Engaging communities: What's involved and how it's done

Engaging communities: What's involved and how it's done

Sue West, Tim Moore and Angela Sayer
17 May 2016

This webinar described what community engagement involves, how it's done, and how it can improve outcomes for children and families.

Engaging communities: What's involved and how it's done

Audio transcript: Engaging communities

Audio transcript (edited)

MOORE

Hi, my name's Tim Moore. I've just been introduced. Lovely to be here. Thank you for the opportunity for AIFS to allow us to present on this highly important topic. The way we're going to structure this is I'm going to run through the content of the paper that has been published by AIFS. I'll do that in about 20 minutes, highlighting some of the important issues. Then I'm going to hand over to Sue and Angela, who's online from Tasmania, and we're going to talk about an exemplary community engagement project with a particular focus on what Angela, as a participant in it, what that experience was like. 

So we're going to have a quick look in this first section then at the context in which we're talking about, what's been tried, definitions of what's a community and what's community engagement, rationale, what makes community engagement effective, what does it look like in practice, and some implications, before we turn to the example. So quite briskly moving through this, the background issue, the context is, we've had growing calls for government's and service systems to seek greater community engagement in the design and delivery of services. It's recognised that the relationship between governments and citizens needs to change to allow more participation in decision-making and greater inclusion of disadvantaged groups. It's recognised that greater community engagement is necessary, particularly for working with disadvantaged communities.

This push is in response to a number of major societal changes that have occurred in recent decades, which we are all familiar with. So rapid social change has significantly altered the conditions under which families are raising their children. And while most people have benefited from these changes, poorly resourced families can find the heightened demands of contemporary living and parenting overwhelming. These changes have also altered the nature of the challenges faced by the service system. So we're now facing many more complex or so-called wicked social problems. And that's challenged the traditional service system’s capacity to support them effectively. Now this has created a need for service approaches that are more suited to the needs of contemporary families, with community engagement as a potential strategy for ensuring that services are more responsive. So what's been tried in this context? Well governments have responded to these challenges in a variety of ways. They have developed national frameworks of one kind or another through COAG to guide service improvement and coordination.

We've made attempts to try and build coordinated and more effective services and service systems. But we haven't focussed nearly as much effort on building more supportive communities, and improving the interface between communities and services, which is where community engagement comes in. Governments have also tended to place more reliance upon "killer" programs or evidence-based programs that address the presenting problems rather than looking at the systemic or ecological conditions that lead to those problems in the first place.

Another response to the challenge of social change has been in the form of place-based or collective-impact initiatives. And these involved a focus on the needs of specific communities, usually the most disadvantaged, rather than using a population-wide approach. Place-based approaches have a number of common features and one of them is our topic for today – community engagement. However, community engagement represents a challenge for traditional forms of service delivery, which are based upon forms of service devised and delivered by professionals or by governments, and usually without the meaningful involvement of consumers.

So the notion of sharing responsibility or power with consumers is a challenge. We don't really know how to do that. So before we proceed to talk about how we do it, we just need to be clear about what we're talking about. What is a community and what is community engagement? A community can be thought of in two ways: as geographic entities that are homogeneous and distinct units with common identity; or as the relationships that people have with others where they live and on their sense of belonging.

In fact these two meanings of community are complementary and inseparable, and therefore we can define community as a group of people who reside in a specific location and to the relationships between them. Effective community engagement depends upon the relational bonds between members of the community. Therefore strengthening these bonds might be an important focus. This is the notion that we need to support families more effectively by building stronger links between them, as well as stronger links between the service system and these communities.

So what's community engagement? There's no commonly agreed definition. The term is often used interchangeably with a number of other concepts, such as consultation, participation, collaboration and empowerment. And all of these are related to community engagement but don't capture all aspects of the concept. Community engagement is often depicted as a continuum ranging from a low-level engagement strategy, such as consultation, to high-level strategies, such as empowerment.

And this is one model that's often presented, this public participation spectrum from the International Association for Public Participation Australasia. And across the top you've got a continuum from informing people through to empowering them. So informing them we're going to provide the public with balanced information to help them to understand it. That's all we're going to do. When we consult with them we're going to get some feedback and on alternative and so on. But we still make the decisions. If we involved them, we work directly with the public through the process to ensure the public concerns and aspirations are understood and considered. The professional and the government is still making the decisions, however.

When we collaborate, we partner with the public in each aspect of decision making, including the development of alternatives and the identification now, we're getting on to something that approaches community engagement. There is a further list, further level listed there, where final decision-making is transferred completely to the hands of the public. In fact it's that fourth level, which is the one which is community engagement is really involved with. And the one where you have a partnership. That is, where both parties, the service provider or government and the client or the community are partners in making decisions, in sharing information, agreeing upon goals, developing strategies, delivering services, everything. And that is more the kind of goal that we're thinking about here.

So community engagement is a process whereby a service system, proactively seeks out community values, concerns and aspirations. Incorporates these values, concerns and aspirations into a decision making process or processes, and establishes an on-going partnership with the community to ensure that the community's priorities and values continue to shape services and the service system. It's that on-going partnership with shared responsibility, which is the essence of community engagement.

