Creating a Community Engagement Playbook

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Researchers at Georgia Tech are working with the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta Housing Authority, and the Westside Future Fund to develop a community engagement playbook.

The group has been working closely over the past year with Christopher Le Dantec, assistant professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, to implement a process for a more open-ended, narrative-based approach to engagement. The goal is to create a set of resources—a playbook—to help guide city departments, community organizations, and local residents on how to work together more effectively on planning and development projects around the city.

The playbook provides a resource for more inclusive community engagement. This means plenty of opportunities for citizens to directly help with the planning and implementation of projects that impact their lives. And if that’s not possible, they’re involved in conversations, given clear and consistent information and the opportunity to provide feedback before, during, and after changes are made.

“We believe that if groups have a resource to point to that outlines the important steps to follow to achieve meaningful engagement it would be a considerable asset for Atlanta, especially if that resource has been collaboratively developed by Atlanta residents, the public sector and its private partners,” said Kate Diedrick, researcher, Solidarity Research Center. “People who feel ownership over the playbook see it as an important tool and will refer to it when any new planning initiative begins.” 

If civic participation means that every citizen has the opportunity to actively engage in shaping the public sphere, says Diedrick, there are too many factors outside of our control to ensure meaningful participation for every citizen from every social, cultural, and economic background across Atlanta.

“A more engaged community is difficult to define in strict terms because engagement can look so different depending on context,” said Diedrick. “But people know when they live in an engaged community, and they also know when opportunities for engagement are open, democratic, inclusive, and accessible—all values mentioned again and again when we asked Westside residents how they define meaningful engagement.”

Researchers and community members collected a large set of interviews with city officials and Westside residents, which focused on the everyday experiences and challenges of community engagement—everything from working with Atlanta’s new 311 system, to understanding the neighborhood impact of long-term development plans like the Atlanta Beltline and the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“By sharing and working from experiences shared via the interviews, a diverse cross section of stakeholders were able to see why community engagement is so important, why it’s so difficult, and to begin working together to define the principles and the logistics for doing it better,” said Le Dantec.

The interviews also played an important role in a community engagement workshop held on June 21 with over 70 Westside community members and representatives from Atlanta’s public and private sector.

The project is a piece of Le Dantec’s larger research agenda that is defining a new Digital Civics—building out processes, relations, and technologies that connect citizens to each other and to local institutions. It’s supported by the Living Cities City Accelerator program, which works within and across cities to advance and promote the spread of promising innovations that will have a significant impact in the lives of residents.


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