I am developing a training program for people interested in enhancing their skills in guiding organizations toward more effective community engagement. Several small groups have completed or are in the process of helping me beta test it. As part of the process I have been refining my criteria for substantive engagement.
I begin with what appear to me to be the four critical elements of relationship building in arts-community partnerships:
- Pre-existing relationship with identified communities (partners) built on respect
- Mutual benefit
- Collaborative design, implementation of programming
- Existence of a relationship maintenance plan
From these building blocks we are crafting essential questions to get to the depth of each:
Pre-existing relationship with identified communities (partners) built on respect
How long-standing is the relationship with the participating communit(y)(ies)?
How deep is/are the relationship(s) with the participating communit(y)(ies)?
- #/% involved
- Enthusiasm for relationship on part of participating communit(y)(ies)
- Enthusiasm for relationship on part of the organization
Mutual benefit (beyond or in addition to $ for community organization)
[Note: If there is no community-recognized benefit of the project, this is not a community engagement project]
Is the only benefit to the community financial? (Yes/No)
- How well articulated/understood are community-selected goals for the project?
- To what extent does the project meet community goals?
- How well articulated/understood are the organizational goals for the project?
- To what extent does the project further organizational mission and meet project goals?
Collaborative design, implementation
At what point in the planning/development did the participating communit(y)(ies) begin to contribute to project design?
Was/were the communit(y)(ies) involved in:
- Selecting programming?
- Marketing efforts?
- Production/participation details?
- Developing post-event relationship maintenance plans?
Relationship Maintenance Plan
How clearly detailed are the organization’s post-project plans for maintaining the relationships with the participating communit(y)(ies)?
For each of these questions, we are then developing a range of answers and point values rating the depth and quality of the relationship. While this part in particular is a work in progress and the ratings are not even remotely scientific, I think we are making some good progress. For those interested, the response options and ratings as currently articulated can be found here.
One of the important things that the process of developing the survey (and, for the students, of reviewing the questions) is reinforcing the importance of thoughtful, ongoing relationship building as central to the work of engagement.