Introducing Nexus Community Partners’ Community Engagement Institute

Earlier this year, Nexus Community Partners launched a new initiative called the Community Engagement Institute, focused on building an equitable and just society by teaching and encouraging the practice of equity-based community engagement. The Institute’s vision is that all community members, especially those who have been historically oppressed and ignored, are engaged in and have authorship of their lives and future. Building on years of community engagement learning, practice, and funding experience, the Institute will be a local and national resource for expanding and deepening the practice of community engagement.

What is community engagement?

Communities, at their foundation, are about relationships. Communities form not only when people live near one another, but also when people spend time with one another, connect around common values, and create opportunities for one another. Communities are also complex, and some communities suffer from greater complexities than others. Racism, historical trauma, generational poverty, and chronic disinvestment slow progress in many communities. These challenges cannot be overcome quickly or easily. But when neighbors, organizations, and institutions develop deep and trusting relationships, these challenges can be diminished over time.

Authentic community engagement requires developing relationships within the community that are focused on long-term results rather than short-term gains. The practice is both about the power of individuals and about working together to create a healthy community. Perhaps most importantly, community engagement is a life-long commitment to a set of values that place equity and inclusion at the center. This means that people who live in low-wealth communities and communities of color should be integrally involved in decisions about their lives and their neighborhoods.

How did the Community Engagement Institute originate?

Nexus has a long-term commitment to authentic community engagement. Yet, despite our consistent advocacy for this work, we know that people struggle to understand how it differs from civic engagement, outreach, or organizing, and they struggle to define the impacts of community engagement. To address this, in 2012, Nexus brought together the knowledge and expertise of six multi-cultural community engagement organizations to create the Building the Field of Community Engagement initiative (BTF). BTF captured new knowledge about the field, assessed its impact on transforming communities, and strengthened the case for integrating this work into other fields.

How is the Community Engagement Institute different?

The Community Engagement Institute is an evolution of the Building the Field of Community Engagement initiative, and is a direct response to the growing demand for community engagement tools, knowledge and best practices from community-based organizations, government agencies, foundations, and institutions.

The Institute is designed to be a learning, practice, and leadership center for individuals, organizations, and institutions from across the country to learn about authentic community engagement. We are working with an advisory board of cross-sector experts to test new strategies that will support both local and national stakeholders in improving their community engagement practice. Some strategies include:

  • Introduction to community engagement workshop: We created a four-part introductory workshop series called Tapping the Potential that teaches participants the foundations of authentic community engagement.
  • Community of practice: We will look for more ways to develop a “community of practice” for community engagement practitioners. We know that people involved in changing systems and mindsets to facilitate community engagement need spaces to share strategies, and to dig deep into the challenges they face with others in the field. We’re building ways for community engagement practitioners to talk about opportunities for moving this work forward, along with difficulties in evaluation, navigating power, lack of support for their work within their organizations, and systemic barriers to change.
  • Consultation: We are developing consultation models to support organizations going deeper in their on-the-ground community engagement practice. We are developing tailored curricula and programs that will help institutions shift their culture, policies and practices.

The work will evolve over time as we learn. We remain open to innovation and centered in the goals of equity and inclusion as we grow. Our commitment is to honor, build upon, and grow what has come before and what is yet to come in partnership with on-the-ground community engagement practitioners.

To learn more, please visit http://nexuscp.org/cei.