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Communities catch-up 3: Making the most of your community engagement opportunities

Effective CE requires considerable resources from all parties involved, especially time. In the fast-paced world that many of us live in, time is a precious resource and therefore it is important to use it wisely. There are a few simple ways to use the limited time available more efficiently:

1. Be prepared

Turning up on a neighbour’s doorstep not knowing their name, their concerns, or what type of operation is occurring is not conducive to the development of a long term working relationship, it only wastes everybody’s time and erodes trust and respect. Make sure when you organise a CE activity that you are well aware of who you are talking or meeting with, and what their main concerns are (additional concerns are likely to arise during conversation). This provides time for you to assess alternative management options, source additional information, and obtain the required approvals. In addition take the documentation such as maps, operational plans, supporting scientific reports etc, including copies (where possible) for the neighbour to keep for their records.

2. Be flexible

CE is context specific. From one engagement process to another people change, concerns changes and expectations change. It is therefore important to be flexible in the process and outcomes. Don’t try to stick with a set procedure, instead know and understand your limits (in terms of engagement skill, decision-making authority and forest management knowledge), and adapt your process to suit the current circumstances.

3. Be open and honest

It is essential for CE practitioners to always be open and honest when talking with the community. If you do not know the answer to a question, don’t make it up, instead admit that you don’t know and that you will seek further advice and get back to them. Being open, honest, and transparent helps to build trust and respect, and provides an insight into your depth of knowledge and professionalism.

4. Be the right person

Time is easily wasted when the wrong person is sent to talk with concerned community members. The person may be wrong due to them not having the authority to make decisions, not having the right specialised knowledge, or not being a good communicator. It is important to consider the likely concerns that people are going to have and ensure that the person with the right knowledge and authority is involved in the CE.

5. Be thorough & thoughtful

It is important to be thorough with your CE, this includes making sure you are talking with all the people impacted or interested in the forestry operations, and that you follow through on agreed actions. It is sometimes prudent to show evidence of actions taken, or agreed to be taken. This may involve writing a letter confirming the agreed outcomes, or following up meetings with a phone call confirming actions or providing additional details where required.

For more information on conducting CE within Australian plantation forest management look out for the Community Engagement Handbook coming out soon on the CRC for Forestry website.