Barriers to involvement
Looking to those groups who may be treated unfairly, excluded or discriminated against (intentionally or unintentionally), it is useful to consider:
- Possible barriers to their involvement
- How to encourage them to ‘engage’ with local issues
Excluding those groups we seek to engage
Good Practice Guidance produced by the Scottish Executive stated that citizens can be excluded from full participation by physical, cultural, linguistic, attitudinal, financial and social barriers.
The way in which community engagement is planned and carried out will determine whether such barriers are overcome and whether people get a fair chance to have their voice heard. The report flags up that people with different protected characteristics have similar experiences to each other in the ways that they are treated and excluded.
It is useful to be aware of the ways in which people may become labelled and/or put in certain boxes, as well as ways in which you may unintentionally exclude them from ‘being engaged.
Negative stereotypes may lead to assumptions about people’s capacity for community engagement. They may be portrayed as problems to be solved by national media and within policy debates and this can have a really negative impact on people’s confidence and self esteem. (Read more here)
Some people may be particularly vulnerable e.g. due to age, infirmity or lack of citizenship status and this has implications for their need of protection and/or support during engagement. They may also be ‘dependent’ on public services and professionals in positions of power which may affect willingness to challenge authority and criticise services in any way. We may not intentionally discriminate but need to recognise that what we do can have a serious impact on people and they ‘feel’ excluded, disempowered, angry. It can lead to individuals thinking ‘I am the problem – if only I wasn’t old, less capable, hard of hearing’.
When we talk about ‘hard to reach communities’ it may just be that people are few in number and scattered across areas, or that we haven’t recognised that they exist or even that we just don’t know where to look! ‘Seldom heard’ may be a more apt descriptor. They may have lost faith with the ‘system’ as it never seems to work in their favour, they may have been promised things that have never materialised, they may never have seen or heard of us!
It is also important to recognise that individuals may be discriminated against within a community as well as by local organisations and so confidentiality may be very important.
Other groups may be less well organised and more vulnerable to representation by a minority of vocal members, which means that ongoing support for community led, representative organisations is really important.
Work as part of the Black Country Take Part Pathfinder to encourage people to become ‘active citizens, overwhelmingly affirmed that most people believe that it doesn’t really matter what they say: no one is listening; they’ve decided anyway; or the voices of the loudest always win out. Cynicism can be a significant barrier to participation and involvement.
Barriers to engagement tend to fall into different categories:
Personal – feelings around inadequacy, ignorance and lack of confidence
Cultural – what is seen as proper or appropriate for different groups of people – cultural norms
Structural – the involvement of some people is prioritised more than others subsequently re-producing inequality in engagement
Institutional – the internal workings of organisations and mechanisms favour the engagement of those already involved