Pillar 3: Engage


Now that you have thought through the steps in Pillar 1 and designed your public engagement and outreach approaches in Pillar 2, it is time to implement your plan.

Step 1: Implement Outreach Plan

Implement your plan, prioritizing broad outreach that will drive people to participate in the housing process. Ensure targeted audiences from your community are represented (authentically) within your plan. Double check with local leaders to ensure authentic voices are reached. Strive to reach beyond the small number of usual suspects that typically attend city council meetings / community workshops. For tips to increase engagement, access ILG’s tip sheet Beyond the Usuals: Ideas to Encourage Broader Public Involvement in Your Community.

Step 2: Implement Public Engagement Approach

Use the Facilitation Plan Template to execute your public engagement plan. Well planned and well executed meetings have a facilitation plan, or as it is sometimes called, an annotated agenda. It contains the details related to each agenda item. Ensure that roles and anticipated outcomes are clear. 

The following tips provide guidance and things to consider when planning a meeting/event. After the initial attempt at a facilitation plan, it is a good practice to connect with interested community groups / key leaders to fill in gaps and check your assumptions.

Consider Language Access

44 percent of California residents speak a language other than English at home and nearly 6.8 million of these residents have limited-English proficiency (LEP). Below are some tips to reach segments of your community with limited-English proficiency:

  • Develop policies that clarify your local agency’s responsibilities for providing bilingual services and ensure that local officials understand these policies, responsibilities and existing language access services and resources.
  • Partner with community-based organizations and ethnic media to better identify language access priorities, ensure accurate and culturally appropriate interpretation and translation and more fully assess the effectiveness of language access plans.
  • Use bilingual employees effectively and appropriately. Avoid assumptions about competence and willingness of bilingual staff to provide language services. 
  • Translate print and online materials into languages spoken by a substantial number of LEP residents. Minimize the use of bureaucratic or legal jargon when creating all new documents. 

For additional resources on providing language access see Immigrant Engagement on the ILG website.

Planning and Facilitating Meetings

Have a facilitator: A dedicat3ed person who focuses on the structure of a meeting and group dynamics allows participants to focus on the housing planning process and move effectively toward their desired outcomes. A key role the facilitator plays is to recognize what meeting processes or tools are needed and when to use them. The facilitator needs to be careful not to be perceived as “an advocate for the housing plan.” Or if they are an advocate, to be clear about that up front. It is best, however, in the spirit of public participation if the role of the facilitator is to assist with the process of gaining all perspectives and see if there is a path to building consensus.

Initial preparation includes asking the following questions:

  1. Why is the meeting being held?
  2. What is the purpose of the meeting? 
  3. Where is the meeting to be held? Is the location appropriate?
  4. What tasks are planned?
  5. What are the goals of the meeting?
  6. Is the meeting room set up properly?
  7. Who is invited? Are the right people there?
  8. What meeting time will ensure the desired people will attend? 
  9. Is the right amount of meeting time planned?
  10. Will childcare be provided? 
  11. What transportation options are there to the meeting location?
  12. Are translation services needed?
Develop Desired Meeting Outcomes

Meeting goals or desired outcomes can be developed before, during, or after you outline your meeting agenda. Be sure each one of your agenda items connects to a meeting goal or desired outcome. Conversely, be sure each desired meeting outcome has a related agenda item.

Build the Agenda to Match the Desired Outcomes 
  • Use icebreakers that create opportunities for participants to know who is in the room.  
  • Ensure multiple voices are heard, not just the facilitator and presenters.  
  • Consider the appropriate length for presentations. Ideally do not present information “at” people for more than 10 minutes.
  • Ensure there is an opportunity for everyone to speak. You may need to create structured opportunities for those who are not as forthcoming as others. Structured opportunities for all to speak include:
    • Pairs. Have ‘neighbors’ discuss an aspect of housing plan that interests them.
    • Structured Go Around. Have each person share a thought on the issue.  
    • Divided Sides: Divide the group into two “sides” of room based on a distinguishing characteristic or feeling. 
    • Breakout Group: Break a large group up into smaller groups by counting off or self-selection based on topic area.
  • Provide short 5-10 minute breaks for participants every couple of hours. 
  • Consider the final “take away” your attendees will leave with.
  • Always use a method that properly closes out a meeting. Provide next steps, any follow-ups and/or announcements. Tell people how their input will be used so they do not feel like participating was a waste of their time. 
Create Ground Rules

If the prospect of creating a housing plan for your community is controversial, you may want to consider creating ground rules for your meetings. Ground rules help meeting participants establish appropriate ways to interact with each other during the meeting. You can suggest a set of ground rules or ask the group members if they would like to set ground rules. 

