents, compared to the national median of 4.0. Washington state isn’t the most idyllic of countries as it ranks no. 38 in America’s safest state. Maine is the safest. You’ve been practicing criminal defense law for several years now. Your firm provides pro-bono service to the community. This year, you are in charge. It doesn’t have to be a legal initiative. It can be a project that would help the community.

Your plate is full, with your usual cases and this has been added. You struggle a little bit and don’t know where to start. How do you start this community engagement? What activities can you do? Here are some ideas:

Understanding Community Engagement

A community can be defined in various ways and contexts. A community might mean the geographical region you’re located, like your neighborhood or city. It can also mean a group of people that shares the same ethnicity, culture, values, or gender. It might be your group of friends who plays basketball with you every other Sunday. The common thread in all these definitions is the “sense of belonging.”

During stressful situations, like following a natural disaster, an active community will come together to provide aid to those who need it. They can also have a common cause. When members of the community unite in these ways, it’s called community engagement.

row of houses in the street

Ways of Engaging

The primary component of community engagement is understanding what the people need and what they are saying. This is also a tricky situation because not everyone wants or says the same thing.

One scenario for community engagement is when there is an obvious problem or issue faced by the community. For example, hazards on a road that hasn’t been attended to for some time, intermittent telephone signals in your area, or the unnecessary demolition of a beloved public library.

Another scenario is when you seek out local authorities like a council or office of the mayor to find out if the community has a specific need that they have not been able to deliver because of certain limitations, like lack of funds or even a provision in the law.

In either case, you are trying to address issues that affect the well-being of the community. You can organize events where people can either donate time or money to generate support.

At a fundamental level, these types of community engagements provide relief from a problem. At its highest, community engagement allows people to feel empowered and influence decisions on policy. Think for example of the ongoing protest in Hong Kong. The protest resulted in the withdrawal of the extradition bill.

Technology, the Internet, and social media have also positively impacted civic action. Fundraising can now be done through crowdfunding platforms. Another creative way to arrive at an informed decision is an online survey.

Community engagement builds trust, and more participation results in high-quality solutions to problems.