Community engagement ideas

Finding out about your community’s health and wellbeing requires:

  • Listening to local people
  • Sharing information with other organisations
  • Learning from data that has been collected about your community

Listening to local people

The need for greater community engagement required in the Local Government Act 2009 provides a mechanism for councils to identify local issues for health and wellbeing. This provides the rationale or evidence for including a commitment to, and strategies for, improving the health and wellbeing of the local community through the Community Plan.

Ensuring that healthy community initiatives are derived from issues identified by the local community and driven by their ongoing engagement encourages shared ownership and responsibility. Incorporating questions in focus groups or consultations that explore issues relating to the factors affecting health may help to identify community priorities for health and wellbeing. Including questions or community indicators in surveys that can periodically be measured to see how things have changed can be a valuable advocacy tool when seeking additional funding.

Consider including focus group questions that explore:

  • What constitutes “social wellbeing”, “personal wellbeing” or “quality of life” for citizens? What factors impact on this – either positively or negatively?
  • How can the following environments be enhanced to be more supportive of health and wellbeing?
    • Personal environment (e.g. knowledge and skills, programs, information and media)
    • Physical environment (e.g. parks and open spaces, walkways, cycle paths, community facilities, worksites, transport, billboards and signs)
    • Natural environment (e.g. greenspace, landscaping, land for growing food)
    • Socio-economic environment (e.g. family, social networks, work, schools, community groups)

Consider including wellbeing indicators in surveys that measure:

  • Personal health and wellbeing (e.g. self reported health; quality of life; physical activity; fruit and vegetable consumption; body mass; smoking status; alcohol consumption; psychological distress; sun safety)
  • Community connectedness (e.g. feeling part of the community; sense of community in local neighbourhood)
  • Personal and community safety (e.g.people who feel safe when walking alone in their area during the day/after dark)
  • Lifelong learning (e.g. people with library membership)
  • Income and wealth (e.g. people who ran out of food and could not afford to buy more)
  • Adequate work/life balance (e.g. employed people who disagree that their work and family life often interfere with each other)
  • Open space (e.g. satisfaction with accessibility and appearance of public areas)
  • Transport/accessibility (e.g. people who experience transport limitation in the last 12 months; people who use public transport to travel to work)
  • Art and cultural activities (e.g. people who participate in arts and related activities in the last month; people who agree it’s good for society to be made up of people from different cultures)

Additional questions that could be considered in exploring active and healthy communities:

  • Current lifestyle: what competes with being active and healthy? What kinds of activities do they like to do? What are their current modes of transport? What are their current food purchasing behaviours?
  • Awareness and knowledge: how much do they know about the benefits of active and healthy lifestyles and the risks associated with sedentary living and an unhealthy diet? Do they have the knowledge they need to be physically active and make healthy food and drink choices?
  • Values, beliefs and attitudes: how important is a healthy, active lifestyle to them? Do they view active and healthy lifestyles as valuable and important? What do they perceive are the major barriers to being active and healthy? What is their view on women breastfeeding in public?
  • Readiness to change (that is, become more physically active and make healthy food and drink choices): what would make active healthy living more fun and attractive to them?
  • Skills: do they have the skills they need to be physically active and make healthy food and drink choices? How confident are they in their ability to be physically active and to make healthy food and drink choices? Do they have the skills they need to live a healthy lifestyle?
  • Cultural norms and social networks: do cultural customs, beliefs and traditions hinder or support participation in healthy and active lifestyles by women, men and children? Who would support them in being active and healthy? Who is in their key informal networks? To what organisations do they belong?
  • Access and use: are existing sport and physical programs, natural resources (such as trails and rivers), activity facilities (such as recreation facilities, parks and community gardens), breastfeeding facilities, options for active transport and options for purchasing healthy foods and drinks, available, accessible and affordable? Do they make use of these? If not, why not?

When planning for an active healthy community, it is important that people of different ages are consulted to understand the attitudes, beliefs, needs and strengths. Priority health population groups include children and young people, older people, sole parent families, people with disabilities or chronic illness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culturally and linguistically diverse groups, unemployed people and people with low socioeconomic status.

Engagement of the community based on localities can also be useful in community planning for an active and healthy community, particularly for exploring concepts such as connectivity and access. ‘Map-based’ discussions can be useful in exploring the location of transport connections, open space, facilities and services, breastfeeding and baby-care facilities, food outlets, access and mobility.

Networks and health groups may already exist in the community for Council to readily consult with.

Ideas on creative ways of engaging with the community are contained in the Methods Manual (click here).

Sharing information with other organisations

The LGAQ Community Engagement Policy; Development Guide defines community engagement as “the process of building connections between government, citizens and communities on a wide range of policy, program and service issues.”

