Planning for Future Community Engagement with FOCUS Greater Syracuse

This fall, Highland Planning conducted 21 interviews with community leaders throughout Syracuse on behalf of the non-profit FOCUS Greater Syracuse. The input from each interview will help Highland Planning create a public engagement plan that will help guide the next visioning effort for FOCUS Greater Syracuse.

FOCUS Greater Syracuse is a non-profit community-wide visioning program created with the goal of making Syracuse a better place to live and work. It is a volunteer led initiative of citizens working together to create a set of visioning goals to implement into the community that will make a difference in the region. The last visioning effort took place in 1998. FOCUS asked people what an ideal future would look for their community. The community input resulted in the creation of 87 visioning goals regarding issues in the community such as increasing support for volunteering and creating one community calendar for all community events.

Conducting 21 interviews was no small feat. As a result of our efforts, we had a document of notes well over 30 pages describing Syracuse’s issues and opportunities, who to engage, where to hold meetings, and hot button issues. Our conversations included a diverse amount of community knowledge from Executive Directors of non-profit organizations, school presidents and superintendents, faith leaders, and government officials. It was enriching to learn about many grassroots organizations dedicated to giving back to those who need it the most. We heard firsthand about providing affordable housing for domestic violence victims and services to help refugees integrate into their new communities.

Here are five takeaways from our discussions about the best ways to engage community members:

  • Support small non-profit organizations. Look beyond the same big-name organizations that get the same attention all the time. A lot of small non-profit organizations are connected to marginalized communities and doing incredible work that doesn’t always get recognized.
  • Listen and then Provide Updates. Community engagement is a two-way street. Take the time to update people who took the time to provide their input in the first place. People want to hear how their input was implemented in a project. Hold meetings to provide updates and information for staying involved.
  • Use the World Café approach for Community Meetings. This approach encourages attendee participation in an interactive way. The process consists of three or more rounds of twenty-minute conversations of small groups of attendees with a table host who facilitates the discussion. Each member moves to a new group to discuss a different question when each round is up. At the end of the small group discussion rounds, individuals are invited to share their insights from their conversations to the larger group.
  • Consider the Messenger. Consider who the message is coming from when communicating with different parts of a community. Does this leader have ties in the community? Do they best reflect the community? If the message is coming from a trusted source who is an inclusive part of that community, more people may listen to what is being said.
  • Create an Environment of Trust. As one stakeholder said best “If you want to get anything done, you have to build relationships, meet people where they are, do what you say you are going to do, and be consistent.”

For more information about FOCUS Greater Syracuse’s mission and goals, check out\

Author: Stephanie Hyde, Public Engagement Associate

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