Reporting from EDCO: Overcoming the insider/outsider divide

This is the third article in a series by guest blogger Brittany Bruce

REAP Blog Head shot

Brittany’s series is based on her Masters’ thesis research on collaboration and economic development in two regions.  Her articles can be found here. Today’s post focuses on overcoming the insider/outsider divide.

From February 10-12, 2015, I had the pleasure of attending the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO) annual conference in Hamilton.

I volunteered to be a ‘recorder’ for the Rural Community Engagement Session, moderated by Norm Ragetlie from the Rural Ontario Institute. This session was billed as more of a roundtable discussion than the traditional presentations normally found at a conference.

QAes8frORWeuUgQdLXeI_Countryside1Attendees were seated at round tables, with each table being assigned a ‘recorder’. After a brief presentation on the theory of community engagement by Lisa Attygalle from Tamarack, each table was asked to consider four questions related to their organization’s role in engaging their own community.

One model of community engagement presented by Lisa was the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation (shown below). Different kinds of economic development related activities lend themselves to different levels of engagement. For example, a simple Internet blast detailing upcoming local events is likely only meant to inform citizens, rather than empower them. Conversely, a citizen led grassroots campaign to create a sustainable park in a city’s downtown is more likely to be at the “Empower” level of engagement, rather than just being a one-way share of information.

Brittany Bruce REAP Blog 3- February  bb Feb19-15

IAP2 Spectrum of Community Engagement


The questions posed to each table were as follows:

  1. How does your organization currently engage your community and where do you currently fall on the Community Engagement Continuum?
  • Who are you currently engaging in this process and who is missing?
  • Why should you be engaging with the community?
  • What does success look like to you/your organization?

2.  Are there organizations in your community demonstrating exceptional leadership in community engagement? What are the success stories and what does success look like?

3. What are some of the barriers/factors your community faces to engage the community and how can they be overcome?

4. What resources/tools are you familiar with that would assist your colleagues in more effective community engagement?

Engagement hampered by an insider/outsider mentality

Without getting into the specifics of what my table said for each question (a report will be published on a summary of the sessions findings), an interesting discussion emerged from my table. It was suggested by three of my five attendees that community engagement in their areas is often hampered by an insider/outsider mentality. This seemed pertinent to REAPontario, as immigrants are ostensibly outsiders in a number of ways.

The discussion at my table revolved around the idea that newcomers (i.e. outsiders) to a community often want to be engaged in community issues, either as a means of getting to know their new community, or because being involved is just what they are used to from their old community. Despite this interest, newcomers are often shut out of any engagement process, if any is occurring in the community.

Happy Smiling Diverse Group Of Youth

In small town and rural communities, there may be an ingrained method of doing things. This is not to suggest that these kinds of communities are inflexible or incapable of change. However, intentionally or not, newcomers disrupt the status quo of a community. Therefore, locals may require an adjustment and acceptance period. Further, small town and rural communities are starting to understand that their continued prosperity will depend on attracting newcomers to their areas , either as permanent residents or as seasonal tourists.

Though this is anecdotal evidence, the attendees agreed that time and persistence are required to overcome this insider/outsider mentality. These groups have something to learn from each other and, arguably, it is the job of municipal leadership to facilitate and encourage this process.

I am grateful to have been involved in this session at EDCO. It was very interesting to hear the real-world, first-hand experiences of communities across Ontario.

Discussion Questions

  1. Has your community ever struggled with an insider/outsider mentality?
  2. What has worked to ameliorate this mentality?
  3. Do you have any suggestions for other communities that may be facing the same situation?

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