Monday, August 6, 2012

A resident's view on engagement and outreach

Congress Heights on the Rise has recently published two pieces about outreach in Ward 8.   Please share your reactions to one or both in a comment.

CONSIDER THIS AN INTERVENTION criticizes government interactions with residents of Ward 8.

You can't Google the East of the River experience. My blog may bridge part of the gap but it doesn't come close to filling the void. East of the river engagement is an "on the ground" and "in the streets" type of operation. It involves many different perspectives and skill-sets (and maybe a confrontation or two). The strategies and tools that may be successful in Columbia Heights may not translate in Congress Heights. You can't expect a community that has been disenfranchised for a generation to come running at the first mention of a community meeting. It will take more than free hotdogs to get people excited about the Saint Elizabeths project. And you can not, for the love of all things holy, continue to engage people to do community outreach east of the river who do not live or work east of the river.

Because East of the River Outreach Should Be More Than A Flyer takes a similarly direct approach, this time using a nonprofit as an example of things gone wrong.

Not that I don't like paper flyers, I have enough of them to wallpaper my house twice over but there really needs to be a more diverse (and green) outreach strategy when it comes to connecting East of the River. Yes, there is the serious issue of the "digital divide" but the internet is here to stay and people (even older people) are cruising the information super highway. Don't sleep, my 85 year old neighbor sends me emails and my mother follows my blog religiously (she was following me on Facebook but I had to shut that down quick - sorry Mom!). The problem with some outreach efforts are that they are homogenous one way or the other (either purely paper or purely electronic).

Despite the many benefits of flyers, internet, and social media let us not forget that nothing beats a "personal touch" and whenever possible that is the way to go, but sometimes the challenge is reaching the people in order to touch them (that sounded much better in my head).

How many times have we heard about a good community meeting after it happened or went to one that had more government representatives than community residents? It's kind of like throwing a party and only your grandma shows up. When it comes to East of the River outreach efforts, especially those involving the DC and Federal government there needs to be a combination of off and online tools in the community outreach toolbox. I can't recommend enough that East of the River organizations get in the social media game. Newsflash: the internet is here to stay and Facebook, Twitter, and blogs are free and are for the most part pretty user friendly. We need to do a lot of different things in order to reach a lot of different people.

We have seen the fallout of what happens when organizations either intentionally or accidentally (depending on who you ask) skip that all important step of community outreach -- BTW you have to get "out" in order to "reach." The old saying may be, "it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission" but outraged community advocates (especially in Ward 8) will make you feel both and twice over if you try to prevent than from having their say. Please don't let Ms. Rose think you were trying to shut her out - she will go off!

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