England & Wales

Seminar: ‘People not Politics’: a guide to best practice community engagement


Forget the theoretical models – this is a guide to hands-on ‘real’ community engagement, where councillors, officers and other stakeholders alike can work together for the good of communities no matter where they are or what the issues.


At this time more than ever, it is becoming more and more apparent that the focus of the elected member needs to be on the reality of their community leadership role, and how this can enable them to work productively with Council officers and the voluntary and community sector to draw attention to issues, give the community a voice that is listened to and effect real change in public services.

Whilst it is the membership of a political party and the accompanying support of the electorate  that allows a party candidate to walk through the doors of a Civic Centre or Town Hall as an elected member of the Council, it is at that point that the political aspects should be left – or their importance at least significantly diminished – if a member is to adequately and successfully build their relationship, work and reputation with the whole community they have been elected to serve, not just their political supporters. The focus needs to change.  Partnership working is key, with an acknowledgement that change and sustainability cannot be delivered by one party, organisation or sector alone.

Recent and highly tragic events in the news have highlighted a lack of communication and understanding between local authorities and their communities, giving rise to a culture of suspicion, division and broken relationships.    For the Council, to be successful and fit for purpose as community leader, this relationship needs to be reconciled and strengthened and the trust and cooperation so often missing to be restored.   Councillors cannot afford to be perceived as remote from their communities, nor expect officers to simply get on with it.  Challenging levels of resource cuts often means there are no – or at least limited numbers of – staff, and very limited budgets available to them to assist with community engagement activities and bolster a flagging relationship between the Council and its communities.  Councillors need to be more involved, more visible and more accessible, standing by communities to lead from the front and inform the design of services and policy in challenging times.

Delegates will gain:

  • A practical understanding of what community engagement is, why it is important in Local Authorities, social housing providers and the voluntary & community sector today
  • The difference between being an elected party political member and an elected member of the Council as community leader, and how members can truly influence services and outcomes for residents and stakeholders by working together and in partnership with other agencies across the sectors
  • How to write a community engagement strategy or action plan, using a joined up approach to include and involve the community and all other stakeholders
  • Putting strategy into practice, always aiming for sustainability

Delegates should bring with them an example of an issue or problem within their community or Council that they would like to address through better community engagement.



09:30 Registration & refreshments

10:00 Welcome and introductions

  • Introduce yourself
  • Motivations for attending today
  • What do you do in the other non-community engagement part of your life/something else are you passionate about

10:15  So you’re involved in community engagement – that’s great!


  1. What contributed to your decision to become involved?
  2. What were your motivations?
  3. What do you understand your role as an elected member/officer or community activist to be?

10:45   So now what?


  1. How do you think your new role enables you to influence Council policy, services and outcomes for residents and stakeholders?
  2. What else do you think your role is responsible for other than that?
  3. Where does the politics fit in?  Or does it/should it?

11.15  Putting it into context – Community Engagement

  • What is it?
  • Why is it important?
  • The ladder of engagement

11:45  Refreshments   

12:00  A little piece of history

A look at Government led community engagement initiatives in the past twenty years

Traditional methods of on- the -ground community engagement

12:30 Ladder of engagement


  1. Where do you think your Council/Organisation is on the ladder?
  2. Thinking of some real examples to add to the ladder/different rungs/stages
  3. Could it/should it be better?

12:45  How can councillors and officers get to know the community better?

  • Relationship with voluntary and community sector
  • Being visible and reaching out
  • Understanding real life issues

13:00 LUNCH

13:45 Putting engagement into practice


Where have you seen (in your opinion):

  1. Examples of good engagement between Councils/Social Housing Providers and communities – why is it good?
  2. Examples of bad/inadequate engagement between Councils/Social Housing Providers and communities
  3. What are the key ingredients missing in the second?

14:15 Writing a community engagement strategy

  • Relationship between elected members/officers/voluntary & community sector
  • What resources are available?
  • Who do you need to work with to make ‘it’ happen?
  • Multi organisational approach
  • Council as community leader

14:45 What could good community engagement look like in your local authority


Thinking of an issue or potential project in your local authority/community, how would you engage all relevant stakeholders and partner organisations into a joined-up approach to achieving a stronger community, better service or required outcome.

15:15 Final comments

15:30 Close


Julie Simmons Julie is an independent management consultant, specialising in community development and stakeholder engagement.  With twenty years’ experience leading teams, services and projects in local authorities, the third sector, Government initiatives and professional bodies.  Julie has worked at a senior level to deliver corporate policy, strategy, improved services and outcomes across all sections of the community and organisations. A passionate believer in the power of the volunteer to bring in expertise, skills and resources to enhance the offer of any organisation or business, one of Julie’s particular strengths is to engage, manage and develop volunteers, elected members, boards and committees. Julie is the founder and director of Community Knowhow Management Solutions, a new consultancy whose mission is to help other organisations achieve theirs.  By connecting wider and often dispersed communities to the very heart of an organisation, it will become stronger, streamlined and better able to deliver its key mission, vision and objectives, no matter what the sector or subject matter. Julie is a chartered member of the Chartered Management Institute
Who should attend?
This seminar is designed for elected members, council officers, social housing organisations and the voluntary and community sector.  It will allow a good understanding of community leadership and the part that each has to play in the development and sustainability of public services, and of a culture of cooperation of trust.