MSUE in Detroit Series Part One: Civic Outreach Field Guide

Civic Outreach: Providing a Voice for all Community Members and Stakeholders

Civic outreach to under-represented populations

Civic outreach and engagement is the method for reaching out to stakeholders in a community and seeking their participation in the municipal decision making process. It is important to invite underrepresented populations to the table because this will support rich two-way communication that incorporates many viewpoints and opinions regarding community issues and concerns. How a community defines underrepresented populations is very contextual and based on the specific demography of a specific municipality or community.

Realizing those who comprise underrepresented populations can be contextual, a best practice used at Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) is to use the demographic data for a specific county, city or geographic area, and allow the data to inform and identify those populations that are underrepresented in your community. MSUE also uses Parity to ensure we are including targeted underrepresented populations into our programming and decision making processes. Data generally comes from several sources, including relevant and current statistical abstracts (not just the US Census, the Census can be a beginning, but may not be all inclusive); other appropriate advisory committees, your state extension leadership; and your own community based research.

The outreach and engagement of underrepresented populations should be a municipal policy, embedded in the day-to-day departmental operations and procedures. It should be a part of the municipality's culture.  Municipalities should make a good faith effort to seek out and engage underrepresented populations.

MSUE has made a good faith effort to engage underrepresented populations in its programs and services. An institutional policy states:

MSU Extension and its employees are expected to make good faith efforts to encourage the participation of diverse populations in extension programs and employment. An important guideline is for participants in MSU Extension programs to reflect the populations we serve. Staff that facilitate our programs should, as much as possible, reflect and represent the populations in our service areas. (Source: MSUE Organization and Development Website, 2018)

The outreach and engagement of underrepresented populations should be embedded in municipal and organizational polices, practices, and decision making processes. It should not be a task that occurs when there is a public hearing or community meeting. Municipalities and organizations should examine their boards, commissions, and advisory boards to determine if representation include underrepresented populations from their community or the communities in which they deliver programs and services.

A best practice used by MSUE states:

For programs held locally, the demographic data and participation data should be regularly reviewed to determine how effective Extension programs are in serving the diverse needs and interests of the community and offer programs that are designed to enhance outreach to be inclusive of the communities’ diverse populations. In addition, good faith efforts are made for the Extension workforce to reflect the diverse populations within the relevant labor market from which we recruit applicants for employment. (Source: MSUE Organization and Development Website, 2018).

Another method for engaging underrepresented populations is to ask the question: “Who is not in the room, but should be part of the discussion and decision making process?” Once again, the answer to this question is also contextual, and based on the project, program, issue, or concern under review. 

For public meetings and community meetings, it’s important to make sure the notices and announcements are in places and spaces that are used or frequented by underrepresented population.  Documents should be prepared to accommodate diverse languages and education levels, and be accessible by persons of various abilities.  

There is not one specific exact science to including underrepresented populations in the decision making process. An intentional, good faith effort is a good start to planning and developing your municipal or organizational outreach and engagement plans.

Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on land use provide various training programs on planning and zoning, which are available to be presented in your county.  Contact your local land use educator for more information.

Read part two of this series. 

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