In my last newsletter I pondered on the definition of community engagement. Over the last few weeks I’ve narrowed it down and have been giving some thought to the term ‘community’ and wonder again whether our bureaucratic jargon is biting us on the bum.
The question I have, is do the ‘community’ identify as being the ‘community’ that we refer to so often?
Of course, one of the essential stages of planning any community engagement activity is identifying who is going to be affected by the decision, and therefore defining who ‘the community’ are and who needs to be involved. This really helps the organisation that is planning the engagement activity, but does it do any more than that?
According to Wikipedia, the word ‘community’ has traditionally been used to describe a group of interacting people living in a common location but even in the mid-1950’s sociologists had 94 discrete definitions of the word. Of course, we all know that these days people living in a common location don’t necessarily interact (if you don’t speak to your neighbours you are still part of the community aren’t you?!) and that a person can be part of more communities than just one defined by the geographic location of where they live.
In the health field, we often talk about ‘consumer participation’ and again this raises the debate of whether a consumer knows they are referred to as a consumer! My partner recently came across this term and to him it sounded completely alien. Not a great start in encouraging participation in decision making around men’s health!
So, perhaps by using the terms ‘community’ and ‘consumer’ we aren’t actually reaching the people we are meant to be reaching. If people don’t know that they are part of the targeted community, they probably won’t get involved.
I am proud to have named the issue of the community not knowing they are the community ‘Community Immunity’ and look forward to the term being used in bureaucratic boardrooms across the world in years to come!