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Debunking Common Myths About Communications and Community Engagement Professionals

Debunking Common Myths About Communications and Community Engagement Professionals

With Marlee Wendt on behalf  of the Young and Emerging Practitioners.

In the realm of communications and community engagement, misconceptions and myths abound about why, how, and what we do. As professionals focused on fostering meaningful and transparent dialogue between stakeholders, the lack of clarity and understanding about our skills, role and purpose within a community and organisation is usually the first and largest hurdle to overcome. Let’s explore some of the most prevalent myths surrounding our field and debunk them once and for all.

Myth 1: Is it in IT?!? What does a communications and engagement professional do?

Reality: Communications and engagement professionals are advocates, storytellers, and the bridge between communities and organisations.

We are dedicated to fostering collaboration and meaningful conversations to resolve issues, avoid crises, and drive collaborative outcomes. To do this, we’ll use a range of communication and engagement tools and tactics to build relationships and understand the needs and perspectives of all parties involved.

 Myth 2: Community engagement is a one-size-fits-all approach.

Reality: Community engagement strategies must be tailored to specific contexts and audiences.

Every community and project is unique, with its own set of values, preferences, and communication channels. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to community engagement. Effective communications and engagement professionals understand the importance of adapting their strategies to suit the needs and characteristics of each community and the stakeholders they work with. This may involve utilising a mix of tactics and channels as well as integrating visual and data driven communications to reach diverse audiences.

Myth 3: Community engagement is only necessary when facing controversy or opposition.

Reality: Community engagement should be an ongoing process, not just a reaction to crises.

While community engagement is undoubtedly crucial during times of controversy or opposition, it can play a significant role in mitigating the controversy’s impact or even occurring if professionals are involved early on in a project. Instead, it should be an integral part of organisational and project decision-making processes from the outset. By involving stakeholders early and often, organisations can build trust, gather valuable insights, and avoid potential conflicts down the line. Community engagement should be viewed as an ongoing commitment rather than a quick fix.

Myth 4: Community engagement is all about consensus-building.

Reality: Community engagement is about fostering dialogue and understanding, not always reaching consensus.

While consensus-building is often a desirable outcome of community engagement, it’s not always achievable or necessary. The goal of community engagement is to foster dialogue, build relationships, and ensure that all voices are heard and considered. Sometimes, stakeholders may have conflicting interests or viewpoints, and reaching a consensus may not be feasible. However, by fostering understanding and respect for diverse perspectives, professionals can still achieve meaningful outcomes that benefit the community as a whole.

 Myth 5: Community engagement is just listening to people complain or dealing with community outrage – anyone can do that.

Reality: Delivering effective communication and community engagement requires a unique skillset and experience.

There are numerous pathways to becoming a communications and community engagement professional. Our YEPs committee members have come from a range of different backgrounds – some have undertaken communications or public relations university degrees while others come from engineering, public relations, and planning fields. These unique pathways equip professionals with skills such as problem-solving, strong written and verbal communication, and the ability to build strong relationships. Combined, a professional’s experiences and skills empower them to excel in their roles and drive positive outcomes for their organisations.

By debunking these myths, we can better understand and communicate the true nature and value of our work. Effective communication involves active listening, tailored strategies, ongoing engagement, internal alignment, and a focus on dialogue and understanding. By dispelling these myths, we can pave the way for more effective and inclusive communication practices that benefit organisations and communities alike.