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Shifting the dial from transaction to transformation

STEM businesses are increasingly recognising the value of community engagement. But simply telling your community about your activities or showing up for a one-off event isn't enough. Lasting impact comes from building genuine partnerships and working together to create shared value. This article explores the difference between transactional and transformational community engagement and how business can shift their efforts towards the latter.

Engagement on a spectrum

Diagram of community engagement spectrum

The broad term “community engagement” can represent a spectrum of policies and activities. On one end sits transactional engagement, where the focus is on one-way communication, often through information sharing or resource provision. This is a good starting point, but it can lack depth and long-lasting impact.

Moving along, there is transitional engagement. Here, businesses begin to consult and collaborate with communities, building relationships and recognising mutual benefits. For the most part, though, there might still be an imbalance in power, with businesses holding more control over decision-making and communication.

Finally, we reach transformational engagement. This is built on authentic two-way dialogue, shared power, and co-creation. Businesses and communities work together as equals, identifying shared goals and developing projects or initiatives that address community needs. This approach fosters trust, creates lasting impact, and benefits both parties.

Where does your business stand?

Here are some useful questions to assess your engagement efforts:

  • Does your business have a plan for community engagement? Is it vague and aspirational, or clear and purposeful?

  • Do you know who your target communities and objectives are? Do they know you?

  • Do staff get involved with projects or programmes in their community? Are their contributions ad-hoc and voluntary, or well-planned and supported?

  • Are engagement activities tracked and systematically evaluated? Who defines the value?

Shifting gears for transformational change

Recognising what your current position is offers a solid starting point to make progress. If you think your organisation is ready to move beyond transactional engagement, here are some key steps to consider:

  • Listen: Before launching a STEM outreach or engagement initiative, get to know the people in the community you’d like to reach. Make an effort to meet them where they are. Actively listen to community needs and aspirations. 

  • Learn: Understand what your initiative seeks to achieve for and with the community. To reduce duplications, find out if there are existing initiatives that you can link into or build upon to meet your community’s needs.

  • Share Power: Work alongside community members to co-design projects and share decision-making responsibilities.

  • Invest in Relationships: Community engagement is not a one-time event. Dedicate time and resources to building long-term relationships with schools, community members and other organisations.

  • Focus on Long-Term Impact: Think beyond short-term benefits. Seek solutions or initiatives that address underlying community needs and create lasting positive change.

Remember: Transforming your community engagement efforts takes time and commitment. But the rewards are significant – stronger relationships, deeper trust, and shared success for both your business and the community.

For bespoke advice and support with your community engagement efforts, contact the STEM Alliance team today.


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