Focussed Narrative Practice in community engagement shifts the dynamic between community and organisation. It encourages a distance between the problem and either party and it gives the community the space to engage. It can be used in a variety of engagement contexts, particularly in communities facing the impacts of natural disaster or with other significant challenges, distrust or outrage.
Our first task is to listen.
We aim to initially externalise the issue or problem and step away from the solution. This allows space for the community to express their needs and their knowledge. It is a tool towards integrated understanding and perception, and authentic engagement. It is an effective first step in a process to create strategies with the community that work towards integrated goals.
Our approach will be to collect a detailed story of the community perspective so we can really understand how they are impacted by a situation, what they think needs to change, what questions they have and what helps them deal with the problem.
The process requires a small footprint and the creation of an open space in which people can express themselves and focus on what is of most importance to them. In this way, we can build a deep understanding of the needs of the community: of experiences and misunderstandings and dissatisfactions, and the excellent ideas and solutions and awareness that each community can have about itself and the issue they face.
Our second task is to feedback our understanding and answer questions.
A collective narrative document, summarising the community’s input and filled with phrases and sentences ‘rescued’ from individuals who have spoken, will be sent to the community for further comment. It will include answers to the questions that the community have asked. It seeks to accurately and respectfully feedback understanding of the community’s perspective with a strong awareness of the solutions to problems which already reside within the community knowledge and experience. Any necessary changes can then be made to ensure it is acknowledged as an accurate record.
It is an important and valuable element of this approach, particularly for communities recovering from disaster or other traumatic events, that this document of community story be shared – to relevant organisations and perhaps to other communities facing similar challenges and situations.
Our third task is to re – engage.
A necessary component of this framework is to re-engage with the community in order to work towards resolution, solution, education, change and improvement as appropriate. There are a number of optional frameworks for further engagement, depending on the situation, including Focussed Conversations, community planning sessions, training and workshops for, or indeed by, members of the community. The aim at this point, is to utilise the tools best suited to both the needs of the community and of the organisation, to facilitate integrated solutions.