Words Matter: Defining Community Engagement

Omaha Public Library’s Senior Management Team set aside three hours to discuss creating a collaborative culture through community engagement on March 13th.  We rapidly discovered that defining community engagement was a very hard thing to do.  After an hour of discussion, we were each asked to write our definition of community engagement.  As the pens were laid down, one person exclaimed, “This is hard work and I’m exhausted.”

Our “first pass” document included 22 definitions.  Since word use and writing style is so individualistic, I decided to do a word analysis on the definitions.  Standout words ranged from a total count low of 1 (4%) to a total count high of 13 (59%).  I decided that a word had to appear 20% in the document to qualify as a “high use” word.

Seven words stood out in the 22 definitions –

  • Conversation(s) –   13 times (59%)
  • Relationship (s) – 10 times (45%)
  • Purpose(ful) – 9 times (41%)
  • Beneficial – 7 times (32%)
  • Learning – 7 times (32%)
  • Inclusive – 6 times (27%)
  • Connection(s) – 5 times (23%)

After playing around with the 7 stand out words, I came up with this definition –

Community engagement is inclusive and purposeful conversations that result in learning, connections, and relationships.

Posted by Theresa Jehlik, Project Manager

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