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How to Successfully Approach Community Engagement

While most organizations approach community engagement in a ‘transactional’ way, the greatest value and competitive advantage is derived from more relational forms of engagement, which is harder to imitate. Frameworks exist to help managers engage the community. To achieve the best outcomes for both the firm and the community, managers should seek fit between the engagement context and process.


There are numerous case studies detailing the effective and ineffective processes companies have used to engage communities. However, there remain many loosely connected and sometimes competing ideas, as well as knowledge gaps. This study sought to identify the state-of-the-art of community engagement practices.


  • For firms, engaging the community offers an opportunity to gain legitimacy, manage social risk, and even co-develop innovative solutions to social problems with community members. For communities, firms offer access to charitable dollars, employee volunteers, training, capacity building and a non-governmental avenue for substantive improvement to social problems.

  • There are three types of community engagement: transactional, transitional and transformational. Managers can determine where their organization is along the continuum using the framework in the report. Many factors influence community engagement, such as regulations, community expectations and attitudes, and firm resources and capabilities. The report provides a comprehensive list of the antecedents, behaviours, and consequences (ABCs) of community engagement.

  • 17 best practice principles were developed, including understand desired outcomes, allocate sufficient resources, be inclusive, share information, provide feedback, and share successes.

Implications for Managers

  • Find fit between the engagement context and process to achieve the best outcomes for both the firm and the community.

  • Have patience for the long-term payoffs from engagement: enhanced firm legitimacy, rather than immediate cost-benefit improvements.

  • Avoid purely transactional engagement, since such interactions can be duplicated by other firms and thus offer little potential for gaining unique competitive advantage.

  • Seek transformational engagement if you desire a genuine shared ownership of problems and solutions, shared accountability, and richer relationships.

Implications for Researchers

Researchers should be more specific in their treatment of the broad issue of community engagement. Examine the causal mechanisms that link engagement practices to consequences. Measure the costs and benefits of engagement.


The authors systematically reviewed and synthesized over 200 academic and practitioner papers.

Bowen, Frances, Aloysius Newenham-Kahindi, & Irene Herremans. (2008). Engaging the Community:A Systematic Review. Network for Business Sustainability Knowledge Project Series. nbs.net.

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  • Tom Ewart
    Assistant Vice President Sustainability
    Honours Business Administration, Ivey Business School

    View all posts
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