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Our Wish List for Community Engagement in 2022

As we near the end of 2021, it offers us the opportunity and perspective to look back at the year that was and also forward to 2022 and the year that will be.

Earlier this month we reviewed 2021, touching on highlights and milestones for coUrbanize. As evident from that post, it was certainly a transformative year for us as a company, but 2021 was also transformative for community engagement as a practice.

Prior to the pandemic, and before the country’s collective awakening for racial and social accountability, community engagement was seen by many as a necessary evil, simply a requirement to move successfully through the entitlements process. But over the past 18 months, and especially over the last year, we started to see opinions regarding community engagement begin to evolve. There’s now recognition of its value. What was previously done to simply check a box is now viewed as an investment and a tool to improve project plans.

Yes, real estate firms are on different starting points in this evolution, but many have done perhaps the two most difficulties parts:

  1. Acknowledging that what they’ve been doing isn’t working
  2. Committing to change their behavior

With all that as a backdrop, we decided to lay out what we want to see in 2022 that can support increased community engagement into what gets built and how our neighborhoods change in the coming years.

Here’s our wish list for community engagement in 2022 (and if you like this wish list, you can learn more about how you can help make the wishes come true in our guide, How to Create a Meaningful and Equitable Community Engagement Strategy):

  • A focus on meaningful and equitable engagement. This is all about the effectiveness and impact of your outreach strategies. Are you reaching everyone who should have a seat at the feedback table? While we’re huge fans of online, digital engagement, online communications don’t reach all audiences, and that’s an important factor to keep in mind. An effective engagement strategy combines online and offline communications.The other vital component for equitable engagement is factoring language into your strategy. More than 20% of U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home, and that number is even higher in some areas. You want to make sure you’re accounting for non-English speakers in your community.

    And finally, how are you using the feedback you gather so it’s reflected in your project? Almost as damaging as silence is soliciting feedback and ignoring it. In contrast, when you integrate the feedback into your plans, you are showcasing your commitment to the community in a highly visible, meaningful way.

  • Longer timelines for community outreach. “Start early” is probably the most common piece of advice we give to project teams. In order to actually use community feedback – making engagement meaningful – you have to receive that feedback with enough time to actually incorporate it.Sometimes a fear of NIMBYism prompts developers to delay community outreach. But delays create obstacles down the road because silence fuels rumors. And it’s difficult, if not impossible, to correct misinformation once it’s taken root.

    To avoid this, establish two-way dialogue early. And don’t overthink it. Dialogue doesn’t need to be formal to be effective.

  • The end of “quiet periods.” We firmly believe there are no longer reasons for “quiet periods” when it comes to engagement. The community should know what’s happening with the project at all times, even if it’s simply an update to convey there’s work happening behind the scenes until a certain date. Many people view silence as suspicious.We’re not saying you need to host community meetings every week, but the community should always know the status of a project, what’s happening next, and have the opportunity to ask questions and share concerns.

Thanks for following us on our community engagement journey this year and we hope you stick with us in 2022. There’s still a lot of progress we can make to ensure equitable and meaningful community engagement happens. From our team to you, we wish you a happy, healthy, and safe 2022.

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