Transformative Community Engagement Strategies: Shifting from Transactional to Relational

Ending the injustice of educational inequity is possible when you have trusting relationships with the communities in which you are working and serving. Discover a few strategies, tools, and principles to help you strengthen your community engagement and stakeholder management skills.

As leaders, you often need to manage the interests of various stakeholders – from community groups and system leaders to educators and families. In many cases, some of these stakeholders may have competing interests, especially with respect to controversial issues like Covid-19 response, school resource officers, vaccinations, LGBTQIA+ issues, ethnic studies curriculum, testing, accountability, teacher’s ability to teach the curriculum, and so much more.

Supporting certain policies or practices to appease some stakeholders is often possible, but it’s likely the case that not everyone will be fully on board with the positions you take. This is where the power of authentic community engagement, capacity building of stakeholders, and collective power can lead you to success.

To effectively gather input from community members and other stakeholders, you must:

  1. Check your mindset to ensure you are gathering input because you genuinely believe policy decisions and practices must consider the communities who will be most impacted.
  2. Build trusting relationships with community members, so you can uplift their voices, which is valuable information and data.
  3. Earn credibility by gathering input and also effecting change in a timely manner via policy making or advocacy.
  4. Create a plan that considers who you should gather input from and by when, so that you can work toward achieving your vision and goals.

Once you have a plan in place, it’s important to approach conversations with stakeholders with care and with an awareness of political or power dynamics that may be at play. 

How to Get Started

Leaders can begin building deep, trusting relationships by drawing upon community organizing practices such as individual meetings (also called individual relational meetings or one-on-ones). Individual meetings are meant to understand someone’s interests and what moves them, as well as to spark someone to action. Leaders like you can have effective individual meetings by sharing interesting stories, being sincerely interested in what the speaker is saying, knowing your audience, and determining next steps. (Note: For community organizers, individual meetings and house meetings serve the primary purpose of identifying reliable leaders who have a following and can be a strong contact for you. But, you can also use these meetings to ultimately gather data from community members, too.)

Empathy interviews are another method of gathering feedback. The main focus of empathy interviews is understanding the experiences of people whose lives are directly impacted by policy decisions. Empathy interviews allow you to hear directly from students, families, and other stakeholders, so that you can help determine the root cause of the issues and uncover powerful solutions. Ultimately, they allow you to design more equitable and responsive solutions.

There are various additional ways to gather community input, including administering surveys, engaging cultural brokers, conducting interviews, hosting focus groups or house meetings, and organizing town hall meetings. Keep in mind that community meetings with stakeholders should be primarily focused on building and maintaining a strong personal relationship with them. Leave the business at the end, especially when you’ll be meeting again to catch up. Leave your transactional mindset at the door. It’s not about what they can do for you or you for them. The focus should be on what you can do together.



  • Whose voices do you prioritize when you are gathering input or feedback on a policy or practice? Whose voices do you feel you may have left out? 
  • What community engagement strategies have you used in the past? Are there any other strategies you may want to consider using next time? 
  • With whom in your community do you hope to build stronger relationships to advance your vision and priorities? How might you approach cultivating that relationship?
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