A framework for engaging the community

By Judy Bruce

When working with community stakeholders a framework for guiding conversations and decision making can be very useful. In this article we explore how this can help school leaders during a build project.

There are many questions that come to mind when we think about community engagement and all school leaders need a clear approach to this important element of school life. Some of the questions that guide our thinking are: 

– who are our community members? 

– what is our framework for engagement? 

– who do we inform, and who do we partner with? 

– how are decisions made, by whom, and for what purpose? 

Without a framework to guide our approach, things can become complicated. 

The Spectrum of Public Participation (developed by the International Association of Public Participation, IAP2) is a useful framework for school leaders to use. It helps to clarify the role of the community in planning and decision-making, and how much influence the community has over planning or decision-making processes. It identifies five levels of public participation (or community engagement).

International Association for Public Participation iap2.org — Image by: Judy Bruce

The further to the right on the Spectrum, the more influence the community has over decisions, and each level can be appropriate depending on the context. It is important to recognise they are levels; not steps.

Follow this link to learn more about how the Spectrum may be used when engaging the community:

A school example of using the framework, with Chris Mene and Janelle Riki-Waaka, Grow Waitaha.

Image by: Judy Bruce

The difference between consult, involve, collaborate and empower are important for us as school leaders. 

CONSULT We need to ask residents, groups or specific stakeholders about their views on the decision being made. Their feedback will be considered when the decision is made. 

INVOLVE We need to get feedback from an individual or group to find out how they will be affected by the outcome of a decision. Their feedback will be considered when the decision is made. 

COLLABORATE We need to develop joint alternatives, working with community members/groups and employees to propose alternatives that will work for and be supported by those affected by the decision. 

EMPOWER We need to work with a community member or group in a process in which they have the final decision-making power.

If you would like to learn more about this framework and gain other ideas about community and partnership, see the attached pdf from the Tārai Kura Change Kete and check out the partnerships and perspectives webpage on the Grow Waitaha site.