Sample Ground Rules
  • Listen to others opinions
  • No side bar conversations
  • Attack the problem, not the person
  • Show up on time and come prepared
  • Stay mentally and physically present
  • Contribute to the meeting goals
  • Turn off cell phone
  • Be respectful
  • Think before speaking
Be Prepared

Arrive with plenty of time to move tables around as desired, set out materials and sign-in sheets. Test any electronic equipment. Be sure to find out who to contact if your room is too hot or cold or if you have problems with any equipment. Find out where the restrooms are located. Pay attention to seating arrangement and room set up. Different room configurations work better or worse depending on the type of meeting and the level of conflict in the room. 

Begin on Time/ Acknowledge Start Time

Ideally, you want to start all community and stakeholder meetings on time. This shows respect for participants who arrive on time. There are instances where key meeting participants have not arrived and you need to delay the start of the meeting. In this case, make an announcement to the group that the meeting will begin in “about __ minutes”.

Keep the Meeting on Track

Your job is to keep the meeting on track. The problems below could mean you have spent too much time on the topic, or because some participants are self-important, rude or unaware of the effect of their behavior on others. You cannot have an effective meeting when there are other side conversations happening simultaneously. Examples of common situations requiring intervention include:

Problem: Participants having side bar conversations

Possible solutions: 

  • Stand behind/next to the people having the side bar conversation or make eye contact with them.
  • Personalize. “John, do you have a question of clarification” or “John, I can see you have something to contribute, when the speaker is finished I’ll put you first in the queue.”
  • Say: “Just a reminder, we agreed to one conversation at a time today” or “We have about __ minutes of this presentation left; if everyone could please stay focused, and then we’ll have Q/A.”
Problem: Discussion exceeding time allotted on agenda

Possible solutions: 

  • Note the amount of time available for discussion at the beginning of the agenda item. If there are many in the queue, ask all to be very pointed to ensure all can contribute. If time looks short, ask the group what they want to do.
  • Note how much time is left periodically during the discussion. Acknowledge time constraint; ask if anyone needs additional information before making a decision on the topic at hand.
  • Note how many additional speakers/comments you will likely have time for during the time allotted
    • Shorten or eliminate another agenda item
    • Take up the conversation at another meeting
    • Extend the end time for the meeting (if so, by how many minutes)
Problem: Discussion is off topic

Possible solutions:

  • Consider using a “Parking Lot” list on a flip chart to capture items brought up by participants that do not pertain to the issues covered during this meeting.
  • Say “You have raised an important issue; I am listing that on our Parking Lot list to ensure we discuss it at another time. At this time our focus is the housing planning process.”
  • If something that will be covered later is brought up, ask them if they can hold the thought until that agenda item.
Record Information and Follow Up with Participants 

Make sure to inform participants what will happen with their feedback/input – will you capture all comments and share them back out with attendees? Will they be included in a staff report to the City Council, Planning Commissions or County Board of Supervisors? Will staff use them to help inform their recommendation to the Council, Commission or Board? Also consider sharing other opportunities to engage, next steps and a timeline for final decisions and implementation. 

Not communicating with the community about what happened to their feedback, where you are in the process and what final decisions are made can easily break the trust you are working to build through a robust community engagement process.

Step 3: ‘Reality Check’

Implementing the outreach and engagement plans is a critical part of the housing planning process. In order to maximize participation and meet your goals it is important to ‘reality check’ along the way and adjust your efforts accordingly. Are there internal organizational politics or challenges that have changed and need to be considered? Have your demographics and target population groups changed? Who did you reach? How much still needs to be done? Check in with key community leaders on a regular basis to understand new or upcoming issues related to housing planning and mitigate accordingly.

There are many different ways to structure an engagement process. Below is an example of how to include both smaller advisory group meetings and larger community workshops. 

How to Integrate an Advisory Group and Community Workshops into a Housing Planning Process

  1. Review overall process, purpose and need
    • Discuss housing goals
    • Discuss community hazards and assets
  2. Confirm housing goals and community vision
    • Review initial vulnerability assessment 
    • Plan for community workshop
  3. Topic: Community-wide Vision and Vulnerability Assessment
    • Deliver information in multiple forms (presentations, discussions, small breakouts, & exercises that get people moving)
    • Use games, maps, and/or dot voting as a way to enrich planning
  4. Review and prioritize housing strategies
    • Implementation planning (roles, responsibilities)
    • Plan for community workshop
  5. Topic: Strategies to Support the Creation of Affordable Housing 
    • Deliver information in multiple forms (presentations, discussions, small breakouts, & exercises that get people moving)
    • Use games, maps, and/or dot voting as a way to enrich planning
  6. Review implementation, initial housing projects
    • Discuss funding opportunities
  7. Topic: Open House to Launch Initial Housing Projects

Learn More