The logic looks like this, if you can read it on your screens? Very quickly, going from the left, if institutions genuinely wish to understand the aspirations and concerns for the values of the community. So you've got to start with a conviction that you really want to this. And, if they provide the resources needed to enable the community to share their aspirations and their concerns and their values, and if the community does this, and if these aspirations and concerns are incorporated into the plans and decisions that are made, then, top box here, then the community will have greater trust and confidence in those institutions. And the institutions will have a better understanding of the needs of the community. That will in turn lead to greater uptake of services by community members.

If they don't feel listened to, then they won't listen to us. It will also lead to the services being provided addressing the issues of most concern to the community and then you'll get improved benefits from it. So a program logic there. Each element of that can be measured and needs to be thought carefully about.

The rationale. Well there are four reasons why we should be using a community engagement approach in future service development. One is, that the traditional forms of services are not succeeding in improving outcome and are not being fully utilised, especially by families with complex needs. Community engagement works. It can lead to improved outcomes, and results in a greater sense of ownership, and a greater take up of services, better outcomes. The damaging effects of non-participation, if you don't participate, various forms of non- participation, if you can't access services, or if you aren't able to contribute meaningfully to services et cetera, this is damaging for health and wellbeing.

And finally, community engagement is a human right. So what makes community engagement effective? It's a complex and dynamic social process that is difficult to evaluate, particularly when assessing longer-term outcomes. Nevertheless, there is now sufficient evidence that allows us to draw some conclusions. And it's clear that it is beneficial and there is considerable convergent evidence for a common set of characteristics that look like this. You need to start from communities’ own needs and priorities, rather than from those that are dictated from outside. You need to invite and build local autonomy, giving leadership to people in the community and acting as a resource to them. You need to build the capacity of families and communities to meet their own needs more effectively – a very important element.

You need to have a flexible service system that can be tailored to meet local needs. You need a balanced partnership based on mutual trust and respect. You need to work with communities and not do things for them or to them. You need to share information so that communities can make informed decisions and you need to provide communities with choices regarding services and intervention options rather than making the choices for them.

In practice, community engagement is essentially relational. It occurs at a local level. It involves professionals who represent services and service systems, building personal relationships with community members and groups based on mutual trust and respect. And that provides the basis for all other key aspects of community engagement. Particularly joint decision-making and capacity building. This requires professionals who have a role to build relationships with community groups. It could either be a dedicated role or it could be part of their more general professional responsibilities. One of the things we need to think about, how to create those roles. And the service system needs to be acting in a coordinated fashion if you're going to be able to respond flexibly.

For parent groups, community engagement involves parent groups meeting regularly. Can't stress this too highly that one of the most important aspects of community engagement is you don't get a community, emergent community opinion, unless parents meet with one another, adding up the separate opinions of parents doesn't count. They need to meet with one another, to meet regularly with one another and to meet regularly with professionals for opinions to emerge that you can work with and respond to. And this means parents need opportunities to meet on a regular basis. Providing parents with opportunities to meet has direct benefits by building social networks, but also makes it easier for the community to engage with the service system. Efforts to engage communities can be initiated by governments, but also can be bottom up, initiated by communities themselves.

So the implications we would see is this: to build supportive networks and reduce social isolation, service systems should provide safe settings for families of young children to meet; ensure that streets are safe and easily navigable; and ensuring that there's an efficient, affordable, local transport system. These are the conditions that enable families to meet with one another on a regular basis. And we'll hear something about what a place like that does, when we hear about the Tasmanian example.

To avoid inadvertently causing stress and exhaustion in community members, we should check regularly as to whether we're asking too much of them, co-ordinate with each other when multiple services are trying to engage the same community. We've got to avoid doing harm here, to avoid disillusioning communities, by promising something that isn't delivered, we should be prepared to honour the choices made through this community engagement process. To ensure community engagement and partnership becomes standard practice and sustainable, they need to be embedded in ongoing governance arrangements.

To support community engagement at local levels, government policies and funding should be designed to support local flexibility. Respect local decision-making and provide funding support to address locally determined objectives. Clearly that means freeing up moneys that are currently tied up with fixed services as it were. To ensure that professionals are being consistently true to community engagement principles and practices, and are responding to collective family needs, you need to get regular feedback from communities.

To enable professionals to engage communities effectively, they will need training and support in a range of new skills, including relationship building, conflict, resolution, negotiation, communication and knowledge management. Not necessarily part of their original training. The relationship building is fundamental, so therefore training in how to build relationships and maintain relationships is a critical part of the professional tools we all need in this new world. To enable the service system to respond flexibly to community needs, agencies will need funding and staffing strategies that enable services to be reconfigured rapidly. That's one thing we don't do very well. We lock our resources up into a fixed pattern of service delivery, and if it turns out that we're delivering it in the wrong place or at the wrong time, then we need to be able to change rapidly to meet emerging family needs.

We need to give professionals time for community engagement activities, and their roles and job descriptions may need to be reconfigured. It currently isn't built into people's time. People are generally flat chat and can't see how they can spare time for this kind of work. And yet it should be seen as central. It becomes part of the role, if we understand this as an essential part of what we're trying to do. Okay, time for Sue and hopefully we've got Angela online to talk about an exemplary community engagement project.

