Tool Guideline

Community Engagement: A Critical Guide for Practitioners

Uploaded by RRI Tools on 05 June 2017

Mae Shaw and Jim Crowther, University of Edinburgh


1. Thinking Politically
2. Learning for Democracy
3. Identifying the Educator’s Role
4. Making Educational Relationships
5. Engaging with Communities
6. Defining the Problem - Framing the Solution
7. Finding Spaces for Educational Work
8. Generating Curriculum from and for Action
9. Conducting Critical Discourse Analysis
10. Making Critical and Creative Connections


The motivation for this critical guide to community engagement comes primarily from our experience over many years as teachers on undergraduate and postgraduate programmes of community education. These programmes have historically been validated both by the university and the appropriate professional body, so they are firmly located at the interface between academic and vocational standards; between theory and practice. We have found that these different, sometimes contradictory, demands create a productive dynamic which has been at the core of our teaching, our writing and our relationships with the broader field of practice. We consider that an engagement with significant theoretical frameworks, an awareness of important historical traditions and an empathetic identification with the social reality of marginalized groups are all necessary in order to practise critical community engagement.

One way in which we sometimes characterise this dynamic relationship is through the notion of ‘theorising practice’. Except in the most instrumental of cases, practitioners don’t put theory into practice in any straightforward way. They put themselves into practice! This suggests a need to think critically and carefully about what role community engagement fulfils in particular times and places.
It also means that practitioners need to develop the confidence, skills and knowledge to apply that understanding in practice. The role of practitioners in seeking to make creative and critical connections – between personal experience and political structures; macro-level decisions and micro-level consequences; the potential for personal agency within constraints of power – should be a core feature of professional pracice as well as of academic study. The following chapters have been designed to work as one-off, freestanding sessions, or as a relatively coherent educational programme. It goes without saying that they should be odified to suit particular situations as required. They are intended to open up discussion rather than to stifle or close it down. In some cases further efforts will be required by practitioners to make them accessible and relevant to specific circumstances or groups. Above all, they are intended to develop clarity about, and consistency between, educational values, purposes and roles.

Finally, at the heart of this project is the idea of the practitioner as an active educational agent, rather than simply as an agent of policy. This position necessarily creates tensions and dilemmas that need to be confronted, and some of these are presented here. In particular, it
requires practitioners to engage strategically and creatively with the politics of policy, whilst also attempting to enlarge the democratic spaces available to communities. We hope this critical guide will enable people to do this more systematically and more collectively


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