Why focus on engagement?
There are many people with a role to play in a community-based food system, yet no one person or group can do all the work. Even a food council, with its carefully selected membership, cannot do everything that needs to be done. Engaging the larger community in food council work helps various groups build social capital, while helping the council to increase its relevance.
What does engagement look like?
Councils are often structured with a finite number of seats to ensure a manageable size for decision-making and efficiency. Yet the scope of a community-based food system extends far beyond the council membership. A flexible council structure will incorporate a way for the council to grow through committees, work groups, or task forces.
There are many ways in which the community can be brought into the work of a food council:
- Participation in standing committees, work groups or ad hoc task forces.
This provides a way to build leadership capacity within the council and its network.
- Meetings open to the public, in which community is encouraged to attend.
This provides an opportunity for council members to actively build its relationship network.
- Regular convening of the community to identify priorities and celebrate the work of the council and its network.
This provides an opportunity to reflect on what’s working and learn more about the food system.
- Serving as connections to other networks – a distributed form of council communication.
This allows councils to conserve resources while still sharing information widely.
What else should you consider?
- Make engagement relevant – don’t push farmers to attend every meeting.
- Be clear about term limits and time commitments – match them to community member needs.
- Expand engagement incrementally – in coordination with council growth.
- Develop a flexible structure and be sure to expand according to the design.
- Ensure with each step relevant support systems are in place and familiar to new participants.
- Restate decision-making processes and critical aspects of governance at each meeting.
- Keep council purpose and strategic plans front of mind – don’t let them get lost with new participants.
Tools & Resources
The following tools and resources are helpful in engaging community members.