This article was written by Stephanie Hall Campos, City of Hattiesburg (Hattiesburg, MS) / Office Manager/Public Engagement Coordinator – Department of Urban Development. Stephanie wrote this article as part of the Community Engagement Cohort. Read all the articles from the cohort. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn.
I am Stephanie Hall Campos and I live in and work for the City of Hattiesburg in the pine belt of Mississippi. I am the Office Manager/Public Engagement Coordinator for our Department of Urban Development. I was excited to be a part of the 2020 Community Engagement Cohort because I wear a few different hats in my position. I really wanted to focus on my engagement role and give as much as I felt the citizens and my department deserved.
I learned more than I could imagine from the cohort group and I am walking away with a wealth of information and resources that I will continue to turn to for many projects to come. Some of the most powerful takeaways from my point of view are:
- Every community is different and therefore not all engagement strategies work for each city the same. This can also be said for specific events, departments, and areas of town. At the beginning of the cohort, I wondered why some things were not working for my department that seemed to work for other cities. I feel like I walked away with a better understanding of how to evaluate my community and department needs rather than just comparing to other cities. If something does not work for your organization, it just may not be the best fit for your community and that is okay!
- Try new and different strategies. Just because your city/organization has done something one way for as long as you can remember does not mean you cannot change it up. Trying new and different engagement strategies helps you to get a better feel for your community and determine what works and what does not. If you are utilizing multiple strategies for the same project if one fails it is not the end of the world. If anything, you can learn more about what works in your community from that failure.
- Baby steps and little victories are important. I often dream really big and sometimes forget that little victories are important to celebrate. This can get overwhelming. Taking a project and breaking it down is the way you eventually accomplish a big goal. I learned from others in the cohort that making an impact in your community can be and should be a lot of small victories and baby steps toward a larger end goal.
- Engagement should be a full-circle approach. Building trust within your community does not happen overnight, but one way to make sure you are pushing towards trust is by reporting back findings to your community and thanking them for their assistance. I learned from our cohort that these important last steps should never be missed.
- Get to know your community and your audience. Talk to your community outside of engaging them for a specific project. Understand that every project you work on is not necessarily interesting or even important to the entire population of your city, but it definitely is to a specific group or area. By getting to know your community you will be able to better tailor your projects and outreach to fit their needs.
Although the community engagement cohort has come to an end, the people I met and the information discussed will continue to push me to be a better advocate for the voices of citizens.