Choose the Right Community Engagement

Article 3 min
Community engagement is key to connecting a military population to its local community. There are different ways for the two groups to engage. Use these criteria to assess and execute the best type of engagement for the circumstances.

Community engagement events are public affairs activities that support the relationship between military and civilian communities. These events aim to increase the public's understanding of the Department of Defense's mission and the U.S. defense posture by increasing exposure to military personnel, facilities, equipment and programs.

Types of Engagements

There are two types of community engagements: proactive and reactive. Proactive engagements are activities or programs that bring together DoD personnel with a community. These engagements can be planned months in advance.

Proactive engagements increase the likelihood of connecting community members who may have had little interest or knowledge of an installation's mission. They are opportunities to educate, grow trust and credibility and increase support for quality of life programs, which benefit service members and their families.

Examples include:

  • Open houses and airshows
  • Band outreach tours
  • Base tour programs
  • Reading programs with local schools
  • Volunteer events
  • Outreach with local colleges
  • Biannual mayor’s lunches with the commander
  • Fleet Week or service-specific programs, such as Marine Week Charlotte
  • Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day ceremonies
  • Community days or fairs
  • Sports events/military tribute

Reactive engagements occur when a unit receives a request to participate in a community event. Plan for these pop-up events just like proactive engagements. The invitation may require a legal review to determine its acceptability.

These activities and events may include reoccurring events your organization has been invited to and participated in many times.

Examples include:

  • Town hall to address an issue like water contamination
  • Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) announcements
  • Speaking requests
  • Civilian air shows
  • Volunteer events
  • School programs
  • Chamber of Commerce events
  • Veteran’s organization events

Reactive engagements aren't always foreseeable. Keep them in mind during planning to ensure funding and resources are available.

Regardless of the type of engagement, there are many decisions to make. Use the following considerations to determine and plan the right programming for your unit.

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Perform an Engagement Assessment


Community engagement funding and resources may be limited, so always determine which events can receive funding. To help prioritize your plans, assess if an event will align with and support the current:

  • Commander’s intent
  • PA goals and objectives
  • Public Affairs Guidance (PAG)
  • Current news cycle and public interests
  • Unit-specific issues, events or opportunities
  • DoDD 5410.18 Public Affairs Community Relations Policy


Community engagements should meet these basic requirements:

  • Support interests of DoD as a whole
  • Is in the DoD’s best interest to associate with the proposed engagement
  • Doesn’t interfere with performance of official duties or operational, training or readiness requirements

If a proposed activity or event does not meet these qualifications, it should not be pursued.


Before committing to a community engagement event, consider the following:

  • Adequate resources and staffing to support engagement
  • Command willingness to support similar events by comparable agencies
  • Funding support through annual budget appropriations or other authorized means
  • Spokesperson availability and readiness

Assess Risks

It's important to analyze the potential risk of any community involvement, especially with reactive events. Always research the purpose for, and host and attendees of, an event prior to committing government resources to it.

Make sure the PA representative knows their exact role at the event. Consider if their participation will in any way be seen as a:

  • political statement,
  • endorsement
  • or other potentially unethical act.

It is always a good idea to ask the legal department for a review, just to be sure.

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