Workshop participants identified several factors as necessary to achieving the ‘recognition of community engagement as a specialised, valued profession,’ including: clarity of career pathways, need for pay equality with other industry professions,  need for recognised qualifications, and the perception of community engagement  as a feminised occupation. Using systems thinking, participants in this exercise suggested that professionalisation of community engagement could contribute directly to greater industry commitment to engagement and, consequently, to more adequate budgeting and resourcing to support best practice.

Participants also identified the following key challenges in terms of the professionalisation of engagement as a discipline:

The formalisation of community engagement as a profession was generally seen as crucial to deeper integration of engagement into organisational structures and cultures, including facilitating a greater number of engagement practitioners to enter executive and senior executive leadership roles in the same manner as their engineering, finance and project management counterparts.

Qualifications: A call for tertiary qualifications in community engagement arose repeatedly throughout the workshops, focused primarily on postgraduate-level course offerings.

Enhancing legitimacy: Qualifications are an important means of building the legitimacy of community engagement as a profession. But research tells us that qualifications are only one piece of this puzzle. Power, capacity to ‘gatekeep’, collective activity for the public good, a shared professional culture, existence of professional/practitioner groups, and exclusionary power have all been demonstrated as equally important components of professionalisation.

They wanted to see the following questions answered. What do you think?

  • How does the organisational position of engagement staff and the organisational culture surrounding engagement impact both project performance and the perceptions of engagement as a discipline?
  • To what extent could tertiary qualifications in community engagement contribute to greater legitimacy and influence of engagement-focused roles within individual organisations? Within industry more broadly?
  • What are the educational and organisational pathways to improving the understanding and integration of community engagement into the practice of other disciplines, including engineering and planning?
  • How do role-related factors, including the organisational structuring of community engagement roles, levels of responsibility and authority, and average salaries inform perceptions and valuing of community engagement’s status as a practice/profession?
  • To what degree are engagement professionals progressing into more generalised, executive leadership roles? What are the main factors influencing this situation (e.g. perceptions, qualifications, skills gaps)?
  • What would an explicit skill set for community engagement professionals look like and where would it best fit within existing tertiary programs/concentrations?
  • What, if any, education models exist globally that could be adopted/adapted? And what gaps in educational offerings can be identified?
  • How could interim offerings, including custom education, new or existing training (e.g. IAP2 or IAIA programs), certification courses (e.g. like that of AICD) or short, non-degree university courses help to fill gaps or meet the needs of those with more advanced practice/experience?

What do you think - do the challenges resonate?

Is there a challenge that should be added to the list in terms of how the professionalisation of engagement could be achieved or supported?

Would addressing these key questions help you to improve community and project outcomes?

Is there a question that should be added to the list which would better assist you in improving community and project outcomes?

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