WEST

Thanks Tim and hi everyone. This is Sue speaking and I'll introduce Angela in just a minute. Tim has spoken really clearly about the implications for practice. And we're really lucky in Australia to have an incredible example of a really good practice of parent and community engagement in Tasmania with the Tasmanian child and family centres. So what I want to do is just tell you a little bit about the child and family centres as a context set up. Then I'll introduce Angela, and the rest of this part of our input will be a conversation between Angela and I to hear from her experience as a parent involved in child and family centre in Tasmania.

The Tasmanian child and family centres have been funded by the Department of Education and Training in Tasmania, with the aim to improve the health and wellbeing of children, their education and care outcomes by supporting parents and enhancing accessible services in the local community. They've been established in 12 disadvantaged communities across Tasmania through an extensive process over several years of community engagement and empowerment. And we'll hear a bit about that from Angela shortly.

The process was guided by a learning and development strategy that was funded by the Tasmanian Early Years Foundation, and delivered by the Centre for Community, Child Health and our colleague Paul Pritchard, who I'm sure many of you have met. The learning and development strategy emphasised genuine engagement with the local community in the visioning, planning, designing, implementation and functioning of the child and family centres. As such, was a really deliberate, walking alongside, both the government in terms of their intention for these services to be developed in engaged ways, but with the service providers on the ground, in those 12 communities and with parents in each of those sites. So quite a deliberate support strategy.

The key features of the Tasmanian child and family centres were that they were underpinned by the family partnership model. It was used to inform all the planning and operational processes. They were, as I said, the initiative was supported by a learning and development strategy funded by the Tasmanian Early Years Foundation. And that was really significant. I mean, I think that one of the things that has been important in Tasmania is understanding that engagement isn't going to happen on its own. It actually needs to be well resourced throughout the process of design et cetera.

Each centre had its own local enabling group to guide the planning of the building and of new facilities, and we might ask Angela a bit about that as well. And then each had an established working-together agreement that was not about how services were going to work together through this process, but how services and parents were going to work in a collaborative way, in an engaged way through this planning and implementation process. There were also local governance groups that were established for each child and family centre, and a range of other programs and initiatives that also equally adopted an engaged process. This is just one example – the empowering parents, empowering communities, which is a peer to peer parenting program. So, Angela, this is where I'm going to bring you in to the conversation. Can you just let me know that you can hear me?

SAYER

Good afternoon everybody, how are you going?

WEST

Hi Angela and welcome to the conversation. Can you start, just by telling us a bit about yourself and where you live?

SAYER

I live in Clarendon Vale, which is the Clarence Plains community. I'm a single mother of five children and I'm a very active member in the community.

WEST

You joined in the very early days with your local child and family centre. Can you tell us how you got involved?

SAYER

I did join quite early. I'm chairperson at the local primary school, of the school association, and our principal couldn't attend a meeting one day, so she asked me to go along and take notes. And that was the beginning of a journey that hasn't ended.

WEST

You mustn't have known what you were walking in to at that point? So tell us when you turned up, what did you discover and how did you get more involved in the process over time?

SAYER

When I first attended the meeting, I walked in and it was a room full of people in suits with clipboards and folders. I'd shown up in my tracky dacks. I sat around a bit grim and thought, “oh my god what am I doing here? I'm going to kill Ann when I get out.” One of the members asked a question, and the question was: "Who was not being paid to be there?" And I was the only person that put their hand up and that moment in I was automatically made to feel comfortable. Because what I had to say mattered.

WEST

Yep so you attended that first meeting and felt valued in terms of – and also had a sense of authority by the sounds of it – in terms of people turning to you for information. What was then your ongoing role in the design and planning phase for the child and family centre?

SAYER

So then I kept up with the meetings and then the local enabling group was formed, so I joined that. I helped bring other community members in to those meetings. Because from the early stages I realised it was about what we wanted, and without the community members, it wasn't going to happen. So it was just encouraging people to come along and you know, there was free food and childcare. So for some people it was really a social aspect as well, but at the same time, having a say in something that we were all going to get to use later on.

WEST

So what was the role of the local enabling group? I mentioned it a little bit earlier. Can you tell us a bit more about the function of that group?

SAYER

The local enabling group met every couple of weeks, sometimes once a week. We talked about the design of the building, what the building would entail, who would work from the building, everything to do with the building, colours, gardens, fittings, the lot. So it wasn't just the small things, it was a larger scale. It's everything that involves the building – we had a say in.

WEST

And how long were you meeting together as a group? Because obviously that was very early days, and at some point there was drawings and architects, and a building built, and a launch and you know announcements and launches. But what sort of timeframe did all of that take and how long were you in that planning phase for?

SAYER

I'm not 100% sure but it was definitely a couple of years. So it was constant meetings, and one thing that I did – I do remember is, you've got to see something in our area to believe it. We're always told, we're going to get things and it just doesn't happen. But with the child and family centres, having that involvement in those meetings certainly made me believe that we were going to get this great building that was going to, you know, enable our kids to have a better start. Seeing is believing.

WEST

Okay so it's really important then, in an engagement process like that, that people really are able to believe and trust that something's going to happen as a result of their input?

