A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Building Community Support

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 Your local partnership and its goals generally represent changes in the community. Typically, about 10% of the community will support your partnership at the start, and about 10% will oppose it. These opponents or supporters are unlikely to change their position. The remaining 80% are usually undecided, indifferent or sceptical. Failure to bring this ‘silent majority’ on-side can seriously jeopardize your group’s success. Various communication strategies can be used to win the support of the silent majority. Talking with neighbors, peers, family members and community leaders can be particularly helpful.

Begin consulting with the community right from the start. This helps build trust, support and understanding for the project. If the project proceeds too far before the public is informed, there may be problems with rumours and the spreading of misinformation. Submitting news releases to your community newspaper at the start of your campaign will help your group spread the information.

However, it’s important that key community people and project stakeholders are well informed prior to any media releases. Share project information with the community early enough that it still has a chance for input, but not before you have the basic support of the partnership. Whenever possible, provide a contact name and information about any upcoming activities related to your project. People are often motivated to ask questions or provide input after they learn about the project through the media.

Building support
Knowing the community is critical to building support. One of the first steps is to identify the individuals and organizations in the community who will be affected by the project, as well as those who have power and influence. Developing a community social profile is vital to creating effective communication strategies.

Inviting the public to express its views and concerns about the project can help to enhance community support and ultimately the success of the project. If the community doesn’t support your project, stand back and try to be objective. Has your group provided enough information? Is the timing good? Has the group made use of the feedback it asked for? There’s no integrity to inviting public participation if the decisions are already made. Take advice from the community, then let people know where their input has made a difference. The community can help set priorities, define issues and find contributions.

Informal conversations allow people to keep in touch and share ideas with others in the group. Pointed discussions with key people, over coffee or through a few quick phone calls will often do the job. Such discussions should be two-sided exchanges. You want to share your ideas, ask questions and discuss your view of the benefits of the partnership to the community. But you must also be prepared to listen to other people’s ideas, concerns and suggestions.

Informing the public
Open houses are one approach for spreading information to the community. An open house allows the public to learn more about the project and provides an opportunity for people to briefly express their concerns or support. Ensure opportunities to provide written or oral input. Ideally an open house is held at a community hall. People can come and go at their leisure during designated hours. Take-home materials should be available for reinforcing your group’s message. Project displays should always be manned by knowledgeable people. Open houses can be used successfully at various stages of the project.

Semi-permanent displays at libraries or other public gathering places may also help get the group’s message across. Use the same materials as those displayed at open houses or create similar displays using more durable materials.

Posting information about your group on an Internet site can give you additional community support as well as wider coverage. A group member may have the skills to create the web page, or the group can hire a professional web page designer.

Consider whether public forums may be useful for your situation, especially once the community is aware of your group and its work. A public forum allows for meaningful, in-depth dialogue and gives participants the opportunity to voice concerns about the project and provide input regarding alternatives. The group may want to consider having a professional facilitator chair the forum and design a process for clarifying issues and exploring options. Plan to communicate outcomes from the public forum once it’s over. This can be done through media coverage, a newsletter, or another public meeting.

A printed fact sheet outlining the project, including timelines, budget, features and benefits, is also a good way to inform the public. Make the fact sheet short and easy to read. Fact sheets can be distributed to the public via the mail, household drop-offs, grocery bag stuffers, newspaper inserts or other appropriate methods. Encourage comments, questions and suggestions. You can use a postage-paid return card to increase feedback and to monitor community support. Conveniently located drop boxes for the return of these cards is a less expensive option.

Other ideas for reaching different people in the community include:

  • one-on-one surveys of opinions and ideas;
  • communicating through school newsletters or at parent advisory meetings to reach young families;
  • placing posters or giving talks in senior activity or residential centres to reach older residents;
  • hosting noon-hour presentations in a central location to reach working people;
  • addressing Chamber of Commerce meetings and town council to reach business people;
  • free community service announcements on farm radio stations to help publicize your efforts in the local agricultural community.

Other Documents in the Series

  Building Community Partnerships: A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Community Partnerships
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Group Leadership
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Organizing a Stewardship Group - Two Examples
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Getting Started
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Building Community Support - Current Document
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Roger Bryan.
This document is maintained by Laura Thygesen.
This information published to the web on March 4, 2002.
Last Reviewed/Revised on April 30, 2013.