Why is authentic community engagement so critical to the successful completion of a facilities project? One scenario example might be that the school district has facilities that are in need of major renovations, with student enrollments increasing and student populations already exceeding the facility’s capacity. Or, another situation might be that student enrollments have been decreasing for the past several years, and there may need to be consideration for consolidation of students into fewer buildings. Another example might be that the educational needs of students have changed to the extent that the classrooms are too small to accommodate necessary technology, thus individualized instruction needs of students cannot be met.

School districts throughout the country encounter these issues on a daily basis as they face renovating or building facilities. Important questions for the district emerge. Whose issue is it? How should the issue get resolved? How long will it take to resolve such issue(s)? How important is it to resolve them? Who needs to be involved in resolving the issues?

As school districts consider such questions, some standard components of best practices for community involvement are revealed. The accompanying diagram divides the components of authentic community engagement into three distinct areas — data collection, data sharing and establishing options.

The Data Collection component includes the gathering all of the information needing to be shared with the internal and external constituents in the community. Knowledge is power. The goal is to empower all constituents with the knowledge to assist in making informed recommendations. Some data collection areas and how to effectively collect data will be discussed over the next few months.

The Data Sharing component consists of establishing a process for disseminating data that has been collected in the data collection process. A number of successful methods will be discussed and tools will be provided as to how to set up a data sharing process for a school district.

The Establishing Options component comprises taking the information from the first component and recording the ideas and input from the groups in the second component to establish options. This component begins a series of refinements and further data sharing.

No“one size fits all” method for authentic community engagement exists. However, there are standard components critical to successful facility planning and design programs. (Using the included diagram) ideas on how to use each of the components in your own district to meet your individual authentic community engagement needs will be discussed in more detail in following articles.