SAYER

Yes definitely, especially in a low economical area like ours. I suppose people are promised things all the time and, you know, sometimes those things can't be upheld. Definitely to see, to see is to believe and the more people you get involved – so someone like me, I've lived here all my life. I know a lot of people, people trust in what I say. So it's kind of getting that right person's foot in the door to start with and then building on that.

WEST

And so how were you and other parents supported to be able to participate?

SAYER

In every way possible. Points were valid, if we didn't understand something from an early stage – jargon and everything at these meetings and we used to sit there, thinking oh my god I've got no idea what you're talking about. But quite quickly it was established that not everybody understands the jargon, so we were made to feel at ease if we had to ask what they were talking about, or things were put in easier terms for us to understand so we were never, never made to feel any different then, you know, the head of, a huge organisation sitting beside us. We were all treated as equals and all given the opportunity to put in to the centre.

WEST

And it's interesting that you talked about your first meeting being – that you turned up in your tracky pants and everyone was in their professional clothing. Paul Pritchard, who's worked as part of the learning and development strategy, often would come back and talk with us at the centre about that. That issue about the clothing people wore and how that could sometimes be a barrier. Did you notice any changes to the way people came up, professionals turned up and came to meetings as they got to know you over time?

SAYER

It was definitely more relaxed as the meetings went on. And I suppose you look at it from both ways. Even though you're a professional, you may still feel uncomfortable working with a heap of community members that you don't know. So the barriers were dropped quite quickly because we all were treated as an equal. So if someone was having a day off and they wanted to come along in their tracky dacks, they did. And there was no looking sideways or anything. It was just, you came as you were and you were accepted as you were. You never felt uncomfortable in any way.

WEST

Yep and so, over time the building was finished and you saw all of those decisions that you'd spent hours pouring over come to life. It must've been an incredible moment when those buildings were finished and launched. How did your role change after that point, as parents engaged in the service?

SAYER

Hugely, to see the building opened was amazing. At that stage I was a mother of four children. Two and a half years ago I gave birth to a little boy, so to be able to actually come through the centre as someone that could use it, not just be part of it, was a huge plus for me. I've done public speaking, I've done TV interviews, I've done radio interviews, I've done interstate conferences, I've just gone ahead in leaps and bounds. I'm doing things now. Like today, that I would never ever dreamed of doing four years ago.

WEST

Yeah, that's beautiful Angela, so not only are you a service user of that centre in perhaps a way that you hadn't anticipated when you first got involved as a local parent, but your life has changed in other ways. And so, from the services perspective, when you spend time at the centre, what is the contribution that parents make? Are they coming along to attend services or participate in groups? Or are there other ways that parents are involved in the planning and delivery of services? Can you tell us a bit about that?

SAYER

I mean it's all of the above, plus, just to clarify – a lot of us live here every day, from the time we open to the time we shut, we sit around, we bring the kids up, we use the services, but at the same time we encourage other people to use them. We're able to help each other. For instance, if I think one of my friend’s children, just, you know, something's not right there, I can have a chat to the child health nurse and alert her of the situation. She can't give me any information but I feel better myself, knowing that I've done something to help. It gets a lot of us out of the house, and confidence in a lot of us has gone above and beyond, you know, we're answering phones, we're greeting and meeting people. We're running workshops and – it's just everything, above and beyond.

WEST

Yep okay thanks. And involving parents in service planning and delivery as Tim was talking about is meant to result in better, a better match of services to the needs of parents. Do you think that's been the case for you and can you give us an example?

SAYER

It definitely has been the case. We have a couple of young girls in the area who are both in wheelchairs. Both parents were travelling out to Newtown, which is a 20- to 30-minute drive from here a couple of times a week for physio and speech therapy and occupational therapy. They can now, actually access all those services in the one building. Five minutes from their front door, so that makes a huge difference. We were able to deliver that to the girls by talking to the parents and finding out what their needs were.

WEST

Yep, fantastic. So the other claim about involving parents in the planning and delivery of services is that it has benefits for the person, as in you, in terms of learning new skills and knowledge. Has your experience with the child and family centre changed how you think about your future employment or what you might contribute in the future?

SAYER

Yeah definitely. I actually do some relief hours here at our centre, which, like I love volunteering, but to actually be paid occasionally for those hours, certainly makes you feel valued. And the work you put in is definitely rewarded in the end. I have a two and a half year old son, as I mentioned, and when I'm ready to go back to work, I definitely want to be involved in a child and family centre more so than I am now.

WEST

Yep, yep, fantastic. So there's a whole bunch of workers, professionals listening in on this conversation, Angela. What would your advice be to them about how they can involve parents in the design or improvement of services? What sort of things should they be thinking about doing to support parents to get involved?

SAYER

I can tell you now, our service providers here, will come and sit with us and have a coffee – we're like family. It's not so much a centre, it's a family centre. We're all friends. It's making people believe in themselves and that's where my centre leader comes into it. He doesn't actually force me to do things, but he does in a roundabout way with me not realising that he's doing it. So it's enabling parents to do things that you know that they can do, with a little bit of encouragement, and it's listening. You know they know what they need. It's just a matter of getting into that conversation and really listening to their needs and their wants. And when you hear it, if you can provide it. Go full speed ahead, because as I said, seeing is believing.

