Six Rules of Community Engagement

group of adults around table with coffee, smiling

Community engagement is on everyone’s minds. As libraries prepare to reopen, CALL suggests 6 Rules of Engagement for training staff to reconnect with the people and places you serve.

1. Count your assets. Often we look at community needs through a deficit lens, asking only what’s missing and looking for problems and challenges. Turn the tables! What are the great things that your community already offers? On June 3, join a one hour webinar on Building Connections with Community Assets. Learn how the Free Library of Philadelphia went beyond outreach to engage with their neighborhoods and map strengths. Want to get started  now? Check out CALL Academy’s Asset Based Community Development self-paced online workshop with expert Tonya Kennon.

 2. Explore the possibilities. CALL Academy offers 24/7 access to a curated selection of community engagement learning modules. Learn at your own pace and on your own schedule. From developing partnerships to re-envisioning outreach, design your own training path. Curious about how to engage with communities in virtual environments? Take a course on Engaging Your Community Online, running June 29 to July 26. Ready for collaboration? Join the May 12 webinar Of/by/for All: Co-Creating Programs and Developing Community Partnerships To Serve People With Disabilities in Libraries.

3. Take off with SOAR. This twist on the old SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) offers a different take. SOAR stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. The Aspen Institute’s Rising to the Challenge: Re-envisioning Public Libraries project and its Strategies for Success offered SOAR as one model for understanding and engaging communities. You can find a quick summary of the process online and plan to join the Exploring the SOAR webinar in August.

4. Learn to listen with the Harwood practice. Intentionally engage community members through thoughtful, directed conversations about their aspirations. The activities use a structured set of questions to help you listen to a community’s aspirations. Interested in learning more? Take the Turn Quiz to jump start your own questions. Adopt the quick four-question Ask exercise into your interactions with community members. When you’re able to, schedule longer Aspirations conversations and full Community Conversations. Share what you learn back with your community–there’s a great template for using the information to tell a story–and use it to refocus your own work and develop intentional partnerships. Find out more by looking at the Resources and Tools sections on the California State Library’s Harwood website, which features everything from case studies to ready-made training materials.

5. Don’t forget to listen to library staff. They have valuable knowledge, expertise, and opinions that are sometimes overlooked. Learn more about Appreciative Inquiry as a staff-focused process by watching the recording of our March Intro to Appreciative Inquiry webinar with Jenifer Shurson. Look for an announcement of our upcoming July two-session workshop. 

6. Look beyond the tip of the iceberg. Improving community engagement relies on active listening and open-ended questions. Learning from our communities may require that we address our own implicit biases and examine our assumptions about others. Just as a trauma-informed lens changes what we see, being aware of our own thinking can help library staff become aware of the assumptions that shape our interactions. Find out more in this July webinar on Implicit Bias and Communication.