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Interestingly enough, I found a great source for information on effective community engagement and case studies: the Centers for Disease Control.  It has a great primer on the basics of Community Engagement that I’m posting here, as well as with my interjections in italics.

Principles of Community Engagement

Before Starting a Community Engagement Effort . . .

Be clear about the purposes or goals of the engagement effort, and the populations and/or communities you want to engage (in other words, if you already made a decision about changing a school, or if the reason for changing it is simply to satisfy previous contractual obligations, just say so up front).

Become knowledgeable about the community in terms of its economic conditions, political structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with engagement efforts. Learn about the community’s perceptions of those initiating the engagement activities (in other words, RESPECT the investment community has made in the leaders it has chosen and what common values they have with one another before trying to apply a solution).

For Engagement to Occur, It Is Necessary to . . .

Go into the community, establish relationships, build trust, work with the formal and informal leadership, and seek commitment from community organizations and leaders to create processes for mobilizing the community (and this should happen before any announcement of change is made).

Remember and accept that community self-determination is the responsibility and right of all people who comprise a community. No external entity should assume it can bestow to a community the power to act in its own self-interest (’nuff said).

For Engagement to Succeed . . .

Partnering with the community is necessary to create change and improve health (or in this case, academic achievement).

All aspects of community engagement must recognize and respect community diversity. Awareness of the various cultures of a community and other factors of diversity must be paramount in designing and implementing community engagement approaches (sometimes communities don’t want to be diverse, or embrace it with open arms.  We must be aware of those dynamics).

Community engagement can only be sustained by identifying and mobilizing community assets, and by developing capacities and resources for community health decisions and action (or by identifying the treasure trove of resources you have in community members to keep a school community alive).

An engaging organization or individual change agent must be prepared to release control of actions or interventions to the community, and be flexible enough to meet the changing needs of the community (it’s best if the change agent is impartial and not funded by any organization with a particular agenda).

Community collaboration requires long-term commitment by the engaging organization and its partners (in other words, you cannot hastily schedule a few slide presentations and expect that community will not revolt).

Now, I want to challenge the myth that DPS, in its attempt to quay dissent during the recent slate of “turnarounds,” has done all it could to hear community concerns.  Here is where the issue lies.  If all you are doing is “hearing” community concerns, then this is not true community engagement.

In my opinion, true community engagement happens when you say to a neighborhood, “we are concerned about the academic progress for your school.  It is performing at level x, when we really think it should be at level z.  We think that turnaround might be necessary, so let’s have an honest dialog about what the situation really is…and then let’s craft together a plan to change the trajectory on which the school is headed.  Let’s do it in a way that keeps you engaged.”

Did DPS do this?  Not in any way imaginable.  Know who has tried?  Jeffco.  They have had some painful decisions to make to balance their budget, and they were left with little options than to physically close schools.  Keep in mind that Jeffco has more students than DPS with a very similar demographic makeup to Southwest Denver.  But along every step of the way, before decisions were made, there seems to have been an honest attempt to get community input to affect the outcome of the decision.  DPS has a lot to learn from Jeffco.

CDC Community Engagement: http://www.cdc.gov/phppo/pce/

CDC’s Principles of Community Engagement: http://www.cdc.gov/phppo/pce/part3.htm