WEST

That's a very strong message that's coming through. Is there anything you would suggest that we avoid doing? So there are some things that worked really well for you and they're coming through strongly. Are there things that didn't go so well and things that, as professionals, we should think – try to avoid doing in terms of the parent/community engagement?

SAYER

That's a really hard one because my experience has been a hundred per cent great from the start. But I suppose that comes back to just listen and encourage your community members. And let them know that they're valued. And that was a big thing for me. I was valued from early on, so I never really had the bad experiences because I was made to feel important from day one.

WEST

Yeah I love that. And so I think one of the things that Tim and I refer to in the presentation is that it's important in, when engaging parents, that we're engaging them on things that we have the power to do something about. And that message is coming through really clearly from you as well. That being able to trust in the process enough to engage with it, can be achieved on the basis that you know that something's going to be done with the things you've had a say about. In finishing, what would your message be if this were a bunch of parents who might be thinking about getting involved in a child and family centre today, listening in on this conversation. What would your key message be to them?

SAYER

Look, if you can walk through the door, you'll never look back. The confidence you get from doing things in your local centres and the empowerment – you're an important person and whether you believe it or not, you have something to offer.

WEST

Beautiful. Thank you Angela and I'm going to hand over, back to Mary now to facilitate the rest of the webinar.

WEBINAR CONCLUDED

IMPORTANT INFORMATION - PLEASE READ

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The Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), is not responsible for, and makes no representations in relation to, the accuracy of this transcript. AIFS does not accept any liability to any person for the content (or the use of such content) included in the transcript. The transcript may include or summarise views, standards or recommendations of third parties. The inclusion of such material is not an endorsement by AIFS of that material; nor does it indicate a commitment by AIFS to any particular course of action.

