Consult your community on AOD issues
Learn who to consult with, different methods of consultation, and how to encourage participation from across the community.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation co-designs evidence-based programs with communities and supports them to build capacity to create change.
Community consultation and engagement need to be at the heart of the development of your community activities.
Involving the community in your activity will ensure a thorough understanding of your community and their specific characteristics, needs, values and preferences.
These insights will help ensure you are focusing on the right local AOD issue, and are important to establishing, tailoring and sustaining your activity, and ensuring that your activity is responding to local need.
Strong community consultation and engagement will increase the likelihood of success in your work. It will increase the sense of activity ‘ownership’ in your community and build the capacity of your community to prevent AOD harms, which means that action is more likely to be sustained over time.
Understanding your local community first
Your activity is more likely to succeed if it has the interest and support of the local community.
A thorough understanding of your community and their needs is vital to gaining an accurate picture of local AOD-related issues.
As you work to identify your local AOD issues, it is important to ask the community:
- what does your community think the problem is?
- what has created it?
- what are their ideas and opinions about the solution, how an activity could be rolled out and key messages?
- what is the role of a community in preventing alcohol and other drug-related harms?
Community consultation helps define community opinions, values and needs. It will also assist you in identifying other partners, helping you see what community members are motivated to address, and how you can build and promote awareness of your activities.
Who to consult with
Consider consulting with people who:
- are the target audience
- the activity will effect
- will benefit from the activity
- can contribute information to help develop the activity
- can help deliver the activity
- need to know about the activity.
Follow these suggestions for effective community consultation methods so your consultation can be inclusive, meaningful, and useful. These methods provide a starting point for making consultation work
1 Focus groups
Working with a small group of 5-15 people to discuss key questions you have. This works well for target populations, such as young people, or for a small group of community leaders or influencers. Everyone has the opportunity to speak and ask questions. The discussion is less formal but needs some structure to ensure groups stay on topic.
2 Community meetings
This is an opportunity to bring together a larger group of 20 plus people to get a larger sample of community views or to present ideas to a broader section of the community. The format is usually some form of presentation followed by facilitated questions. They take more time to organise and require a space large enough to hold the meeting. Not everyone may get the opportunity to speak or ask a question.
Can be an efficient way to get a larger number of responses from your community. Asking no more than 20-25 questions is recommended to increase the number of people likely to respond to your survey. Surveys can be delivered as paper versions, online versions, or through face-to-face ‘interview’ style questioning. You may choose to target certain priority audiences or conduct a representative sample of your community. A minimum of 20-30 survey participants is recommended. Larger sample sizes give you more data to work from.
Provide more of an opportunity for two-way engagement in consultation. It works particularly well for groups or target populations that you may have little or no previous knowledge of. They require time to prepare and you will need to get commitment from participants to spend at least an hour involved in the workshop. Workshops are a good method to brainstorm ideas and give plenty of opportunity for discussion.
5 A committee
This is a more formal or structured approach to consultation. This works particularly well when you are seeking to engage stakeholders in ongoing commitment to developing your local activities. They may assist you in governing your activity and bringing in skill sets you don’t already have. They usually consist of no more than 10 people who regularly provide input through scheduled meetings. There is an administrative component to establishing, running, and maintaining a committee.
Which method is the best?
Choose methods depending on what’s feasible and going to be most effective for you and the people you are consulting.
Consider gathering data that is confidential by not including names of individual community members or contributors.
Be clear about how people can influence the activity through their comments to focus input and set expectations.
Continue talking with your community throughout your activity. Be prepared to make changes to your activity if required.
How do you encourage wider participation?
Community consultation works when there is an ongoing process that enables relationships and builds trust over time.
Ways of encouraging more participation
- Invest time in building relationships
- Be honest, upfront and clear about your ideas
- Inform people how much of their time will be needed to participate in meetings, various activity steps etc.
- Brief people fully in a manner and language they understand when asking for their views on a particular issue
- Use plain language and not jargon
- Find out what the community’s issues and agendas are and work with them to find common ground
- Make meetings as informal as possible, to let people concentrate on the issues rather than worrying about meeting rules.
- Keep meetings short, focused and with clear outcomes, as people have little time to spar
- Do not overburden participants – people have school, home and job responsibilities and may not always be able to attend meetings. They may be reliant on public transport or others to get them to and from meetings
- Set aside resources to support participation. Provide morning tea or arrange a community bus for people to attend gatherings.
- Get your message out to the community via other agencies’ newsletters, stories in the local paper, message boards, radio, leaflets, posters, fridge magnets, word of mouth etc.
- Value any level of participation – it may grow larger in time
- Acknowledge and value the input of your team members
- Follow through on commitments.
It is important to engage people from across your community, to ensure a variety of opinions and ideas are heard.
People with different views on drugs and alcohol
Within every community there is a wide range of views on alcohol and other drug issues.
Ways to include and respect differing views on drugs and alcohol
- Everyone has a role to play and that there is room for a diverse range of strategies to address the issues
- Listen, try to understand and respect the other people's point of view
- Be careful not to jump to conclusions about what other people believe - ask questions to check your assumptions
- Look past the emotion of an issue to find common ground
- Keep communication channels open
- Be patient as it may take time to develop understanding.