Community Engagement in Engineering Education: Needs and Learning Outcomes

Community Engagement in Engineering Education: Needs and Learning Outcomes

Delwar Akbar (CQUniversity, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0951-8.ch017


Engineers usually manage development projects such as dams, weirs, and bridge constructions. All of which require community engagement at least during the planning and construction stages of the project. All projects of this nature undertake mandatory or voluntary Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) before commencing the on-ground activities. Therefore, an engineer is no longer just an engineer but also a development professional. They have to understand the role of the community in project development, and must understand the principles and processes of community engagement. Engineers need to be properly trained for community engagement during either undergraduate or post-graduate education or a similar standing of professional training. The purpose of this chapter is to give an outline of the key principles and processes of community engagement. It also highlights the need for community engagement components in curricula and its learning outcomes in engineering education.
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Community Engagement

The word ‘community’ is a very broad term used to define groups of people, whether they are a social or business group in a certain geographic location (Adomokai & Sheate, 2004). A community includes both a geographical and a social component, its size varying over geographic scales and social bonds. The geographical component refers to a specific place such as a community bounded by a particular jurisdiction, for example a tribe. The social component refers to relationships between people, including shared beliefs, customs and interests, and a sense of belonging. Characteristics of a community may be based upon ethnicity, gender, religion, or a mutually shared issue or value.

Community engagement involves communicating with a group of people and facilitating responses to encourage community members’ opinions. Community engagement therefore creates and demands a context conducive to public communication. The goal is to enable project proponents to make decisions that reflect representative opinions regarding social and civic benefits (Johnston, 2007). The core message of community engagement is generating interactions between people. These interactions include a variety of approaches, such as one-way communication or information delivery, consultation, collaboration in decision making processes, and empowered action in informal groups or formal partnerships (Cavaye, 2004a).

Community engagement ensures the needs of those directly affected by any development project are considered. In most cases, community input has been found to improve the final project outcomes. This is achieved by mitigating any undesirable effects, or by finding a compromise when there is competing interests. Hamstead, Baldwin, and O’Keefe (2008, p. 142) identified the following roles of community engagement in project planning and development:

  • inform about process and resources,

  • build capacity and awareness,

  • gain local knowledge of resources and use,

  • understand values, concerns, and aspirations,

  • seek alternatives and solutions, test options,

  • identify and agree on appropriate criteria,

  • improve the decision or outcome,

  • provide feedback on public input,

  • influenced the decision,

  • gain acceptance of the decision,

  • build relationships,

  • provide a litmus test for elected representatives, and

  • resolve or reduce conflict.

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