A How-To Guide for Better Community Engagement

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This is what counts as “community engagement” today. And that’s wrong.

We’ve written extensively about the problems of community engagement here at Strong Towns. We also recently produced a one-hour short form course called “Community Engagement that Works“ (sign up for it here!) and today I’m sharing a how-to guide that accompanies the course.

A few takeaways from this guide… First, our cities should be structuring their community engagement processes with the goal of building understanding with residents. Unfortunately, most community engagement processes only focus on listening and fail to take the next step toward understanding.

Some examples of engagement aimed only at listening include:

  • meetings

  • public hearings

  • surveys and focus groups

  • visioning sessions

Community engagement that aims to understand looks more like:

  • tactical urbanism

  • demonstration projects

  • neighborhood walkarounds

  • (some) design charrettes

To build understanding, we have to set aside preconceived notions and see—literally see—what people actually need as they go about their lives in their town.

We advocate for a 4-step approach to public engagement:

  1. Humbly observe where people struggle.

  2. Ask: What’s the next smallest thing we can do to respond to that struggle?

  3. Do that thing right now.

  4. Repeat.

You can learn more in our free downloadable Action Guide. And if you want to dig deeper, make sure to sign up for our online on-demand Strong Towns Academy course, “Community Engagement that Works.”

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