IV. Active participation of community members

CPB Self-Study Module
Step 4: Collect audience information relevant to the environmental practice and specific behaviors


A. Introduction: Active participation of community members is vital to short and long term success

If one of the main goals of outreach is to build the capacity of the communities-of-interest to identify and manage environmental situations, opportunities, and problems in the long-term, then members from the community-of-interest need to be included in the entire outreach process – designing, planning, implementing, and evaluating. Even in the preliminary stages of planning, involvement of the targeted audience and stakeholders is vital.

Employing interactive methods early on can help:

  • Generate rapport between you and the community
  • Identify key individuals and/or groups interested in working to bring about changes within the community
  • Build a relationship of trust and cooperation that will lead to an effective and sustainable outreach project.

Identifying your target audience(s) is an important first step. Representatives from within the community of interest may be available to help in promoting community participation and support. They can also help identify the targeted group and provide advice for refining the assessment process. They can identify what kinds of questions are important, suggest who to engage in a needs assessment process, and consider the method or methods most likely to result in needed information. It is important, however, to note that different members of the community may have different views of environmental problems, their causes, and solutions.

Regardless of whether or not assistance is obtained, community input, feedback, and active participation can be proactively sought by outreach professionals. Creating an atmosphere of learning and cooperation allows for both the outreach professional and community members to gain skills and expertise in the interest of conducting more effective outreach projects and in order to build the capacity of communities of interest to identify and manage environmental issues as they arise in the long-term.

Table I describes several techniques helpful for defining the audience.

Here is additional information about commonly used strategies (courtesy of the University of Illinois Extension):

Any of these techniques can also help provide preliminary information about your target audience. These techniques help to identify underlying factors that affect individual behaviors as well as the general characteristics, or social dimensions, of a community.

Individual outreach professionals will differ in terms of their comfort and/or level of expertise in relation to engaging with communities of interest. For resources to help you decide what you can do and what you want to try to do, see:


NEXT: Natural resource professionals can incorporate social dimensions in their work

You don’t need to be a sociologist or anthropologist in order to learn more about the human aspects of an environmental concern. Certain skills that you may already have can help you to effectively assess the human dimensions of a particular situation. The skills of being a good listener, observer, and/or group facilitator are fundamental to the methods of the social sciences.

Further information

For further guidance and a case study in developing strategies to involve members of the community of interest in outreach efforts refer to the following resources:

  1. Engaging Communities in Environmental Planning and Decision Making. Department of Environment and Conservation NSW (2006), 59-61 Goulburn Street, Sydney, Australia. See the general Web site: www.environment.nsw.gov.au
  2. Agua Pura: A Leadership Institute Planning Manual for Latino Communities. University of California, Cooperative Extension, and University of Wisconsin-Madison, Environmental Resources Center.