Just Engagement

2021 - 2021

People in blue t-shirts and facemasks gathered around a park bench

Promoting equity and inclusion is often associated with legislative action, but institutions can initiate change through community engagement practices. Just Engagement is a collaboration with Dorchester and East Boston residents to define desired community engagement practices to promote equity and inclusion in decision-making related to development in Boston. We outline five key ideas to guide any public agency’s engagement practices to enhance equity and inclusion.

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About the Project

Four people sitting outside, two are leaning over reading notes and two are taking notes

Problem Space

When it comes to promoting equity and inclusion, a lot of attention is placed on legislative action as the mechanism for change. While policy is critical to structural and systemic change, it isn’t the only mechanism. Institutions can start the transformative work through the practices and tools they use for community engagement.

Development in Boston is a contentious issue. While there is a severe need for more housing to meet demand, there are also concerns around density, parking, and affordability. While there are requirements to engage local residents in “community engagement processes” related to large-scale development and zoning variances, these processes are often inaccessible to a large swath of residents due to timing, language barriers, engagement fatigue, accessibility, and general communications failures. Even for those who participate, there are many questions about how their input influences decisions.

Proposed Intervention

We conducted a 3 month co-design process with residents in East Boston and Dorchester. Each group was led by a local organizer in the dominant language of the group — Spanish in East Boston and English in Dorchester. Over the course of 3-4 meetings each, the groups engaged in a series of co-design activities to identify challenges, priorities, and hopes for engagement related to being engaged by the BPDA. This process culminated in “Just Engagement,” a guide to engagement that includes 5 key priorities for centering those most impacted in decision-making. Although created for the BPDA, the guide represents key priorities for enhancing equity and inclusion in any public engagement process.


Logo image for Boston Project MinistriesLogo image for Boston Planning & Development AgencyLogo image for Codman Square Neighborhood Development CorporationLogo image for Talbot Norfolk Triangle Neighbors UnitedLogo image for Mutual Aid Eastie

Project Contact

For inquiries about this project, please contact rachele_gardner@emerson.edu.