Reflections: Barriers and Common Challenges

Even after a well-considered and thorough engagement plan is developed, the reality of implementation involves constraints and challenges. Timelines, resources, historical dynamics, political tensions, geographic scope and other factors all shape how an engagement process unfolds on the ground.

There are no easy answers to these kinds of challenges. Some options to consider include:

  • Focus on the central questions(s), purpose or principles of the engagement process and work to fulfill those, letting go of elements that don’t directly align with them;
  • Honestly acknowledge what is possible, and communicate openly with community members and constituencies so that expectations are aligned with resources;
  • Collaborate early on to share some of the work (and power) of engagement with trusted organizations and allies;
  • Question externally driven timelines and the degree to which they are ‘fixed’ or immovable. One of the largest barriers to good quality engagement can be the urgency of timelines that do not match the pace of relationship (Whyte, 2019);
  • Consider the internal work that might be needed within the lead organization (if there is one) to create the conditions for them to convene a meaningful engagement process (see module 5 on organizational change). As Yuen, Yurkovich, Grabowski and Altshuler (2017) write, “Local government readiness requires an investment on the part of public agencies to ensure that their staff possess the knowledge and skills to effectively engage and collaborate with the community” (p. 28).


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Strategic Dialogue and Engagement for Climate Adaptation Copyright © by Simon Fraser University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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