Community engagement and professionalization: Emerging tensions

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations, 2018, 20 pp. 117 - 133
Issue Date:
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© 2019 by Emerald Publishing Limited. An increase in community engagement by governments across Australia’s three-tiered federal polity conforms to international trends. It represents a multidimensional institutionalization of participatory democracy designed to involve the public in decision-making. Increasingly, it is a practice which displays the markers of professionalization, including (self-described) professionals, professional associations and a code of ethics. The individuals who design, communicate, and facilitate community engagement are placed in a unique position, whereas most professions claim to serve both their client or employer and a greater public good, community engagement practitioners play these roles while also claiming to serve as “guardians” of democratic processes. Yet the claimed professionalization of community engagement is raising some questions: Is community engagement really a profession – and by what criteria ought this be assessed? What tensions do community engagement practitioners face by “serving multiple masters,” and how do they manage these? More pointedly, how can ethics inform our understanding of community engagement and its professionalization? This chapter examines the case for the practice of community engagement as a profession using Noordegraaf’s (2007) pillars of pure professionalism as a guide. It then explores some practical examples of the tensions practitioners may experience. The chapter concludes by reflecting on the future direction of community engagement given its positioning.
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