Resident leaders are blooming in the “Flower City”

Community Engagement, Part 2

March 25, 2021

To further explore last month’s post on how to bridge the divide many of us feel when meeting online, we connected with Rochester’s HCCC project team lead, Mike Bulger, to learn more about what his project team is doing to engage community members and navigate the switch to virtual communication!  

For Bulger and his team, community engagement is at the forefront of their work.

“Your community keeps you honest,” he said. “It is the ultimate test for your ideas. If your ideas don't resonate with the community that you’re trying to work in and trying to assist, then they're not going to work in the real world.” 

To ensure honesty with and accountable to their community, the Rochester team has invited resident leaders to drive the development of a food policy council for their HCCC project. 

“We recruited people who had an interest in the food system, but weren't necessarily food system professionals,” Bulger said. “This gave us an opportunity to work through these topics with people who have a better understanding of what the larger community thinks about, and how to communicate with the greater Rochester community.” 

While the “Flower City’s” team did have the ability to tap into partner organizations’ networks to recruit residents who had engaged in similar efforts before, the team also leveraged social media and virtual community engagement events to identify additional residents they could attract to their work. 

A key piece of advice from Mike: look at who is regularly registering for and attending community events or even liking/resharing/commenting on your project’s social media posts. These could potentially be telltale signs of impassioned constituents who are willing to collaborate in a community-led project like Rochester’s. 

For Mike and team, these methods proved successful. Thus far, they have recruited three resident leaders from the community to co-lead their work and hosted three online events to ask the community for input and direction on potential governance structures, membership, and areas of focus for Rochester’s food policy council. 

But beyond recruitment, are there other strategies that can be implemented to generate interest in such initiatives? According to Mike, there are plenty. For Rochester, ensuring equity and inclusion at every turn was key to generating meaningful interest in their project. This translated into the inclusion of residents with diverse backgrounds, supplemented with presentations, materials, and resources that were available to people of different abilities and who speak different languages. 

Mike encourages project teams who haven’t been as successful in engaging residents to remain hopeful during this unprecedented time. 

“It seems like a lot to ask people to log on to a computer meeting about food policy in the midst of a pandemic,” he said. “But seeing how many community members were passionate about this and had a vision for what we could do as a community to improve the lives of everybody living in Rochester was really exciting.” 

To learn more about this project, check out their website and social media pages: 

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