Community engagement

Working as an HIV peer navigator is an effective form of community engagement. You learn about needs, identities, and experiences in the positive community by working one-on-one with people affected by HIV and its trials and tribulations. You may also conduct group activities where people share their experiences. You may help recruit participants for focus groups and consultation activities. All of these activities are opportunities to build relationships with people in the positive community and other communities affected by HIV.

Reason for engaging

A lengthy but useful resource for community consultation and engagement can be found here:

The standard encourages people to be clear about their reason for engaging with communities affected by our work.

For people working in HIV community services, the reason is social justice. We are working to improve our reach within the community of people living with and affected by HIV. People in marginalised groups, who are not connected with organisations, cannot benefit from the services we provide. This can intensify the reasons why they are marginalised, such as poverty, racism, mental ill health, and social isolation, among other causes.

There may be secondary reasons for engaging with clients, contacts and communities. For instance, we may want to recruit participants for the purposes of research, evaluation, and needs analysis. We need to ensure these secondary purposes are always consistent with our social justice goals.

Methods for engaging

Any activity is an opportunity to strengthen our relationships with communities and better understand their needs, identities and experiences. However there are specific opportunities to engage and learn:

  • Focus groups (including recruitment activities)
  • One-on-one interviews
  • Taking part in social media communities such as TIM
  • Posting on social media accounts (both work and personal accounts)
  • Consultation events and forums
  • Webinars with opportunities for audience participation
  • Social events
  • Evaluation activities attached to projects and services
  • Resource development activities
  • Even campaigns – when they invite responses and feedback

Making it matter

The next topic will cover the skills and knowledge you need to participate in everyday evaluation. This is one of the most important ways of ensuring that insights from community engagement are captured and used. If we invite people to share their experiences and then do nothing with the findings, it’s not authentic engagement – it’s a performance.

Another key way of capturing insights is reflective practice — your own personal reflection and in collaboration with colleagues. Issues that ‘bubble up’ in reflection can be fed into planning for programs and policy advocacy. This is often how slower moving issues, or longer-term themes and patterns can become apparent.

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