3 Tips for Fostering More Community Engagement

3 Tips for Fostering More Community Engagement

Rebuilding physical communities and nurturing community engagement has perhaps never been more important. The isolation that characterized the global pandemic devastated that sense of community. Kids were pulled out of school. Parents worked from home. Bars, restaurants, churches, and public spaces stood empty.

In many ways, communities still haven’t rebounded to their pre-pandemic relationships. Various factors, including mental health, social media, technology, and changed habits, can be blamed. It’s been difficult to get people back to parks, community centers, libraries, and local organizations.

However, recognizing the factors that inhibit engagement is the first step toward improving it. Communities’ steps to increase activity will be more productive if they use this knowledge to inform their decisions. Some solutions may even involve using factors that squelch engagement to their advantage.

It takes a village to engage a village. Here are three tips for fostering more community engagement in yours.

1. Partner with Engaged Vendors

When spaces aren’t used, they tend to deteriorate at a rapid pace. Park equipment, buildings, picnic structures, and libraries were built to be used, not sit idle and empty. To boost community engagement, first assess the condition of your existing infrastructure.

Take an inventory of what you have and its condition. Then, reach out to community members to find out what they want. Like so much else in the world, their needs for spaces might have changed.

For example, people may want large open spaces also to afford the option of enclosing smaller ones. They may want parks and buildings to accommodate people of all abilities. They may want to take advantage of more benches, gazebos, tables, and food trucks.

Above all, when you’re seeking vendors who can fill this wish list, don’t work with just anyone. You’re trying to build community, so partner with vendors willing to engage with yours.

For example, AAA State of Play, a commercial playground equipment supplier, designs and builds accessible and durable playground equipment. The company doesn’t just hand its potential customers a quote. AAA first gets to know the community to ensure that what people want and need is what they deliver.

When it’s time to hit refresh on your public spaces, you’ll need to work with vendors. Ensure the ones you hire are willing to engage with your community first. That type of relationship will show when the job is completed.

2. Cultivate Communication

Communication has been referred to as the universal language of connection. Connection is what engagement is all about. Without it, those who comprise your community will remain distant and separate.

Communication is, therefore, the cornerstone of any effort to engage members of the community with the interests of that community. However, effective communication has to work both ways. It must be a source of both information and discourse.

There are ways you can encourage disconnected members of the community to begin talking with each other again. Ask them what they want from their community. Facilitate conversations about topics, creating a safe space for people to express their opinions.

The City of Lake Forest, Ill., is a great example of asking residents what they want. The community survey was designed to help leaders set priorities for everything from services and safety to infrastructure and recreation. Survey results were then shared with the community, spurring conversations about priorities and needs.

Although this article addresses physical communities rather than virtual ones, tools of the latter can and should apply. Engagement efforts like surveys need to take multiple forms, from surface mail to digital. Regardless of age, technical ability, or access to the internet or social media, everyone should be able to provide input.

Getting community members engaged in conversation doesn’t have to be difficult. Forums, hotlines, and comment boxes – digital and the old-fashioned physical ones – can be conversation starters. People talking are people engaged.

3. Elevate Community Events

To re-engage a community that used to not gather, organize events that bring them back together. There are different ways to do that. They might range from larger annual gatherings to regular ones that people can add to their routine.

Ice cream socials, pancake breakfasts, live music events, dog shows, pageants, and scavenger hunts are periodic events that could attract people. Use community centers, parks, and recreation facilities as event spaces to draw like-minded people together regularly.

Farmers markets are magnets for community members who want to shop for healthy, local produce and products. Not only do they engage in conversations with vendors, but they also meet old and new neighbors. Encourage interaction by having benches and tables throughout the venue.

Although some events will be designed for everyone, your community needs to offer a variety of event types. What may appeal to families with kids will be different from what attracts singles, empty-nesters, or seniors. What people share in common jumpstart conversations and relationships.

Events also provide great opportunities for community organizations to get involved. Service clubs, business owners, schools, and chambers of commerce always seek ways to reach out. With multiple organizations engaged, there should always be an event or two.

Above all, practice patience. It may take time to get people on board with community events. But that perseverance will eventually pay engagement dividends.

Get Out There

Community engagement doesn’t happen automatically. Someone has to lead the charge, start conversations, gather input, and effect change. With true community engagement, everyone—from vendors to local businesses to residents—needs to put skin in the game. It takes only two community members to start talking. Get out there and build on it.


Featured image provided by Dio Hasbi Saniskoro; Pexels; Thanks!

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