Systematic Review: Engaging the Community

Systematic Review: Engaging the Community

Community engagement can offer firms and communities vital benefits. This research identifies what we know about how to achieve them.
NBS July 20, 2010
Systematic Review
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Companies are increasingly expected to reach out beyond their traditional constituencies of shareholders, employees, and regulators to make a positive social and environmental impact.

In community engagement, firms work collaboratively with people to address issues affecting their well-being. Company benefits of community engagement can include: Truly effective community engagement involves complex decisions about who to work with (or through), how to engage, and what likely result to achieve. To identify insights and recommendations, NBS commissioned a systematic review from Dr. Frances Bowen, Dr. Aloysius Newenham-Kahindi, and Dr. Irene Herremans. They reviewed more than 200 academic and practitioner sources, focusing on three questions: Download the full 35-page Systematic Review for an in-depth look at the research project. The Executive Briefing is a condensed version of the Systematic Review, while the Introductory Guide provides step-by-step advice.

Give Back, Build Bridges, and/or Change Society

The research revealed three main strategies for community engagement. 
Figure 1: Continuum of Community Engagement

Recommendations from Research

Research provides four core insights into best practice.

First, best practice in community engagement involves fit between the engagement context and process in order to achieve the best outcomes for both the firm and the community.

Second, the payoffs from engagement are largely longer-term enhanced firm legitimacy, rather than immediate cost-benefit improvements.

Third, more value is likely to be created through engagement which is relational rather than transactional, since purely transactional interactions can be duplicated by other firms and thus offer little potential of gaining unique competitive advantage.

Finally, firms which desire a genuine shared ownership of problems and solutions, shared accountability, and richer relationships must follow a transformational approach.

The researchers looked to the cutting edge of practice to identify best practices at each stage of the engagement process (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Best Practices Principles for Community Engagement
Note: Numbers in parentheses refer to the sources as listed in the PDF

Many Factors Influencing Success

While research can recommend general principles for engagement, possible and appropriate strategies vary by situation. Figure 3 captures this complexity. For example, governmental policies (institutional context) might influence priority areas for engagement. Attitudes toward the company (community context) might make outreach more or less difficult. The organizational context is the firm’s own position; firms may be constrained by resources or strategic considerations.

Figure 3: Antecedents, Behaviours, and Consequences of Community Engagement

Who Should Read the Briefing

Community engagement can offer firms and communities vital benefits; this research identifies what we know about how to achieve them.

This systematic review and related resources can help executives, directors, and leaders in community relations, public relations, and strategic partnerships. The systematic review also provides recommendations for researchers on how to extend academic knowledge of this area.
Systematic Review
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Related Resources

Executive Report

Truly effective community engagement involves complex decisions about who to work with (or through), how to engage, and what likely result to achieve.

Executive Report

A systematic approach to stakeholder engagement, like the one outlined in this guide, can bring genuine business benefits. 


Dr. Turcotte introduces fundamentals of stakeholder engagement, including key terms, issues, steps to implement strategy, and further resources.

Marie-France Turcotte
Reports and Articles

This report summarizes key lessons from NBS's community engagement forum, which brought together representatives from business, government, and academia.