By Craig Dalton
Community groups are often consulted by researchers, government agencies and industry. The issues may be contentious and the relationship vexed by distrust and poor communication. Could an inventory capture the fundamental sources of community frustration and highlight scope for improvement in respect, transparency, fairness, co-learning, and meeting effectiveness from a community perspective?
The trust and empowerment inventory presented below is based on the main sources of community frustration that I have witnessed over two decades as a public health physician and researcher liaising with communities about environmental health risks and it is likely to have broader relevance. Key issues include not being listened to; not being fully informed; inability to raise important issues; lack of decision making power by the researchers, government or industry representatives present (who have to confer with their superiors after the meeting and before they can make decisions); reneging on commitments; no sense of progress; and poor chairing or facilitation.
The inventory is designed to be completed by community members at regular intervals (for example after each meeting). It is helpful if analogous inventories are completed by the other parties (such as researchers, government representatives, industry representatives) about how they perceive the community involvement. An example of community and ‘other party’ inventories is presented side-by-side below. Of course, the inventories would be administered separately and space should also be provided for comments. Comparisons across the perspectives of the community members and the ‘other parties’ then provide a valuable reality check and learning tool.
The inventory could be used in a number of ways but I suggest having the community members complete the survey individually, average the scores across the individual community forms, then compare the average to the researcher, government agency or industry representatives’ assessments. Examine whether they are in alignment or if there is a divergence in perceptions and consider what can be learned from the comments.
How often the inventory is completed depends on the frequency of meetings. For example, for a community reference group that meets monthly, I would probably have them complete the inventory after the first 3 meetings and then at least quarterly.
Experience with the use of inter- and intra-organisational inventories such as this suggest that just completing an inventory may not lead to change unless a system of accountability is put in place. It may be helpful for the results of the inventory to be openly published as an appendix to minutes or referred “one level up” in the management hierarchy for those from the other parties attending the meetings.
Would this inventory be suitable for the community groups you work with? I would love to hear any feedback or experience with using this or similar tools.
To find out more:
This inventory is from a draft book: Dalton, C. 2019 How NOT to Piss Off a Community – How to work in low-trust environments with integrity and compassion. It can be downloaded at: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/rev6ysqv86
Biography: Craig Dalton is a public health physician with Hunter New England Health in New South Wales, Australia and conjoint associate professor in the School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle in Newcastle, Australia. He is interested in empowering community members to collaborate as equal members of research teams investigating environmental health issues such as toxic exposures.