Enabling change in our Society, Environment and Economy (SEE)

Engaging the community

Engaging the Broader Community and the ‘S’ in SEE-Change

by Jennifer Thompson, previous SEE-Change Executive Officer

The ‘S’ in SEE-Change

For those in the know, the initials S E E stand for Society, Environment and Economy. For those not so familiar with SEE-Change, the name alone may not convey all of what we do.   SEE-Change stands by such principles as those expressed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services… (www.un.org).

Or The Earth Charter which explicitly asks us to:

Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health, and spiritual wellbeing, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities (www.earthcharterinaction.org).

SEE-Change’s commitment to the Society part of S E E  is evident by the number of members with humanitarian backgrounds; partnerships with community organisations such as Belconnen Community Services; our involvement with ACTCOSS; and through our change-from-below organisational structure. Empowering a community includes working with broad who are not yet participating in the issue of Canberra’s sustainability.

Broader-community engagement

Best practice community engagement strategies have the ability to impact on the level of the general public’s understandings and experiences potentially culminating in a refined or different public opinion. Community education praxis has potential benefits for the sustainability sector when ‘protecting rights in a climate of fear’ (Burnside, 2007, p. 159).

At the heart of community development is the idea of change from below

(Ife & Tesoriero, 2006. p. 121).

Community education theories provide a guide for those wanting to engage communities in an effective and sustainable way. Principles that are central to change from below include valuing local ‘knowledge, culture, resources [and] working in solidarity’.

communitytriangleOther practitioners recommend the application of the ‘head, heart and hand’ trialectic to community building by informing (head), empathically connecting (heart) and providing an action (hands). Research in this field indicates a continuum of change for empowerment including ‘personal care, small group development, community organisation, coalition building and advocacy, and political action’.

(Image: Head, Heart & Hand trialectic – Kelly & Sewell, 1988, p.23)

Conflict resolution

Engaging members of the broader community often means working with people with different or oppositional views. It is therefore appropriate to include conflict resolution methodology into the mix when looking at engaging the broader-community. In addition to advocacy, the following conflict resolution processes may be applicable when attempting to improve general public understanding and support for sustainability issues:

  • Fact finding — using a strategic process to collect reliable information or evidence related to issues in dispute
  • Trust building — strategies directed toward overcoming undue fears, suspicions, and wariness between the parties
  • Peace building — establishing peaceful relations between people involved in a conflict. Peace goes beyond absence of war or hostility. Peace means that people are interacting in patterns marked by trust, openness, mutual caring, cooperation, and respect.

In summary, by reminding people what S stands for and by modelling the humanitarian behaviour through genuinely respectful broader-community engagement I believe SEE-Change can continue to make significant impacts on Canberra across all three interlocked areas: Society, Environment and Economy.


  • Barsky, AE 2007, Conflict Resolution for the Helping Professions.
  • Burnside, J 2007, Watching brief: Reflections on human rights, law, and justice.
  • Ife, J & Tesoriero, F 2006, Community development: community-based alternatives in an age of globalization.
  • Kelly, A & Sewell, S 1988, With head, heart and hand: dimensions of community building.
  • Labonte, R 1996, Community empowerment and leisure.

With thanks to our


  • ACT Government Environment and Planning
  • The Association of Independent Schools of the ACT (AISACT)
  • Catholic Education Office (Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn)
  • Education and Training Directorate
  • ACT Government