Why Community Engagement is so complicated in Government sector
Challenge 1: What is public engagement?
There is more than one definition available on the subject of community engagement
- Web definitions on community engagement
- Wikipedia on community engagement and on public engagement
- Community engagement in the eyes of IAP
- United nations declaration on community engagement
The difficulties are in deciding the depth of involvement, definition of community, and the time-frame of community involvement and in some countries it also includes the platform for involvement.
Though there is disagreement over community engagement definition but there is a consensus on Principles or core values of Community engagement- most commonly used core values of community engagement or public engagement has been drafted by IAP2. I have tried to explore the IAP core principles and existing practices in my last blog entry as well.
The inconsistency is not only intergovernmental it is also intra-governmental. This confusion leads to problems in strategy mapping, business processes and thus it boils down to activities and tasks performed at grass-roots. And the devil of community engagement / public engagement is in the grass-root. This causes the whole concept of community engagement to fail.
Challenge 2: Direct relationship of public engagement with benefits
In private sector the relationship of customer and profits is explicit, measurable and the core driver. In Governments the relationship is indirect and vague, here is what I think
- The policy and practices cant incorporate all customer inputs and hence engagement may result in dissatisfaction
- Products and services that are fee-based can be correlated with customer involvement but the incentive is missing for free services.
- The elected government doesn’t know how engagement will help them in getting re-elected and that minimizes the interest at federal level.
Challenge 3: Ignorance and vested interests
- There will always be groups that have vested interests in certain community projects and a regular screening questionnaire may not be able to filter those respondents out effectively. It will cause unnecessary biases and unavoidable issues. To avoid that, Governments might aim at increasing the sample base which will affect the cost-benefit relationship of engagement.
- Not everyone in the society is informed and is foresighted and this may mean Government has to focus on capacity building of the community. In societies where literacy rate is considerably high capacity building is the first step towards effective engagement.
These are just some of the problems I foresee in terms of community engagement in developing countries. I will frequently update this post, all comments are welcome.
Here are some useful sites for those who are interested in community engagement in Public Sector