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Building inclusive engagement with ethnically diverse communities

In the area of community engagement, the language we use matters. Terms like “hard to reach” and “seldom-heard” often place blame on communities themselves, neglecting the systemic barriers they face. Instead of assuming disinterest, it’s crucial to question organisational accessibility and understand the multifaceted challenges individuals encounter, including socio-economic factors.

Engaging ethnically diverse communities presents unique challenges, from language barriers to cultural concerns. For instance, certain communities may harbour mistrust towards institutions due to past experiences. Additionally, reduced public funding often leads to generalised engagement approaches, overlooking the nuanced needs of diverse communities. Understanding the nuances of where communities reside and come together, especially in rural settings, is pivotal for effective engagement.

Within Public Services Boards (PSBs), limited collaborative evidence-building can often hinder meaningful engagement efforts. Improved data sharing and a focus on inclusive practices are essential for progress. Some PSBs are beginning to realise the opportunities that anonymising data provides for organisations to build on each other’s evidence rather than creating something new each time and over-consulting certain communities.

So, what can we do to foster genuine connections?

  • Raising awareness and educating ourselves about the cultures and backgrounds of the communities we aim to engage with is key.
  • Timing matters; avoiding religious or cultural dates and choosing appropriate meeting times demonstrates respect.
  • Committing to do no harm and ensuring engagement processes are not extractive is vital. This involves valuing people’s time, avoiding over-promising, and actively seeking feedback.
  • Choosing the right location and method of engagement is crucial. Partnering with community organisations and individuals with established networks fosters trust and enables long-term relationships. Investing in ethnic minority community groups through funding, capacity building, and ensuring access to essential services is instrumental in empowering often overlooked communities.
  • Effective communication lies at the heart of successful engagement. Considering diverse communication needs, using inclusive language, and being mindful of literacy levels are paramount. Digital outreach can expand reach, but it’s essential to ensure inclusivity.

When engagement is done well, there are numerous benefits. It shapes policy, enhances understanding of communities, fosters co-ownership of outcomes, and builds trust. However, when struggling to connect, engaging with key community representatives, contacting local Community and Voluntary Councils (CVCs), and prioritising trusted relationships are key strategies.

Engaging ethnically diverse communities requires intentionality, patience, and a commitment to inclusivity. By removing labels, understanding unique challenges, and embracing diversity, we can build truly inclusive engagement practices that benefit everyone involved. It’s not just about reaching communities; it’s about truly connecting with them.

This blog is based on learning from an event run by Ross Thomas from Tai Pawb as part of the Shared Learning Network for PSBs within Project Dewi. This sub-network is designed to encourage, and support, people associated with Public Services Boards in Wales to share good practice and assist with each other’s challenges. Please get in touch if you would like to be involved: hello@copronet.wales.

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