Why should ecologists engage communities? In the context of urban ecologies, community engagement and consideration of human dimensions is vital to the resilience of ecosystems. Community engagement allows ecologists, planners, and designers to understand where ecological, social, cultural, and economic goals may overlap – leading to prioritization of areas of overlap in conservation and improvement projects. Conversely, this consideration allows for an understanding of where values may not align despite yielding similar landscape outcomes, or may be in direct conflict. This session specifically asks three questions: 1. What is an effective process for community engagement around natural resources in complex socio-ecological systems?; 2. What common scenarios arise in community engagement exercises that we can be prepared for?; and, 3. What are the key takeaways in past engagement exercises, including specific techniques that were successful in engaging the community in innovative ways. Over a decade of experience in engaging diverse communities around natural resources informed the content of this session which also includes numerous case studies to further illustrate a process framework, common scenarios, lessons learned, and on-the-ground techniques.
It is important to promote the creation of community specific engagement processes; however, from initial community contact to finalized plans, a standard framework can be applied as a point of departure. Initial contact with communities, especially communities which are disadvantaged or have been previously left out of decisions impacting their community, should be open-ended. A process that begins with “just listening” is the first step in building community trust – a necessary step if communities are to provide the most insightful information about community values and needs. Throughout this process, trust-building is a common theme and allows environmental managers and consultants to begin balancing ecological needs with community needs in effective and transparent ways. Beyond a standard process, four specific engagement scenarios seem to be common: 1. Mitigating conflict between stakeholders, municipalities, and/or communities; 2. Connecting communities with environmental systems and each other both physically and psychologically; 3. Working with disenfranchised communities where ecological change may have equity implications; and, 4. Balancing ecology and community by creating multi-functional landscapes. Each scenario will be coupled with case studies to illustrate successful strategies. Finally, this session closes by outlining specific lessons learned and on the ground techniques for activities in engagement scenarios.