A guide for “Inclusive community engagement in local planning and decision making” has been released by the Department of Rural and Community Development and officially launched on 2 February by Minister for State for Community Development, Integration and Charities Joe O’Brien.
The guide highlights the need to involve marginalised groups and the organisations that represent them in local decision-making and planning. It also shows the “common barriers to participation” that still exist throughout communities.
“This is particularly important as our society grows and changes,” said Minister O’Brien at the launch. “I would encourage anyone involved in developing policy, leading consultations or making decisions that affect communities, to use this guide.”
How to engage your community
The guide defines what inclusive community engagement is and how it can be achieved by following simple principles like collaboration and accessibility.
It then breaks down the process into three phases — planning, implementation and review. Some effective case studies are included, such as the Wallers Lot Working Group in South Tipperary and the 2016 Local Economic and Community Plan in County Meath.
According to the guide, consultation and communication with each group of the local community are key: written submissions, surveys and in-person roundtables are listed as successful ways of engagement.
The barriers to participation
Transportation, language, social customs and costs are instead the main barriers to participation in the local planning: the guide provides recommendations on how to overcome them.
Community decision-makers should also take into account some members of the community may not feel like participating as they lack the technological skills, they have care responsibilities to fulfil, or they have been disappointed in the past by local planning.
A wider project
This written resource was developed in cooperation with Community Work Ireland, the Irish Local Development Network and Pobal, an organisation that supports local agencies and communities to achieve social inclusion on behalf of several government departments.
The initiative is part of the wider Dormant Accounts Fund project on the engagement of marginalised communities. According to the DCRC, it’s “just one of a wide variety of actions” being delivered under the government’s five-year strategy to support the community and voluntary sector (2019-2024).
At the launch, Minister O’Brien added: “This guide will help renew and strengthen engagement with marginalised groups by local decision-making bodies and ensure better outcomes for all members of our communities.”
“Ultimately, the best decisions are those which are made together, with the opportunity for everyone to share their perspective.”