12 guidelines for community engagement

The following are 12 useful guidelines for community engagement. I came across them while working on a post discussing various definitions of community engagement (which I hope to post before too long). They are from Botes and van Rensburg (2000) but they are also presented in Woolcock & Brown (2005) which is available online. (The following is all a direct quote from Botes and van Rensburg.)

Whoever wants to get involved in participatory development should:

1.      Demonstrate an awareness of their status as outsiders to the beneficiary community and the potential impact of their involvement.

2.      Respect the community’s indigenous contribution as manifested in their knowledge, skills and potential.

3.      Become good facilitators and catalysts of development that assist and stimulate community based initiatives and challenge practices which hinders people releasing their own initiatives and realize their own ideals.

4.      Promote co-decision-making in defining needs, goal-setting, and formulating policies and plans in the implementation of these decisions. Selective participatory practices can be avoided when development workers seek out various sets of interest, rather than listening only to a few community leaders and prominent figures.

5.      Communicate both programme/project successes and failures – sometimes failures are more informative.

6.      Believe in the spirit of ‘Ubuntu’ – a South African concept encompassing key values such as solidarity, conformity, compassion, respect, human dignity and collective unity.

7.      Listen to community members, especially the more vulnerable, less vocal and marginalized groups.

8.      Guard against the domination of some interest groups or a small unrepresentative leadership clique. This article pleads for a co-operative spirit and for a watch for oligarchic tendencies among community leadership.

9.      Involve a cross-section of interest groups to collaborate as partners in jointly defining development needs and goals, and designing appropriate processes to reach these goals.

10.  Acknowledge that process-related soft issues are as important as productrelated hard issues. Any investment in shelter for the poor should involve an appropriate mix of technological and social factors, where both hardware and software are developed together. In this regard many scholars recognize the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to project planning and development. The inclusion of a social scientist, and someone with the appropriate skills from within the community, to work together with planners, architects and engineers is very important. A multi-disciplinary approach will only succeed if technical professionals recognize and include the contributions of their social scientist partners in the planning process.

11.  Aim at releasing the energy within a community without exploiting or exhausting them.

12.  Empower communities to share equitably in the fruits of development through active processes whereby beneficiaries influence the direction of development initiatives rather then merely receive a share of benefits in a passive manner.


Botes, L., & van Rensburg, D. (2000). Community participation in development: nine plagues and twelve commandments. Community Development Journal, 35(1), 41-58.

Woolcock, G., & Brown, V. (2005). Principles of community engagement: from the literatures on natural resource management, local community development, human services and sustainability. Ipswich: UQ Boilerhouse Community Engagement Centre.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
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