Many other organisations undertake community engagement strategies. In some cases the information from these may be shared, while in other cases the community engagement process itself may be shared. This may help to reduce “consultation fatigue” by community members, increase local resources available for engaging with the community and help to create a shared vision and shared responsibility for delivering recommendations.

Consider:

  • What connections with government and other sectors can you build to support your community engagement strategies?
  • Which government or other organisations may have already consulted or be planning to consult with your community?
    • can you collaborate and share strategies and information
    • can you minimise “consultation fatigue”
  • Which government or other organisations collect local data relevant to your community?
    • can you collaborate and share data
    • can you agree on key well-being indicators

2. How can you develop connections with your citizens to ensure the needs of different groups are represented?

  • What strategies will engage marginalised, high need or hard to reach groups?
  • How will you capture differing needs, for example across the life-course, gender, employment status or disability
  • How will strategies provide opportunities for ongoing engagement, for example in program planning, policy development, or evaluation

3. What other community connections can you build on?

  • What community or business organisations have links with different population groups or parts of your community
  • What partnerships or networks might be able to provide input or support implementation of active, healthy recommendations

State Government agencies are key players and should be involved as part of community planning. Public Health Units within Queensland Health have staff with expertise to support community planning for active healthy communities. Non-government organisations such as Heart Foundation, Cancer Council of Queensland, Australian Sports Foundation, Nutrition Australia, Red Cross, Queensland Aboriginal and Island Health Council, Kidsafe, local medical centres, neighbourhood centres and community organisations are also useful sources of information and networks.

Consulting internally within Council with a range of Council staff and councillors can also provide valuable information about community need and existing services, programs and infrastructure strengths and gaps as part of the community planning process. Engaging Council staff early can help to gain a full picture and to ensure more integrated planning and implementation. Relevant sections of Council may include (1):

  • Community Services for active healthy lifestyle promotion and programs
  • Parks and Reserves for open space management
  • Transport Planners and Engineers, Road Safety Officers and Local Traffic Committees on Integrated Transport Planning and traffic management plans and actions
  • Strategic Land-Use Planners for managing growth and urban renewal programs
  • Development Assessment Planners for implementing provisions and development contributions
  • Councillors who ratify budget, set priorities and introduce actions to works programs. Organising an active healthy communities briefing session for Councillors may be useful.

LGOnline links to Youth DevelopmentCultural Diversity and Arts and Culture will provide more ideas and information for engaging with different population groups.

The LGAQ Community Engagement Web-pages provides further information and resources to assist you in developing your Community Engagement Policy.

Learning from data that has been collected about your community

 


Example: Identifying opportunities and constraints of an active healthy community

Planners often comprehensively analyse strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).  Here is an example of a SWOT analysis of a community developed by active living planners and stakeholders taken from A healthy city is an active city: A physical activity planning guide.

Strengths

  • Revitalisation project underway in the town centre
  • Effective public transport infrastructure
  • Motivated partners in education, sport and child care
  • Committed leadership in mayor and health sectors
  • Public support for building a multipurpose cultural park in the town centre

Weaknesses

  • The water front is run down and unattractive
  • Poor public transport in the town centre
  • Crowded inner town centre, with little space for parks and greenery
  • Parking prohibits the development of potential green spaces
  • Heavy road traffic in the inner city – unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians
  • Limited support for active transport
  • Few opportunities for active play by children and young people in the inner town centre
  • Poor communication about opportunities for active living: families unaware of what is available
  • Young people in the inner city getting into trouble, with vandalism and graffiti

Opportunities

  • Develop “pocket” parks connected with pedestrian trails and play areas as part of inner-town centre regeneration
  • Build bike paths and lanes as part of road repair in the inner town centre
  • Provide parking for bicycles at public transport stops
  • Involve the cycling association
  • Invite the mayor to champion active living through active transport
  • Invite city councillors to champion active play for children and work with child care and schools, parents and the city recreation department to provide safe, interesting play areas and active safe routes to school
  • Replace some above-ground parking with underground parking and create green spaces in
  • these areas
  • Charge higher parking fees and implement an inner-city congestion charge
  • Work with partners to improve communication about active living: benefits and opportunities
  • Work with the universities, police and social services in selected communities to introduce and evaluate young people-driven physical activity and sport programmes
  • Build support for a long-term project to reclaim waterfronts and bushlands and build parklands there for active living and cultural activities

Threats

  • Perceptions that initiatives will cost too much
  • Driver backlash against parking restrictions, higher fees and a congestion charge
  • Developers unaware of the economic value of including paths and parks in areas that are being rebuilt
  • Fears and perceived fears related to road safety
  • Multiple languages and low literacy levels in some communities (need for innovative means of communication)

Reference:

1. Wiggins D (2010). Addressing active living through council’s Integrated Planning and Reporting Framework. NSW Premier’s Council for Active Living: Sydney.

Content taken from LGAQ fact sheet.