Community Engagement Professionals: Who are you batting for?

by Guest Blogger, Paul Kooperman

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I have noticed that when working for government, an organisation, council, agency or other, that some people with the word ‘engagement’ in their title, don’t know who they’re batting for when it comes to providing our communities with the opportunity to influence government decisions.

Are we batting for our employer? Or are we batting for the communities we work with and for?

Should we defend our communities and fight our hierarchy for genuine ethical engagement, or should we agree with and defend our hierarchy, restricting engagement to align with our employer’s timeframes, budget and resources?

Are we batting for the project itself, and completing the project on time and on budget? Or are we batting for our communities to provide them with genuine opportunities to influence the negotiable aspects of the project as a priority? 

I ask this because I am genuinely interested in your views. 

Recently I have regularly found myself in a situation where the engagement doesn’t feel right. It feels short, or tacked on, or limited, or in favour of the project and employer, sometimes at the expense of the community the engagement is for. And I forget momentarily who I am batting for, and I default to my employer to balance the needs of all stakeholders (and protect my job and professional internal relationships).

But with every nod, or box ticked, or engagement plan signed off, I feel I am betraying the people I know want to have more say, the people who want to feel some sense of ownership over the places they live. I feel I am betraying my sense of purpose and the principles of community engagement which exist for a reason, to give people a say, and an opportunity to influence the places they live.

I feel, at once, like I am doing my job, and a traitor of our practice and purpose.

When you next get told by your supervisor or employer that we can’t engage the way you’re suggesting because of time, history, resources, context, budget or for some other reason, what do you do? How do you respond? How do you balance better practice engagement with the needs of your employer? Who are you batting for?

Let us know. I’m so curious.