8 Community Engagement and Outreach

Dr. Mahbub Hasan MSW, Ph.D.


  1. What is Community Engagement?
  2. Characteristics of Community engagement
  3. Why community engagement?
  4. Principles of Community Engagement
  5. Continuum of community
  6. Community Engagement Tools and Techniques
  7. What is Community Outreach?
  8. Steps in community outreach
  9. Methods of Community Outreach
  10. Strategies for Community Outreach



This chapter focuses on community engagement and outreach, two essential areas of knowledge for community practitioners. This chapter will discuss definitions, principles, processes, and tools of outreach and community engagement.

Role of Community Development Workers and volunteers. Watch what they do in community engagement, outreach, and community welfare.

Video created by Dr. Hasan, Author. Source: YouTube, https://youtu.be/BSdnTsx_cJw

1. What is Community Engagement?

Community engagement is the most crucial step in participatory community development practice. It is the step of actively working with the community to identify and address local ideas, concerns, and opportunities (Tamarack Institute, 2015). Community engagement allows community workers to involve “the public in processes that affect them and their community” (Ibid, p.1).

Community engagement is a process in community development. “Community engagement …the process of working collaboratively with and through groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, or similar situations to address issues affecting the well-being of those people (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry” (ATSDR, 2015.p.7). It is a powerful means for “bringing about environmental and behavioral changes in the lives of community members” (ATSDR, 2015, p.7). Through community engagement process, “citizens are engaged to work and learn together on behalf of their communities to create and realize bold visions for the future” (Tamarack Institute, 2022a).

Community engagement is a need in community development initiatives. It requires the participation of community members in projects that address their issues. ATSDR (2015) argues that:

 “Meaningful community participation extends beyond physical involvement to include generation of ideas, contributions to decision making, and sharing of responsibility. Among the factors that motivate people to participate are wanting to play an active role in bettering their own lives, fulfilling social or religious obligations, feeling a need for a sense of community, and wanting cash or in-kind rewards (p.13)

2. Characteristics  in Community Engagement

We can describe the community engagement approach based on seven characteristics (Tamarack Institute, 2015, p.2 )

  • A broad range of people is participating and engaged.
  • People are trying to solve complex issues.
  • The engagement process creates vision, achieves results, and creates movement and change.
  • Different sectors are involved in the process.
  • There is a focus on collaboration and social inclusion.
  • The community determines local priorities. There is a balance between community engagement processes and creating action.
Community engagement is critical for any social action. Photo: Dr. Mahbub Hasan, Toronto, 2018

3. Why community engagement

Community engagement increases collaboration, partnership, and community cohesion for their well-being. It can involve informing citizens/community members about your initiative, inviting their input and ideas, collaborating with them to generate solutions to community issues, and allowing you to partner with the community from the beginning to tackle community issues together (Tamarack Institute, 2022). Community engagement often involves partnerships and coalitions that help mobilize resources and influence systems, change relationships among partners, and serve as catalysts for changing policies, programs, and practices (ATSDR, 2015, p.7). Community engagement “increases community cohesion and allows the community to have ownership over the outcomes that will ultimately impact them” (Tamarack Institute, 2022a).


Video: Strathcona Heights Winter Carnival 2016. 
This video describe some examples of community engagement.

Source: YouTube, https://youtu.be/iPorFswrzfI

4. Principles of Community Engagement

ATSDR (2015) identified nine community engagement principles:

Before starting a community engagement effort…

  • Be clear about the purposes or goals of the engagement effort and the populations and/or communities you want to engage.
  • Become knowledgeable about the community’s culture, economic conditions, social networks, political and power structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with efforts by outside groups to engage it in various programs. Learn about the community’s perceptions of those initiating the engagement activities.

For engagement to occur, it is necessary to…

  • Go to the community, establish relationships, build trust, work with the formal and informal leadership, and seek commitment from community organizations and leaders to create processes for mobilizing the community.
  • Remember and accept that collective self-determination is the responsibility and right of all community members. No external entity should assume it can bestow a community’s power to act in its self-interest.

For engagement to succeed

  • Partnering with the community is necessary to create change and improve health and well-being.
  • All aspects of community engagement must recognize and respect the community’s diversity. Awareness of the various cultures of a community and other factors affecting diversity must be paramount in planning, designing, and implementing approaches to engaging a community.
  • Community engagement can only be sustained by identifying and mobilizing community assets and strengths and developing the community’s capacity and resources to make decisions and take action.
  • Organizations that wish to engage a community and individuals seeking to effect change must be prepared to release control of actions or interventions to the community and be flexible enough to meet its changing needs.
  • Community collaboration requires a long-term commitment by the engaging organization and its partners.

You may review details about nine principles at ATSDR (2015), p. 46-53.

Video: Public Engagement-City of Vancouver. 

Source: YouTube, https://youtu.be/AGwBXk7pMNI

5. Continuum of Community

Community engagement can also be seen as a continuum of community involvement. Over time, a specific collaboration will move along this continuum toward greater community involvement, and any given collaboration is likely to evolve in other ways, too (ATSDR, 2015, p. 7.) The following table was created based on the diagram/figure from ATSDR (2015) and illustrates one way of thinking about such a continuum.

                            >Increasing Level of Community Involvement, Impact, Trust, and Communication >>>>>>>
Outreach/Inform Consult Involve Collaborate Shared Leadership
Some Community Involvement

Communication flows from one to the other, to inform

Provides community with information.

Entities coexist.

Outcomes: Optimally, establishes communication channels and channels for outreach.

More Community Involvement

Communication flows to the community and then back, answer seeking

Gets information or feedback from the community.

Entities share information.

Outcomes: Develops connections.

Better Community Involvement

Communication flows both ways, participatory form of communication

Involves more participation with community on issues.

