The Value of Different Engagement Methods: Community Summits
Friday, September 24th, 2010

Most people have some preconceived notion of what a public consultation may look like: a crowded room, people talking back and forth, and a person standing at the front fielding questions. However, meaningful engagement can be achieved in a wide variety of ways, and as a result, should look different depending on the situation.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a few examples of different methods, which I used recently in a course at the University of Victoria to conduct ‘simulation’ consultations. Please refer to The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems for more information.

Community Summits: Created in 2003 by Gil Steil and Mal Watlington, this is a method for aligning stakeholders around a complex issue and helping them find the common ground needed to implement real action. It often takes the form of a planning meeting, with the goal of enacting positive change within an organization or the broader community. For example, the United Way of Rhode Island engaged 700 individuals through a series of Community Summits to determine community priorities, which then helped inform the organization’s decisions around funding allocation.

For my course, I conducted a simulation of a Community Summit to address the issue of safe injection sites in Victoria, B.C. After an ‘expert’-led presentation that outlined the perspectives of the health community, police associations and local citizens, participants were divided into stakeholder groups to focus on a specific domain of the issue. After some in-depth discussion, participants were regrouped into ‘learning teams,’ comprising of at least one representative from each stakeholder group. Together, they learned about each other’s perspectives, set out goals and action steps to address the issue, and presented them to the plenary for voting. The value of the Community Summit is its focus on cross-perspective learning as a foundation for dialogue. By the end, participants had agreed upon some potential safe injection site locations and levels of service delivery.

I’ll continue this discussion in my next posting and provide more examples. In the meantime, keep in mind the value of having different engagement methods to address the wide range of issues confronting individuals, groups, organizations, and communities. Most methods have been carefully designed to achieve a certain type of outcome, and have been used in real world settings to affect change at many different levels.

– Tristan Eclarin –

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  1. Shelly says:

    Ooooh, Tristan.

    This is a very good blog. You seem to have a great deal of knowledge on the community summit model of stakeholder engagement. I have never heard of such a method, but reading about your simulation, it seems VERY proimssing. I mean, you WERE able to bring together different stakeholder groups with a vast array of concerns and ideas, and come to an understanding. Indeed, the focus on cross-perspective learning seems to work well. After reading your blog, the method of splitting into groups of stakeholders, and then later into ‘learning groups’ seems like the best possible method of stakholder engagement. I am looking forward to your next blog VERY much!