VIU student learns that opportunities and issues with community engagement are universal

“Community engagement requires a lot of passion, dedication, commitment, and working well beyond the call of the clock.” -Dr. Joseph Francis, Director of the Institute of Rural Development, University of Venda

My research into community engagement in land use issues in Belize has taught me a lot about the many facets of citizen participation. The research also let me draw connections between Canada and Belize, and to ultimately discover that the issues and opportunities for community engagement are the same in each country. I’ve broken down some of my findings into the 3 T’s: Time, Trust and Teamwork.

Time: Almost all of the practitioners that I interviewed identified time as an important factor in community engagement success. An organization or project needs to put in the hours on the ground and have a clear and successful track record in the community. This builds credibility, and helps build the second T; trust. Time is also the critical piece to monitoring and implementation. Determining success, and how it will be measured takes time before the project begins and it takes time after completion. Most importantly, time means flexibility to change things, and to adapt as things happen.

Trust: Citizens are skeptical. They are often probed for information and see no results, and many suffer from consultation fatigue. The community needs to trust whomever is coming in to conduct research or start a project in order for success to occur. If practitioners have spent the time in the community, trust will organically form. Like anything worthwhile, trust needs to be earned.

Teamwork: Without trust there is no basis for teamwork. Both sides of any project or organization need to come together to create co-operation and success. This means that the practitioner’s need to have done their homework before entering into a project, and the community needs to recognize and collaborate with the practitioners in order to see results.

Community engagement in my opinion doesn’t have one clear definition. It means something different to each person from community members, to corporate representatives, to organizational or governmental officers. This makes how and why engagement and participation are occurring the important questions. I look forward to writing my guidebook on tools and techniques for better citizen participation in land use issues in Belize. There is so much to learn on this subject, and I’m sure many more Canada - Belize parallels to be discovered.

Teunesha Evertse, Community Planning, VIU