Slide outline: Engaging communities

Slide outline

  1. Child Family Community Australia information exchange, AIFS Webinar 17th May
    • 2016 ENGAGING COMMUNITIES: WHAT’S INVOLVED AND HOW IT’S DONE
    • Tim Moore, Sue West and Angela Sayer Centre for Community Child Health Murdoch Children’s Research Institute The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne
    • The views expressed in this webinar are those of the presenters and may not reflect the views of AIFS or the Australian Government
  2. OUTLINE
    • Background context
    • What’s been tried
    • What is a community?
    • What is community engagement?
    • Rationale for community engagement
    • What makes community engagement effective?
    • What does community engagement look like in practice?
    • Implications for practice
    • An exemplary community engagement initiative: the Tasmanian Child and Family Centres
  3. BACKGROUND CONTEXT
    • There have been growing calls for governments and service systems to seek greater community engagement in the design and delivery of services
    • At a societal level, it is recognised that the relationship between governments and citizens needs to change to allow more participation in decision-making by citizens, and greater inclusion of disadvantaged groups
    • It also recognised that greater community engagement is necessary for effective working with disadvantaged communities
    • This push for greater community engagement is a response to a number of major societal changes in recent decades
  4. BACKGROUND CONTEXT (cont)
    • Rapid social changes have occurred over the last few decades that have significantly altered the conditions under which families are raising their children.
    • While most people have benefited from these changes, poorly resourced families can find the heightened demands of contemporary living and parenting overwhelming
    • These changes have also altered the nature of the challenges faced by the service system, creating complex or ‘wicked’ social problems, and challenged the traditional service system’s capacity to support them effectively
    • This had created a need for service approaches more suited to the needs of contemporary families, with community engagement as a potential strategy for ensuring that services are more responsive
  5. WHAT’S BEEN TRIED
    • Governments have responded to these challenges in a variety of ways:
      • In Australia, one approach has been to develop national frameworks to guide service improvement and coordination
      • Another way has been to try and build better coordinated and more effective services and service systems, with less effort focused on building more supportive communities, and improving the interface between communities and services.
      • Governments have also tended to place more reliance upon ‘killer’ programs that address the presenting problems, rather than looking at the systemic (ecological) conditions that lead to the problems in the first place
  6. WHAT’S BEEN TRIED (cont)
    • Another response to the challenges posed by social change has been in the form of place-based or collective impact initiatives – these involve a focus on the needs of specific communities, usually the most disadvantaged, rather than a population-wide approach
    • Place-based approaches have a number of common features, one of which is community engagement
    • However, community engagement represents a challenge for traditional forms of government and service delivery, which are based on forms of service devised and delivered by professionals, usually without the meaningful involvement of consumers
  7. WHAT IS A COMMUNITY AND WHAT IS COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT?
  8. WHAT DO WE MEAN BY COMMUNITY?
    • Communities can be thought of in two ways:
      • as geographic entities that are homogenous and distinct units with a common identity
      • as the relationships people have with others where they live, and on their sense of belonging
    • These two meanings of community are complementary and inseparable
    • Thus, a community refers to a group of people who reside in a specific location, and to the relationships between them
    • Effective community engagement depends upon the relational bonds between members of the community, and therefore strengthening these bonds may be an important focus
  9. WHAT IS COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT?
    • There is no commonly agreed definition of community engagement and the term is often used interchangeably with a number of other concepts – such as consultation, participation, collaboration, and empowerment
    • All of these are related to community engagement but do not capture all aspects of the concept
    • Community engagement is often depicted as a continuum, ranging from low-level engagement strategies such as consultation to high-level strategies such as empowerment
  10. Public Participation Spectrum (International Association for Public Participation Australasia, 2014)
    •   Inform Consult Involve Collaborate Empower
      Public participation goal To provide the public with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the problem, alternatives, opportunities and/or solutions To obtain public feedback on analysis, alternatives and/ or decisions To work directly with the public throughout the process to ensure that public concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered To partner with the public in each aspect of the decision including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution To place final decision-making in the hands of the public
      Promise to the public We will keep you informed We will keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge concerns and aspirations, and provide feedback on how public input influenced that decision. We will seek your feedback on drafts and proposals. We will work with you to ensure that your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the alternatives developed and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision We will look to you for direct advice and innovation in formulating solutions and incorporate your advice and recommendations into the decision to the maximum extent possible We will implement what you decide
  11. DEFINING COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
    • Community engagement as a process whereby a service system:
      • proactively seeks out community values, concerns and aspirations
      • incorporates those values, concerns and aspirations into a decision-making process or processes, and
      • establishes an ongoing partnership with the community to ensure that the community’s priorities and values continue to shape services and the service system
  12. THE LOGIC OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT FOR SERVICE DELIVERY
    • diagram: All steps informed by the principles of: integrity, inclusion, deliberation and influence
      • If institutions genuinely wish to understand the aspirations, concerns & values of the community
      • And if they provide the resources needed to enable the community to share their aspirations, concerns & values
      • And if the community shares their aspirations, concerns & values with those institutions
      • And if these aspirations, concerns and values are incorporated into the plans and decisions that are made
      • Then the community will have greater trust and confidence in those institutions
      • Then the institutions will have a better understanding of the needs of the community
      • And there will be greater uptake of services by community members
      • And the services provided will address the issues of most concern to the community
      • And there will be improved outcomes for the community
      • Processes and Outcomes
        • Integrity: openness and honesty about the scope of the engagement
        • Inclusion: opportunity for a diverse range of values and perspectives to be freely and fairly expresssed and heard
        • Deliberation: sufficient and credible opportunity for dialogue, choice and decisions, space to weigh options, develop common understandings and appreciate respective roles and responsibilities
        • Influence: people have input into how they participate; policies and services reflect their involvement, and the community's impact is apparent
  13. RATIONALE FOR COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
    • There are four reasons why community engagement should be an important feature of future service development:
      • The lack of success of traditional service approaches - existing forms of service are not succeeding in improving outcomes and are not fully utilised, especially by families with complex needs
      • Community engagement can led to improved outcomes - establishing an effective partnership between service systems and communities results in a greater sense of ownership, greater take-up of services, and better outcomes for children and families
      • The damaging effects of non-participation - non-participation in its various forms (eg. lack of access, not being able to contribute meaningfully) is damaging for health and well-being
      • Community engagement is a human right - there is a rights-based argument for community engagement and participation.
  14. WHAT MAKES COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT EFFECTIVE?
  15. EFFECTIVE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT STRATEGIES
    • Community participation and engagement are complex and dynamic social processes that are challenging to evaluate, particularly when assessing longer-term outcomes for children and families
    • Nevertheless, there is now sufficient evidence that allow us to draw some conclusions about the efficacy of community engagement strategies
    • Overall, it is clear that community engagement can have beneficial effects for those involved, with direct effects for the health, well-being and empowerment of communities and community members
    • There is a considerable convergent evidence for a common set of characteristics that underpin effective community engagement strategies
  16. EFFECTIVE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT STRATEGIES
    • Effective community engagement involves:
      • starting from the communities’ own needs and priorities rather than those dictated from outside
      • inviting and building local autonomy, giving leadership to people in the community and acting as a resource to them
      • building the capacity of families and communities to meet their own needs more effectively
      • having a flexible service system that can be tailored to meet local needs
      • balanced partnerships between providers and consumers based on mutual trust and respect
      • working with communities, not doing things for them or to them
      • information sharing so that communities can make informed decisions
      • providing communities with choices regarding services and intervention options
  17. WHAT DOES COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT LOOK LIKE IN PRACTICE?
  18. COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT IN PRACTICE
    • Community engagement is essentially a relational process that occurs at a local level – it involves professionals who represent services and service systems building personal relationships with community members and groups, based on mutual trust and respect
    • This provides the basis for all the other key aspects of community engagement – joint decision-making and capacity building
    • Community engagement requires having professionals whose role it is to build relationships with community groups – this could be either a dedicated role or as part of their more general professional responsibilities
    • The service system needs to be acting in a coordinated fashion, with effective communication and common goals – this is desirable in its own right, but also makes it easier for the system to engage the community
