Appendix E: Inclusive Engagement Workbook


Community engagement is the process of working collaboratively with community groups to address issues that impact the well-being of those groups. It seeks to better engage the community to achieve long-term and sustainable outcomes, processes, relationships, discourse, decision-making, and/or implementation.

— Penn State Center for Economic and Community Development and Financial Times Lexicon

At the core of the Main Street approach to revitalization is the vision of creating places of shared prosperity, equal access to opportunity, and inclusive engagement. Informing residents about downtown activity and seeking to understand their perspective taps into the collective intelligence of the community and ensures transparency in the decisions and actions of a Main Street program.

This workbook — drafted by University of Colorado Denver Master’s in Urban Planning students and refined by Colorado Main Street — serves as a touch point for inspiration and direction in engaging your community. The exercises focus on the importance of doing engagement, the good it can do done well, and the harm it can do if done poorly (or not done at all).

We hope to help you consider the questions ...

  • What are the foundations of community engagement?
  • Why is engagement important?
  • When to engage?
  • Who should be included?
  • How to engage?

This WorkBook should allow you to...

  • Review the best practices in engagement
  • Define new goals
  • Identify projects and times for input
  • Discover new audiences
  • Explore new strategies for engagement

What are the best practices in engagement?

Engagement as a process can be thought of as a continuous cycle:

  • Education and advocacy on the topic (through social media, speaking engagements, brochures, press releases, photo contests, tours, etc.)
  • Policy formation (at public forums, through focus groups and workshops, polling, surveys, mapping exercises, etc.)
  • Sharing of a draft proposal (at public forms, focus groups, workshops, polling, etc.)
  • Publication of the proposal (on social media, in press releases, on website, through flyers, etc.)
  • Implementation (share progress on social media, in press releases, on website, through flyers, etc.)
  • Evaluation (ask about the process and implementation through user panels and customer surveys) - This evaluation can be seen as the step to return to education and advocacy.

When engaging the public, inclusivity is the base - looking at who is participating, then understanding who is missing and targeting outreach to them. Engagement should be transparent (clear about purpose and use) and authentic (using the input requested) and appropriate (engage in a way that gets to results). It is important to keep the public informed, and to close the loop with feedback and evaluation.

Things to reflect on in this section: 

  • How can you use education and advocacy as part of your engagement plan? 
  • How would you describe the basic principles for good public engagement?

Why engage the community?

Thoughtful engagement avoids the pitfall of distrust; encourages engagement in future initiatives; and upholds the credibility of leaders. The first step in thoughtful engagement is keeping residents informed — long before, throughout, and after more active engagement is requested. 

Levels of engagement range from providing information (inform) to receiving feedback on that information (consult), up to bringing in the public at the earliest stages (involve) to creating smaller groups that become part of the decision makers and possibly implementers (collaborate) to turning the decision over to the public (empower). Different levels of engagement could be used with varying levels of stakeholders — downtown business owners may have a higher stake in Main Street infrastructure than residents, who in turn have a higher stake than visitors to the community, but all may have ideas to share. 

Participatory engagement can foster a sense of community; identify the community’s values,  ideas, and recommendations; increase community buy-in and support; make lasting changes that don’t need to be revisited; build trust; and provide a sense of ownership and investment in the community.

Diverse engagement provides more perspectives and thus more thorough information; creates a welcoming environment; and helps retain residents and talent.

Authentic engagement selects the level of engagement that will be reflected in the final outcome of a process or project.

Things to think about in this section: 

  • Why is engagement important to my community? 
  • What does successful engagement look like? 
  • How will community input be meaningfully incorporated into decisions? 
  • What harm would poorly executed engagement have on the project or community? 
  • What are the consequences of not engaging the community?

When is engagement needed?

Pick a purpose. Think of the topic as the car and the purpose as the fuel. While deciding on a topic got us on the road, establishing a purpose for the event’s dialogue moved us down the road. Every aspect, from the selection of the panelists to the questions on the agenda, was birthed from the purpose of the event.

Don’t do it alone. Who would be great at getting the word out? At engaging community leaders to be potential attendees or panelists? At leading a potentially challenging conversation? A team can make the event the best it can be. 

Center the community. Small business owners, educators, artists, and social justice leaders can fill in the gaps during the dialogue and  provide first-hand experience of community needs.

— Kelly Forkenbrock for the Biggest Little Library Conference

Community engagement is a continuous cycle — even without a current project or plan where consultation or collaboration with residents is desired, education and advocacy lays the groundwork for an informed (and sympathetic) community when the need arises. 

With enough time and an open mind, you can empower residents to determine the course of a project and work with them on its implementation. Consensus can be reached through facilitated small group consultation. A broader group can be reached through a process that involves residents on meaningful aspects of a project. Consulting also reaches a wider range of the public, but on a smaller impact to the project. And, of course, keeping people informed at whatever level of input you seek is necessary for transparent action.

Things to think about:

  • What are the goals of the project?
  • How much does the community know about the project and its impact?
  • What decisions have already been made?
  • What decisions could the community inform?
  • How will community engagement fit into the project timeline?
  • Is there the capacity to perform good public engagement? 

Who to engage?

Primary roles

  • Organizers identify and gather stakeholders, prepare them on issues, discuss ways to participate, and decide logistical considerations: Who meets? Who facilitates? Who generates and assesses ideas? Whose input is advisory and whose binding?
  • Sponsors/Conveners invite participation and host gatherings.
  • Contributors/Stakeholders provide input such as ideas, vision, questions and concerns, priorities and goals, solutions. 
  • Deciders make authoritative decisions using contributors’ input.

Supporting roles

  • Facilitators help manage the conversation, promote learning, fill information gaps, uncover assumptions, generate consensus, etc.
  • Analysts provide important information, and research; collect and analyze data, do community surveys, research codes and ordinances, and present results.

Your community

  • Inclusive public engagement means knowing who makes up your community. The State Demography Office is a great resource for this.

Things to reflect on:

  • Who will the project impact?
  • Who are good allies?
  • Who are detractors? What might make them allies or neutral?
  • Who aren’t you hearing from?
  • What barriers might different groups face during the project?

How to engage your community for results

Tactics and techniques will vary depending on the reasons you are engaging (from providing information or seeking ideas), who you are engaging (from youth to retirees), and what the project is (from a comprehensive plan to park design).  

Engagement strategies should seek to be dynamic, adaptive, and responsive to resident needs and circumstances. For pros/cons, consider transportation, language, technological, and physical barriers that limit access to information and active engagement for socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, community members with disabilities, youth, parents, the elderly, and communities of color, as well as costs and logistical considerations.

Types of engagement:

  • Focus groups, charrettes, and open houses are small groups brought together to share knowledge and ideas. Participants can map project features, or there might be different stations for input. 
  • Walk shops, Photo Voice, and street stalls are different ways to engage a group within the physical space of the project. 
  • Tactical urbanism, or “pop-up design,” is a short-term demonstration of a long-term vision. 
  • Canvassing is door-to-door discussions.
  • Surveys, both print and digital.
  • Online, through social media, website, and email, using tools such as videos, photos, and maps.

What are the pros and cons of the different approaches for your community and project?


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