Entities cooperate with each other.

Outcomes: Visibility of partnership established with increased cooperation.

Community Involvement Communication flow is bidirectional

Forms partnerships with community on each aspect of project from development to solution.

Entities form bidirectional communication channels.

Outcomes: Partnership building, trust building.

Strong Bidirectional Relationship

Final decision making is at community level.

Entities have formed strong partnership structures.

Outcomes: Broader health/well-being outcomes affecting broader community.

Strong bidirectional trust built.

Source: ATSDR. 2015, p. 8

The following community engagement continuum from Tamarack Institute (2022b) provided a visual description, goals, and styles.

6. Community Engagement Tools and Techniques

Tamarack Institute has created a comprehensive list of community engagement techniques that can be selected based on your engagement level. Techniques include a description, helpful resources, and factors to consider and are organized by level of engagement – inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower (Tamarack Institute 2022b). Please click here to read the details. 

IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation by Tim Bonnemann in licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

You may  also review IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation.

Case Study:
Podcast: Social Return on Engagement 

Amelia and Victoria, two amazing Social Workers from Albarta, discussed about “Social Return On Engagement” (SROE) project of Aspen, and “Self-care during COVID-19”. This episode was hosted by Dr. Hasan, Social Worker and Professor at Centennial College, Ontario, Canada. If you have any questions, please contact at mhasan@centennialcollege.ca. “Podcasting Social Work” by Mahbub Hasan is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

7. Community Outreach

Community outreach is an integral part of social work and community development practice. As a part of community outreach, social and community development workers provide information to individuals, families, groups, and the community, connect clients/community with services and consult them to design services and community initiatives. Therefore, the goal of outreach is to “inform,” “consult,” and “get involved” (Ottawa Neighbourhood Social Capital Forum). There are many ways of outreach, from door-to-door strategies to community events or even to working strategically with one individual. The strategies you use depend on your outreach goal. Outreach can be part of a strategy to achieve something else, for example, to increase the use of a service, gather information, or to improve safety in a neighborhood (Ottawa Neighbourhood Social Capital Forum).

Scarborough Civic Action Network and Behrooz (2012) provided a comprehensive definition of community outreach. It is the process of communicating with communities and community members. Outreach can be done for promotion, education, research, information, connection, or services. The goal of outreach is to get community members more involved in what is happening in their community (p.8)

8. Steps in community outreach

The following diagram created by Author to show some key steps in community outreach:

Figure shows steps in community outreach.


9. Methods of Community Outreach

Outreach is not just about posting flyers in a community. It is about speaking with people, sending emails, using social media, calling people, and encouraging residents to forward information to others (Behrooz, 2012, p. 9). Each person has their preferred way of receiving information. Someone may prefer conversation, and some may like written communication. For effective community outreach, you need to use several methods to reach as many people as possible and employ several strategies. Scarborough Civic Action Network and Behrooz (2012. p.9) suggested the following methods for community outreach:

Posting and emailing flyers throughout the community (e.g., community boards at libraries, community centers, agencies, businesses, etc.)

Developing an email network & sending information through your contact list

Calling residents

Using websites and social media e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, etc.

Speaking to people in the community (either informally at a public space or at community events)

Attending events (this is a great way to network and talk to people about what you do and what events you are promoting)

Sending information through other networks and using partners to help with outreach

Use the media to get the information out (if you are holding a large or important event, invite the local newspaper to cover the event)

Ottawa Neighbourhood Social Capital Forum suggests that  “Word of mouth is the best source of referrals. Tapping into the word-of-mouth community networks plus door knocking, supported by good flyers, is a very effective way to get the word out” ( p.2). Fun community events, activities with food, and recreational programs for children provide great opportunities to connect with community members you may not meet otherwise. In particular, activities with food are one of the best ways to outreach for engagement (Ottawa Neighbourhood Social Capital Forum).

10. Strategies for Community Outreach

There are many strategies that government agencies and non-profits organizations use to do effective community outreach in a respectful way and here are few strategies suggested by Behrooz (2012).

  1. Make sure you have outreach materials to provide to people. Create and print (color, if possible) brochures, pamphlets, and business cards. All outreach materials should be written clearly and concisely. Inform your audience about where and when to contact, why/purpose of the event/program, and who is organizing (agency and staff contact).
  2. Provide translated materials where required.
  3. Know your audience and use appropriate messaging. Create a message using a welcoming and inclusive tone.
  4. Connect with a variety of resident leaders and other community organizers.
  5. Go to where the people are—for example, malls, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and community centers.



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Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). (2015, June 25). Principles of community engagement (2nd ed.). NIH Publication No. 11-7782. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Health. Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/communityengagement/index.html. Public Domain.

Behrooz, F (ed). (2012). A Guide to Community Engagement & Outreach [Pdf]. Retrieved from CommEngGuidebook Nov 29 2012.pdf (connectedcommunities.ca)

Ottawa Neighbourhood Social Capital Forum. (n.d.). Community Outreach Lessons Learned and Good Practices. https://cdfcdc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Community-Outreach-Good-Practices.pdf

Tamarack Institute. (2022a). Community Engagement. Retrieved from https://www.tamarackcommunity.ca/community-engagement

Tamarack Institute. (2022b). TOOL | Index of Community Engagement Techniques. Retrieved from https://www.tamarackcommunity.ca/library/index-of-community-engagement-techniques

Tamarack Institute. (2015). Community engagement: An overview(Opens PDF document) [PDF]. Retrieved from https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/316071/Resources/Article/Tamarack_Articles_CE_An_Overview.pdf



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Community Development Practice: From Canadian and Global Perspectives Copyright © 2022 by Dr. Mahbub Hasan MSW, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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