A Guide to Community-Centered Engagement in the District of Columbia

November 8, 2018

This Guide to Community-Centered Engagement in the District of Columbia outlines some best practices for supporting equitable, community-driven planning processes. The Guide draws on lessons from a 2017-2018 Equity Advisory Group pilot project in which the District’s Department of Energy and Environment and the Georgetown Climate Center used this model to support a neighborhood-scale climate and resilience planning effort in Washington, DC. The Equity Advisory Group was a group of residents and community leaders in Far Northeast Ward 7 of the District of Columbia that was convened to inform implementation of the Climate Ready DC and Clean Energy DC plans. Illustrative examples from the pilot project are incorporated throughout the Guide. While the Guide is written for District of Columbia agencies, the lessons and suggestions are more widely applicable to other jurisdictions working to facilitate community-driven planning processes.

The suggested model centers on a committee of community residents that are supported by a neutral facilitator and subject matter experts as they partner with government to drive important decisions for their community. The Guide explains which people or groups need to be involved and what role each of those actors can play. It also outlines suggestions for every step in a planning project including project scoping and funding, recruiting community members, developing recommendations, and remaining accountable to the community. Throughout, the Guide offers specific suggestions on how to support and promote racial equity.

Some key lessons in the Guide include:

  1. The vision and scope of the project should be co-defined by community and government, and must be flexible enough to transform as the team learns together.
  2. Dedicated funding can open doors for more equitable engagement and provide important resources that contribute to an equitable process (e.g., stipends, food, childcare and travel support).
  3. The community is the expert and project partners should be chosen who are oriented towards lifting up the community committee.
  4. The community committee provides an opportunity to hear from a diversity of perspectives and also build consensus.
  5. The goal is to listen and learn, not convince and persuade.
  6. Co-designed recommendations are not compromises, but rather stronger recommendations informed by the expertise of community and grounded in the realities of government.
  7. A community committee may reflect the demographic profile of the community, but does not speak for the entire community; broader outreach may also be needed.
  8. Relationship and trust building should be a high priority; this involves delivering on community recommendations and being transparent and non-defensive about constraints.

A Technical Appendix accompanies the Guide and includes meeting materials and other resources developed to support the Ward 7 EAG process.

This project was part of the Partners for Places Equity Pilot Initiative—a project of the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities. We would like to thank Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, Prince Charitable Trusts, the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation for their generous support. The Georgetown Climate Center is grateful for generous support from these and other funders that make our work possible.

Read the full report