How to build a Community Engagement Roadmap as a Student
Community engagement can take many forms, from homeless shelters to neighborhood clean-ups, and can be initiated by anyone with a good plan. The unique position as a student brings its own challenges and advantages with this, and to succeed you should consider this closely.
Key Questions: Brainstorm
To lay the foundations for your roadmap, ask yourself these:
What is it exactly that I feel passionately about?
What skills do I have right now that I can use to bring about a positive change to this?
What level of participation am I aiming for from the community?
Who will benefit from this plan?
Who can help me?
So, you’re a student…
As a student, you need to outsource funding, knowledge, and possibly physical materials. Though it may seem daunting, there are ways you can get your hands on these. For example, the budget doesn’t have to be a problem: create a fundraiser!
Next, make connections. You can easily reach out to fellow students who have similar passions and interests to you, with whom you could share ideas and tasks. At university (and some schools), many societies have already been founded with the purpose of making change - consult these, and even make your own. Also, think of who you already know that could offer useful advice and contacts; these people could be your teachers/lecturers or parents and family friends with experience in fields of interest.
Don’t forget the research. As well as useful contacts, take advantage of your university or school’s library and other learning resources when designing this roadmap.
Bringing your project to life
At a most basic level, tackling a community issue can branch out in one of two directions: developing a new resource or initiative, or improving one that already exists. When you choose which side you’d like to approach the project from, you can think clearly about how to develop it.
Then, get to know the community. Ask people that you may already know what they’re struggling with and what changes they’d like to see. Make connections with the council, schools, and perhaps businesses - remember that this engagement could benefit their organisation, too. Moreover, there will be specific local groups that would be beneficial to aim for, like voluntary associations who’d readily join in. Learn about their culture and values to understand how to connect and get involved.
Joint decision-making is the core of community engagement; remember to respect the community’s autonomy. Even though your idea is for their benefit, you need to approach it in such a way that they work with, not for you.
To gain support for your project, you need to spark interest.
Today, this is most successful online, but sometimes on the streets, too. You could create a website and social media accounts to showcase your plans and progress, which will you to get in the eyeline of people who may be interested in helping. However, don’t shy away from face-to-face conversation; maybe set up a street stall for the chance to answer general questions and recruit helpers.
Once you’ve gathered a cohort, organise meetings; many cultures are grounded in oral communication, especially those that don’t have great access to technology. This helps keep beneficiaries involved in decision making and keeps the project going organically.
Communication is the root of community engagement, and it should be in plain words, be it through flyers or emails, provided in the appropriate languages and in accessible formats. During your project, you could send out surveys to the community and co-workers to measure progress and setbacks.
Finally, plan for flexibility: new challenges and questions will be sure to crop up. Good luck!
You can also apply for our Young Changemakers Program, where we will help you plan and execute your social change project.
Author: The article has been written by Mia Jacobs