Community Relations as a Process

Article 6 min
Review how Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation fits into the community relations process.

Community relations, sometimes called community engagement, is the ongoing relationship between a military community and the civilian community. Community relations can also be a part of a larger campaign. It usually consists of planned face-to-face events and activities. The objective is to maintain a reputation as a good neighbor, as well as a respected and professional organization charged with the responsibility of national security. Every community engagement, no matter its form, sends a message to the public and directly impacts the image of the DoD and its relationship with the public.

Community relations:

  • Informs the public of what the military is doing.
  • Gains public trust, support and cooperation for the military to accomplish its mission.
  • Puts a face to the uniforms behind the gate.
  • Should be tailored to the military organization AND the needs of the local community.

There are three main components to any community relations activity:

  1. Output - The work you produce. This includes events, newspaper/magazine pieces, broadcast news stories, blog/internet mentions, etc.
  2. Outtake - What the audience “got.” This is what audiences understand based on your activities. This includes attitudes, beliefs and perceptions.
  3. Outcome - What happened. This is what actually changed as a result of the program or campaign. These are the behavioral changes that over time validate knowledge or attitude changes from the outtake.

The RPIE approach is an excellent tool for effective decision making and communication planning for community relations.

Click a target to reveal more in-depth information.

RPIE for Community Relations

Circular process diagram for Community Relations using RPIE: 1 Research, 2 Planning, 3 Implementation and 4 Evaluation.
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1. Research

Research provides needed understanding and creates the foundation for the entire process. You need to be aware of the community's wants, needs, understanding and expectations as they relate to your unit and how those factors impact your unit's mission. This gives you the baseline for the RPIE cycle.

Consider using these research tools:

You also need to research the viability of holding the event. Does it align with commander's intent? Is it in the best interest of the DoD? Will it interfere with official duties, training or readiness? Will there be consistency of support, in terms of adequate resources and available funds, as well as command support of similar events with other agencies? Are there any unit-specific issues, events or opportunities that need to be addressed or considered?

Consider these documents as references:

  • PA plan.
  • PA objectives.
  • PA annex.
  • DoD and service regulations and policies.

Refer to the DINFOS Live episode on The Importance of Research for more research tips.

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2. Planning

Planning is more than just planning the task or event. You also need to plan the RPIE process and your evaluation strategies. This includes establishing your Measures of Performance and Measures of Effectiveness, which are covered further under Evaluation. Don't start with a tactic; start with a purpose and a goal. Determine what you want to achieve, then ask yourself, "How will we know if our efforts have made a difference?"

Then, plan the event with your purpose, goals and evaluation strategy in mind.

Consider writing a community relations project proposal and completing a community relations planning worksheet to capture your plan.


  • Who is involved and affected.
  • What takes place.
  • Where the engagement happens.
    • Ensure appropriate size, capacity and availability.
    • Ensure location is free of confidential materials or activities.
  • Why the engagement is needed.
    • Clearly define the purpose of engagement.
    • Know how the engagement supports public affairs goals and objectives.
  • How the engagement is accomplished.
  • When the engagement happens.
    • The precise schedule of events.
    • A contingency schedule, if needed, for weather or other probable disruptions.

You must also plan your budgetary and resource requirements for the event.

  • Are there costs associated with any speakers?
    • Travel?
    • Per diem?
    • Speaker’s fees?
  • Do you have the people and things?
    • Does your unit have the right individuals for the event?
    • Do you have access to any military equipment that may be needed?
  • Does any special equipment need procuring?
    • Cameras?
    • Lights?
    • Specialized audio equipment?
  • Do members of your unit need to travel to the event?
    • Transportation?
    • Lodging?
    • Other accommodations?
  • Do you need any outside specialized personnel?
    • Technical contractors?
    • Other contracted staff?
  • Is there a fee for the venue?
    • Flat fees?
    • Per-person fees?
  • Will you be using any new platform(s) that require a subscription?
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3. Implementation

Implementation is the actual conducting of the community relations tasks. This is part of your output.

Keep these things in mind while conducting the event:

  • Connect and develop a rapport with the stakeholders and the public through a credible, authentic leadership presence.
  • Consider how your position/experience can be leveraged to add credibility, authenticity and accountability.
  • Follow your schedule, messaging and talking points from planning to keep on task and on message.
  • Be outcome-driven.
  • Control the narrative.
  • Assess your performance throughout the engagement.
  • Monitor and analyze the response.
  • Complete an After Action Report immediately after the engagement while it is fresh in your mind.

Consider writing an Implementation Plan to capture the details. For more tips refer to the DINFOS Live episode that breaks down the I in RPIE: Implementation.

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4. evaluation

While evaluation is a step in the big-picture RPIE cycle, you should also be constantly evaluating everything throughout the process in order to track progress and measure impact; it should be done before, during and after the plan is complete. Evaluation is when you capture outtakes and outcomes to measure how well you achieved your goals.

Use your After Action Reports as well as the same tools utilized in the research phase. Look to Measures of Performance and Measures of Effectiveness indicators established in the research process and planning phase.

Measures of Performance monitor your tactics to enable flexibility in execution, and are:

  • Indicators used to measure friendly actions that are tied to measuring task accomplishment.
  • Used to measure execution during a campaign.
  • Valuable for tracking implementation of tactics.
  • Used for adjusting tactics based on their performance.

Measures of Effectiveness measure objectives to determine effectiveness of the plan as a whole, and are:

  • Indicators used to measure a current system state, with changes observed by comparing multiple observations over time.
  • Matched to objectives and designed to measure if those objectives have been met.
  • Essential for assessing overall effectiveness of your plan.
  • Valuable for reassessing ongoing effectiveness in the future.

Your indicators may fluctuate greatly from day to day, so it's also good to look at trends and momentum over time. Slow and steady progress is often better than erratic swings that result in an overall greater improvement, but more chaos along the way.

Evaluating your success helps you decide whether to continue or revise a tactic or perhaps drop it in favor of another. In any case, repeat the RPIE process again.

Consider using the Barcelona Principles to guide your evaluation. For more tips, refer to the DINFOS Live episode that breaks down the E in RPIE: Evaluation.

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