  19. COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT IN PRACTICE (cont)
    • For parent groups, community engagement involves parent groups meeting regularly with the professionals who represent the service system
    • This means that parents need opportunities to meet on a regular basis – there is much greater likelihood of obtaining a good understanding of the collective views of community members if they already meet regularly and have opportunities to share experiences and develop emergent opinions about what they need
    • Providing parents with opportunities to meet regularly has direct benefits for parents by building social networks, but also makes it easier for the community to engage with the service system
    • Efforts to engage communities are often initiated by governments and service systems, but may also be initiated by communities themselves
  20. IMPLICATIONS
  21. IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
    • To build supportive social networks and reduce social isolation, service systems should provide safe settings for families of young children to meet, ensure that streets are safe and easily navigable, and ensure that there is an efficient and affordable local transport system
    • To avoid inadvertently causing undue stress and exhaustion in community members, professionals should check regularly as to whether they are asking too much of them, and coordinate with each other when multiple services are trying to engage with the same community
    • To avoid disillusioning communities, services and service systems must be prepared to honour the choices made through the community engagement process
  22. IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE (cont)
    • To ensure the community engagement and partnerships become standard practice and sustainable, they need to be embedded in ongoing governance arrangements
    • To support community engagement at local levels, government policies and funding should be designed to support local flexibility, respect local decision-making, and provide funding support to address locally-determined objectives
    • To ensure that professionals are being consistently true to community engagement principles and practices, and are responding to collective family needs, regular feedback from communities should be sought
  23. IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE (cont)
    • To enable professionals to engage communities effectively, they will need training and support in a range of new skills, including relationship building, conflict resolution, negotiation, communication, and knowledge management
    • To enable the service system to respond flexibly to community needs, agencies will need funding and staffing strategies that enable services to be reconfigured rapidly
    • To give professionals time for community engagement activities, their roles and job descriptions may need to be reconfigured
  24. AN EXEMPLARY COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT PROJECT
  25. TASMANIAN CHILD AND FAMILY CENTRES
    • http://www.education.tas.gov.au/parents_carers/early_years/Programs-and-Initiatives/Pages/Child-and-Family-Centres.aspx
    • The Tasmanian Child and Family Centres (CFCs) aim to improve the health and well-being, education and care of Tasmania’s very young children by supporting parents and enhancing accessibility of services in the local community.
    • They have been established in 12 disadvantaged communities across Tasmania through an extensive process of community engagement and empowerment.
    • The process of community engagement has been guided by a Learning and Development Strategy, funded by the Tasmanian Early Years Foundation and delivered by the Centre for Community Child Health.
    • The Learning and Development Strategy emphasises genuine engagement with the local community in the visioning, planning, design, implementation and functioning of the CFCs.
  26. Myfanwy McDonald, Martin O’Byrne & Paul Prichard (2015). Using the Family Partnership Model to engage communities: Lessons from Tasmanian Child and Family Centres. Parkville, Victoria: Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Centre and the Royal Children’s Hospital.
    • http://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/ccch/150130_Using-the-Family-Partnership-Model-to-engage-communities_Report.pdf
  27. TASMANIAN CFCs: KEY FEATURES
    • Use of the Family Partnership Model (Davis & Day, 2010) as a basis for all planning and operational processes
    • Development of a Learning and Development Strategy, funded by the Tasmanian Early Years Foundation and delivered by the Centre for Community Child Health
    • Establishment of Local Enabling Groups to guide the planning of the building and the service
    • Development of Working Together Agreements – these are agreements between parents and staff about how they will work with each other (including parent-parent and staff-staff relationships and well as parent-staff relationships)
    • Establishment of Local Governance Groups once the CFCs were operational
    • Use of the Empowering Parents Empowering Communities (EPEC) parent training program
  28. WORKING TOGETHER AGREEMENTS
    • WTAs serve a number of purposes including:
      • for new parents and staff, WTAs are is used to outline expectations and orient them to the culture of the CFC;
      • as a ‘touchstone’ that parents, service providers and CFC staff can go back to when things don’t go well, either in individual relationships or in the Centre as a whole;
      • during workshops, seminars and gatherings associated with CFC, WTAs can be used to guide expectations regarding how participants will contribute and participate;
      • to remind parents, staff (and external visitors) that the culture of CFCs is being developed jointly by staff and parents; and
      • to engage and inform parents and community members who are not yet aware of the CFCs or what they do.
  29. Ravenswood Child and Family Centre
    • 'Committed to a safe, supportive community for all children and families'
    • Working together agreement
      • In order for all of us involved in the Ravenswood Child and Family Centre to work together in a helpful way we have created a Working Together Agreement. This document was created in consultation with families, local community and service providers.
      • We agreed on the following:
        • How do we want the language to be?
        • Clear - no big words
        • Fewer words as possible
        • What we want (not what we don't want)
        • We agree to do this ...
      • Why do we need a Working Together Agreement?
        • Everyone on the same page - a shared or common understanding
        • What our purposes/needs/behaviours
        • To all feel safe and respected
        • All in the know/expectations
        • Shared info
        • Protection of privacy
        • Children are the centre of our lives, are important to us, the reason we are here
      • How will it be used?
        • Attach it to our new information forms
        • Discuss agreements with new families and service providers
        • Visible copy on display in the centre
        • Re-visit it as a group regularly or if there is an issue
        • On our facebook page
        • Give it to head of services - the school, St Giles, Link services, etc
        • On table at each meeting
  30. Ravenswood Child and Family Centre
    • 'Committed to a safe, supportive community for all children and families'
    • The agreement
      1. We agree to be honest and respectful of one another. This means ... we agree to listen to one another.
      2. We agree to accept that everyone has different ways of doing and seeing things. This means we include everyone.
      3. We agree to be flexible. This means we make allowances if we can.
      4. We agree to keep personal information private.
      5. We agree to do what we say we are going to do.
      6. We agree to be welcoming to everyone especially people coming to the CFC for the first time.
      7. We understand that things doen't always to to plan when we disagree. When this happens we agree to deal with it in a safe and respectful way.
      8. We agree to always set a good example for our children.
    • I agree to participate and work in the Ravenswood Child and Family Centre as described above. Name, Signed, From.
  31. EMPOWERING PARENTS, EMPOWERING COMMUNITIES (EPEC)
    • The Centre for Parent and Child Support, Maudsley Hospital London, http://www.cpcs.org.uk/index.php?page=empowering-parents-empowering-communities
      • EPEC is a community-based program, training local parents to run parenting groups in schools and children’s centres
      • By involving families at every level in the design, implementation and delivery of the programme it ensures that EPEC addresses the real and current concerns of families and delivers them in a friendly, accessible manner
      • Less stigma is attached to attendance at a programme delivered by members of the local community
      • Local parents - from diverse backgrounds and all active in their communities – are encouraged to train as facilitators of Being a Parent groups
  32. TASMANIAN CFCs: FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO EFFECTIVENESS OF ENGAGEMENT & PARTNERING
    • Amount of time allowed – 18 months for initial community engagement
    • The supporting role of the Tasmanian Early Years Foundation
    • Contribution of the facilitators – role and personal characteristics
    • Engagement and empowerment of local parents in all aspects of the planning and running of the CFCs
    • Consistency of the principles and practices underpinning all aspects of the development and operation of the CFCs
    • But, the initiative is vulnerable ….
      • The Tasmanian Early Years Foundation has been defunded
      • The Learning and Development Strategy finishes shortly
      • Any changes in key CFC staff will place the philosophy and practice at risk unless there is strong ongoing support from the Department of Education
  33. TASMANIAN CFCs: READINGS
    • McDonald, M., O’Byrne, M. & Prichard, P. (2015). Using the Family Partnership Model to engage communities. Lessons from Tasmanian Child and Family Centres. Parkville, Victoria: Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Centre and the Royal Children’s Hospital. http://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/ccch/150130_Using-the-Family-Partnership-Model-to-engage-communities_Report.pdf 
    • Prichard, P., O’Byrne, M., Jenkins, S., (2015). Supporting Tasmania’s Child and Family Centres: The journey of change through a Learning & Development strategy. Parkville, Victoria: Centre for Community Child Health, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, The Royal Children’s Hospital. http://apo.org.au/research/supporting-tasmanias-child-and-family-centres-journey-change-through-learning-and
    • Taylor, C.T., Jose, K., Christensen, D., & Van de Lageweg, W.I. (2015). Engaging, supporting and working with children and families in Tasmania’s Child and Family Centres. Report on the impact of Centres on parents’ use and experiences of services and supports in the Early Years. Perth, Western Australia: Telethon Kids Institute. http://telethonkids.org.au/media/1428013/tas-cfc-evaluation-report-web.pdf
  34. Join the Conversation
    • Continue the convesation started here today, and access a range of related resources, on the CFCA website: www.aifs.gov.au/cfca/news-discussion
    • Sue West Associate Director Group Leader, Policy, Equity and Translation, sue.west@mcri.edu.au
    • Dr Tim Moore Senior Research Fellow, tim.moore@mcri.edu.au
    • Centre for Community Child Health, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, The Royal Children's Hosptial Melbourne, www.rch.ogr.au/ccch

