Community participation engagement has been the increasing subject of research for some decades now. This is especially the case in terms of the increasing recognition that those who are affected by decision-making and social schemes have a right to participate in such decisions and schemes. Also, community participation is assumed to enhance the democratic process, with the process of voting recognized as one of the most fundamental manifestations of community participation. This does not, however, mean that the concept of community participation and engagement is a universally uniform, or even accepted, form of interaction. Indeed, some have criticized both the complexity and cost of community engagement, especially in cases where the community is significant in diversity and size. Community participation and engagement can have significant challenges, but in general, it is an essential component of the democratic process, which has been the norm in Western countries for centuries.
Perhaps the best way to initiate a simplification of a very complex process is to consider the definition and interaction of its components. Jones and Wells (2007), for example, note that community engagement functions as a dimension of public participation. At its heart is a recognition of mutual respect for values, strategies, and action towards authentic partnerships. Generally, communities who can be engaged consist of people who are uniformly affiliated with or in proximity to the leaders involved with the issues being addressed. The community is usually invited to participate when the issues addressed affects the well-being of its members. Participation then provides the opportunity for taking part in key decisions that affect the future of the community.
According to Carpini, Cook and Jacobs (2004: 315), this is one of the most common benefits of community participation engagement; the enhancement of the democratic process. It ensures the equitable outcomes of decision making and planning processes, and indeed is essential to the continuing presence of democracy in countries where this is viewed as the political ideal. The authors also point out that public deliberation within democracy is not a recent phenomenon; indeed, it is as ancient as the concept of democracy itself. It is therefore inextricably linked with the enhancement and concomitant benefits of democracy, not least of which is the power and rights of people to participate in the public process.
This concept is substantiated by Rodriguez (2009) in her consideration of how the public participation engagement system functions with in public education. According to the author, the main benefit of public participation in this arena is the fact that public education systems will improve in efficiency and quality on the basis of public participation. The main reason for this is the interaction between the interested community and the target of the decision making process. Because parents are primary interest holders in the public education system, their participation will necessarily lead to the improvement of its quality and efficiency. The author emphasizes that these effects in the public education system are most keenly felt in the domains of infrastructure and maintenance, management and administration, teacher support and supervision, pedagogy and classroom support, student supervision, and student recruitment.
One specific advantage of community participation engagement is then that the interested community can effectively function in tandem to create a much more effective public education system. This can have both short-term and long-term benefits for the growth of the community in terms of quality education and workforce preparation.
This means that communities must be empowered ot play a participatory role in key decisions in the educational domain. One challenge in this regard is to empower communities to participate effectively towards common goals.
Community participation engagement can also have important effects in the field of economics. According to Costa and Kahn (2002), the main challenge that the economic discipline faces in this regard is separatism among disciplines that can ideally work more efficiently together on the basis of community participation engagement. There is, however, a movement in this direction, with economists recognizing the importance of interaction among fields such as economics and the judicial system. In addition, community participation engagement can enhance important factors such as transparent governance in order to determine the economic performance of institutions and countries.
The authors then refer to social capital as being at the heart of such performance. By engaging the community to act in their capacity…