New Deal for Communities partnerships are the key driver for the New Deal for Communities Programme launched in 1998. This report presents a picture of community engagement based on sample case studies. This dimension of the programme rests partly on the premise that local people are the real experts about the problems in their communities and about why previous attempted solutions may have failed. It also recognises that residents and community groups in neighbourhoods experiencing multiple forms of deprivation are often socially excluded and reveal low levels of social capital.
The report identified a number of factors which help community engagement. Engaging residents in producing the initial plans and strategies was a vital consideration. The community representatives also need to see where they fit within the organisation and be clear about the scope of their powers and responsibilities. Good communication is essential and it needs to be imaginative, jargon free, timely and informative, deploying a variety of media and containing not just good news stories but also being open about delays and difficulties.
The factors found to hinder community engagement include unrealistic expectations and shifting ground rules. Being unclear or having divergent understandings about how much power will be in the hands of the local community can drive a wedge between community representatives and professionals and undermine engagement activities. Relying on an unrepresentative few can also be harmful. Those with the loudest or most persistent voices may only represent minority views or those of specific interest groups. If given a disproportionately prominent role, they can subvert the whole engagement process.
The report is available from DCLG. http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/communities/pdf/969847.pdf