I had a really interesting discussion the other day with a colleague. We were coming back from a longish day in the field when our conversation turned to the ethics and balancing acts which form our professional ethics when working in the community engagement space. Below are some of the points we thought important:
- We are dealing in social change – we facilitate alterations to the ways things are done, the ways communities are engaged and part of actions, and the ways policy-makers and agencies themselves work. Therefore, teasing out social change approaches and consequences are very important in our professional practice.
- We have to balance competing interests – communities are not, and never have been, homogenous. We can’t talk about ‘the community’ but we can talk about ‘actors within the community’, a significant difference. Because we are dealing with competing interests, we are dealing with social, economic and political power.
- As facilitators, we need to be very self-critical. We need to know where we are coming from and why, because this has the potential to underscore our actions and approaches.
There were lots of other things discussed, but I think these three are crucial, as they form the foundations of a professional practice that is focused on engagement, collaboration and equity. These ideas move community engagement approaches well away from ‘tick-box’ motivations and highlight the very complex and nuanced processes involved.
Important lessons for professionals and important foundations for professional practices that are really focused on engagement and collaboration in a way that is meaningful to the actors involved, not just within the communities themselves, but Government agencies and policy makers.