Talking about Community Engagement


Denise Francisco is an Associate / Sector Lead – Government at Capire, with a background in social planning, policy, project delivery and programs for government and non-government organisations. Denise is committed to strengthening communities, building their capacity to participate, and helping them to inform decisions about the places they live and the services, facilities and infrastructure they require. She has engaged urban, rural and diverse communities with complex needs developing partnerships with and for the community to achieve social, economic, environmental and cultural outcomes.

What does community engagement mean to you?

Helping conscious organisations and Governments who care about the systemic impact they have on the world to achieve their goals through dialogue and relationship building with the communities and stakeholders they work with. Promoting genuine understanding of everyone’s perspectives and experiences, to support informed decision-making, simplifying complexity, and driving practical outcomes.

How has the pandemic affected community engagement?

People seem to be more invested in the world around them and how they can make it better. Repetitive lockdowns have created more space for reflection about what is most important for them and their families and sought out opportunities to get involved in discussions where they can connect with others and have a positive influence towards the change they want to see. Having said that it is becoming more evident who in the world cares for other people and who in the world seems to care more about themselves.

What does successful community engagement look like?

It brings people, teams, and stakeholders together and helps them grow and work towards shared and purposeful outcomes. As a facilitator of engagement, it is about creating supportive environments for heartfelt, social connection, that help people navigate ideas and sometimes discomfort while ensuring people can feel safe, be challenged, embrace transformation, and achieve collective creativity and growth. Everyone is heard and people learn something they didn’t know before. People feel more connected to themselves, each other and their communities.

What are your best strategies for community engagement?

Plan out engagement collaboratively. At Capire we often say 80 percent of engagement is in the planning and design and 20 percent is the delivery. Provide varied options for people to participate, both in person and online. Enable all voices to be heard whether it’s through speaking, writing, drawing or some other creative outlet.

Provide factual information that is easy to digest to help people get in the pocket for discussions and to challenge perceptions through understanding facts and evidence. Encourage listening as well as speaking and promote acceptance and celebration of difference. Help people see the “so what” of their involvement and encourage action.

How do you see the future of community engagement?

I’d like to think that through greater levels of participation in engagement we see that people’s capacity is being built to undertake their own engagement for the purpose of advocacy and change. And that they can lead more of their own community projects or join up with others to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

One shift I’d like to see more of is that people choose to be involved in engagement because they care about others and not just about their own individual needs.

What projects are you currently working on?

  1. Local Adult and Older Adult Mental Health and Wellbeing Services (Local Services):
    •   How Local Services can provide the best treatment, care and wellbeing support for people with mental illness or psychological distress.
    •   How to make each of the first six Local Services relevant to their local community.
  2. Georges River Council Social Justice Charter – Preparation of the Social Justice Charter collaboratively with staff across Georges Rivers Council.
  3. Maribyrnong’s Response to 26th January – Engagement with local First Nations communities, culturally diverse communities, and the broader community to help shape a respectful way to respond to 26th January in the City of Maribyrnong.
  4. Metropolitan Partnerships 2021 Flagship Events – focusing on themes identified as key to local social and economic recovery which seek to broadly accommodate conversations about People, Prosperity and Place across the events. Topics include:
    •   Melbourne and the suburbs: our re-imagined future
    •   Jobs and skills
    •   Inclusive and diverse communities
    •   Local living and local action.
  5. Victorians Great Outdoors Program Stakeholder Reference Group for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning – for liaison with key organisations interested in the Victorian Governments election commitment to ensure that Victoria is the best place for exploring the great outdoors.
  6. Empowering Communities Project Action Groups for Brimbank, Hume and Melton.