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Making Time Online – Community Engagement and Ethics

On Wednesday 4 March CAN and Creative Recovery Network hosted our first Making Time Online Conversation of 2020. The online conversation, led by lecturer and prominent blogger, Graeme Stuart, discussed Community Engagement and Ethics with community arts and cultural development practitioners (CaCD) through Zoom.

Here is a run down of some of the key points made in Making Time Online. If you would like to be involved in future discussion register to be notified of the next conversation.

Through this discussion, participants defined the following conclusion on Community Engagement and Ethics:

‘Ethics is about how we work and what we do

Therefore we need to ask the following questions, when considering the ethics of engagement

What is the motivation for engaging the community?

  • Whose interests are being served?
  • What is the motivation for community engagement?

By determining the motivation for community engagement we can define if the practice is ethical.

An example of this could be a mining company looking to run a program engaging the community. What could be the motivation for this?

Is it to serve the interests of the mining company, the interests of the community, or both?

This often forms a grey area in identifying the motivation for engagement, and can present an ethical dilemma.

If you have been offered funds for an innovative or exciting community engagement project by a mining company, and you feel their main motivation is maintaining community support for their mine.

Whose interest is being served?

It is always important to think about the interests of the community and to think about whether they are consistent with those of the organisation. A CaCD practitioner needs to have the thoughtfulness to assess the motivation, and to reflect on competing demands or priorities.

Will the mining company put the community as the priority?
Or will the interest of the mining company take precedence.

Implementing a principled based approach to community engagement provides CaCD practitioners a guide in navigating the grey area.

Graeme defined the following principles that he utilises in his community work:

  • Courage
  • Inclusiveness
  • Commitment
  • Respect & honesty
  • Flexibility
  • Practicability
  • Mutual obligation

Further thought provokers;

Is the community engagement contributing to the overall wellbeing of the community?

Is the process a two-way street?

Through the Making Time Online conversation, participants were able to unpack this principle based approach and tried to apply the theory to real life scenarios. Some key points that emerged from this discussion include:

  • CaCD practitioners often come into the process of community engagement after the planning stage. Their role is between the organisation and the community, acting as the negotiator. The group discussed that applying the principle of courage in this relationship will help to ensure ethical practice is maintained.
  • The group further discussed the idea of courage and how to have these hard conversations in a non-confrontational way. Graeme advised the group that a strategy he has applied before was to set up a safe space to have these conversations from the very beginning. Be open and honest.
  • The idea of mutual obligation was discussed as a two-way street. In the act of engaging with the community we set a responsibility with each other. We create trust through these actions.
  • The conversation also discussed the importance of each practitioner having a space to discuss issues regarding ethics with other artists. Seeking advice and guidance as a community. Having a space like Making Time Online helps to facilitate this community.

Graeme finished the discussion by asking the group to consider who the community is. Making sure that people who don’t normally have a voice, get to have a voice. This a key principle of social justice.

Join the next Making Time Online conversation, Wednesday 6 May, on Boundary Setting.


Image // Susie Blatchford

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