A few months ago, I collaborated with a colleague, Vince Verlaan from Modus, and together we wrote a whitepaper for a client titled Community Engagement Needs Change Management. It outlined the necessity of using a change management program to support the implementation of a community engagement strategy. A comprehensive community engagement strategy will result in a changing the way an organization engages with their clients, customers, citizens and other stakeholders, and incorporates their perspective into its strategies, plans, products and offerings. Such a strategy or policy serves a catalyst for specific changes within the organization that will improve its core functions and is more likely to result in the desired changes in processes, systems, roles and mindsets.

Engagement strategy implementation, like other wide-ranging change initiatives, benefits from a structured, pragmatic approach to manage the change, to improve benefits realization, and to accelerate adoption of the changes being implemented. 

After working on the whitepaper with Vince, I reflected back to how our story started. I was working at the City of Vancouver and wanted to develop my skills in change management, specifically in area of stakeholder engagement. I came across SFU’s Dialogue and Public Engagement certificate, which more than one person told me was unrelated to change management. I disagreed and enrolled in the program. Through the program I expanded my repertoire of dialogue techniques and had many valuable conversations with colleagues about applying a community engagement framework to a change management program. I still firmly believe that effective, sustainable change management needs community engagement.

Community engagement works to “to raise awareness and broaden participation, share information, pose powerful questions and access new ideas” (www.thinkmodus.ca). In a project environment, whether it is a transformational or technology project, community engagement aligns with change management principles that stress the importance of early, appropriate and ongoing stakeholder engagement and involvement. Through engagement, projects work through challenges, develop consensus on solutions, move together into implementation, and ultimately embrace engagement as an organization.

The NCDD led a collaboration with other dialogue organizations to outline the principles for effective engagement noted below. 

Expanded Description
Careful planning and preparation
Through adequate and inclusive planning, ensure that the design, organization, and convening of the process serve both a clearly defined purpose and the needs of the participants.
Inclusion and demographic diversity
Equitably incorporate diverse people, voices, ideas, and information to lay the groundwork for quality outcomes and democratic legitimacy.
Collaboration and shared purpose
Support and encourage participants, government and community institutions, and others to work together to advance the common good.
Openness and learning
Help all involved listen to each other, explore new ideas unconstrained by predetermined outcomes, learn and apply information in ways that generate new options, and rigorously evaluate community engagement activities for effectiveness.
Transparency and trust
Be clear and open about the process, and provide a public record of the organizers, sponsors, outcomes, and range of views and ideas expressed.
Impact and action
Ensure each participatory effort has real potential to make a difference, and that participants are aware of that potential.
Sustained engagement and participatory culture
Promote a culture of participation with programs and institutions that support ongoing quality community engagement.

Reflecting on any of the steps above you will see a corollary for change management. As simple as it is, I love the first principle of Careful Planning and Preparation. I have worked on several projects that have not had a project plan. It is all too common that projects jump into action mode without a documented map of where they are going. This can due to many reasons, with the most common relating to a lack of time. Ironic considering that better planned projects generally result in better outcomes. The planning phase is the first step that sets the tone of the project. The process of concretizing a vision, establishing a shared language and focus that builds support and the capacity to share the business problem being tackled and take ownership of the solution. Through an integrated process, there is greater chance that the users and stakeholders will help keep assumptions in check. Thus, validating not only the solutions, but the problem itself. 

The principle of Openness and Learning can make some project teams shudder if it is introduced late in a project seeking feedback when so much is already in development. It lands better when integrated into the stakeholder engagement stream early on and expectations are articulated and managed. Trust is built from the ground up, greasing the wheel for better and more efficient decision making as the project moves through each phase of its lifecycle. Especially important when hitting difficult bumps in the road, whether through natural resistance, or of the other myriad of challenges that a project faces regardless of complexity.   

Since finishing the Dialogue and Community Engagement program I’ve continued my learning through workshops, webinars and whitepapers on CE. One thing that has struck me is to the sense of fun and lightness in the field. Ensuring appropriate community input into a community plan, development proposal, humanitarian project, etc is serious business, and yet the materials used to engage stakeholders are inherently tactile, using color, movement, and play to engage in active ways. Great community engagement draws you in and relies on getting the group moving. Change management is generally done in a business environment, a space in which we tend to be more serious and formal in structure, and generally, monochromatic. The challenge for me is to find ways to integrate the sense of community into my projects and do so in a way that stimulates and engages people’s senses – to generate those good ideas and foster the cohesion required of good change-based action.

Community engagement needs change management, so too does change management need community engagement. Independent disciplines in their own right, however, they each rely upon a depth of understanding of their client, stakeholder, project or problem. It stands to reason then that both change and community engagement can deepen their impact and practice by taking cues from each other.   
A well thought out and supported stakeholder engagement strategy encourages better connection with stakeholders, a continuous loop of feedback and input, and builds a well informed and engaged community that is ready, willing and able to adopt the projects outcomes. And, it can inject a little lightness and humour (where appropriate), helping reduce the angst often associated with workplace change. 

A strategic change practitioner and coach, Jen has spent the last 25 years creating programs, leading change and learning alongside her clients. Her approach is to build strong relationships with her clients, working alongside leaders and teams to create strategies and tactics that enable understanding, engagement and adoption. Jen is driven by seeing a positive ripple effect and the collective impact that comes from people learning together. 

As project manager and administrative professional, Alanna brings over 20 years experience working in social purpose driven environments, specifically youth advocacy, visual arts, planning, and food security. Her passion is supporting people and projects that maximize community assets, through a relationship driven approach, defined predominantly by participatory and mentor-driven processes. Core to her way of working is creativity, generosity and an entrepreneurial spirit. 

Jen and Alanna often collaborate on projects building upon their diverse experience and complimentary skills to enhance their designs, outcomes, and reports. Essentially, practicing what they preach, learning and having some fun along the way.