This webinar was held on 17 May 2016.

This webinar provided professionals with a solid understanding of what community engagement involves, how it's done, and how it can improve outcomes for children and families.

To give participants a sense of how this looks in practice, an example of successful community engagement in Tasmania was presented. Angela Sayer, a parent who was actively involved in the co-design of her local Child and Family Centre, described her experiences and offered insights for professionals seeking to authentically engage parents in the design and delivery of services.

We have also published a paper on this topic: Community engagement: A key strategy for improving outcomes for Australian families.

Further reading


The feature image is by Leo Hidalgo, CC BY-NC 2.0.

About the presenters

Sue West

Sue West is Associate Director of the Centre for Community Child Health at The Royal Children’s Hospital, and Senior Manager (Policy and Service Development) at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. She leads major research initiatives to inform policy, service delivery, professional practice and parenting, including the award winning Raising Children Network in partnership with the Parenting Research Centre; translation and knowledge exchange projects; training and development activities; service systems innovation projects; and policy related research.

Tim Moore

Dr. Tim Moore is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Community Child Health. An experienced educational and developmental psychologist, he has had a long involvement in the development and delivery of early childhood intervention services for young children with developmental disabilities and their families. In his current position, Tim works with colleagues from different disciplines in synthesising research evidence to advise state and federal government and non-government agencies on best practices in early childhood.

Angela Sayer

Angela Sayer is a parent from Clarence Plains, Tasmania. Angela was actively involved in the co-design of her local Child and Family Centre and continues to be active in the community today.

Comments

Thank you to all of the presenters in today's webinar. I found the content compelling. You set out a detailed and comprehensive approach to engaging with the community, and made it practical. Engaging with the community to involve them in decision making, and building their capacity for participation is the best way to ensure that services meet people's needs and people feel empowered to envision and bring about a new future. Thanks again.
Mel Preuss