From Our Experience....Ten Tips on Working with the Community
- Be honest and clear about what you can do (and about
what you can’t do).
We recommend that agencies identify “open” issues
where there is room for change, and where community input can
make a difference … and then let community members know
about it. At the same time, we encourage agencies not to be
afraid to be honest about their limitations as well. Transparency
is helpful for everyone.
- Let the community decide what it wants to work on.
An important component of our philosophy is that whatever
the projects are, they should be selected by the participants
themselves. Since the projects are implemented by participants,
they need to agree about what to work on. This approach is
especially effective when trust is lacking.
- Don’t create a new structure if it’s
Assess the communities in which you’re working.
Some communities are already highly organized around specific
issues and may have community-driven initiatives in place to
address these issues. It’s most efficient and effective
to plug into existing structures instead of starting something
- Don’t be daunted by a limited budget.
Significant, measurable long-term behavior change can be accomplished
on a shoestring.
- Never stop organizing.
Continual recruiting efforts are necessary. Community organizing
in underserved communities takes more support – not
only are you dealing with participants that are low on resources,
they are also stretched for time and energy. You need to
spend more time than usual on recruiting efforts, and that
recruiting is a never-ending process.
- Proceed slowly in communities with a long history
Particularly in communities that have been dealing
with environmental injustice for many years. Over time communities
can build up a strong distrust of government agencies, especially
if things promised in the past have not delivered. Rushing
in to “help” without taking the time to rebuild
trust may damage more than repair relationships.
- Focus on new people, not the “usual suspects.”
The most successful coalitions have diverse membership.
Seek out people from various sectors of the community and think
strategically about who can connect (or has connections) to
the leader or organization you are targeting.
- It’s not one size fits all!
Using multiple tools in a community engagement process
offers a broad range of input and diverse information to use
in policy-making discussions.
- Model the behavior you are advocating.
The way that meetings and other activities are held
tells a lot about the way work happens. For example, meetings
that start and end on time, are run efficiently, and for which
everyone has tasks and follows through on their action items
convey a culture of efficiency, focus and success. This creates
a group people want to be a part of and an atmosphere where
people feel good about contributing their limited time and
- and finally … Be fun. Have fun.
Build light moments into your work. Everyone likes to have