I attended a racial equity training yesterday where local leaders learned engagement strategies to pilot projects about race. As you would expect, one of the six steps in the process was community engagement. For this section, the presenter really pushed us to outline a process that was an on-going partnership rather than a one-time encounter.
“It is key that you develop a relationship that is not extractive,” cautioned our Race Forward facilitator – with extractive meaning that you go into a community, extract feedback, then go away only to come back claiming to have the answer. Community members who are impacted need to be involved beyond just providing feedback to become engaged in developing the solutions.
I think extractive encounters occur throughout many organizations. Companies run focus groups and made subsequent decisions based upon the one-time opinions of a few. Leaders conduct town hall meetings and take action based on that slice of feedback rather than cultivating on-going communication with employees. Politicians seek input around election time but seem to disappear the remaining portion of their term.
As you seek to learn from your stakeholders, design your process to be an exchange rather than an extraction. Your community engagement will be far richer for it.