Developing a Community Engagement Plan

A community engagement plan is a roadmap for how ATSDR will work collaboratively with and through community members, state, territorial, local, and tribal (STLT) partners, and stakeholders over the course of planned public health work. A community engagement plan dovetails with and supports the overall site work. See page 2 of the ATSDR Community Engagement Planning Toolpdf icon listed in the resource section below. Your community engagement plan should identify engagement goals and objectives for each phase. The plan should also contain enough details to describe a clear course of action, a timeline for how and when to engage the community, a list of and descriptions of the types of community members you would like to engage, and a list of the communication materials you will need. Developing a community engagement plan can help you align your goals with the community’s goals. In addition, it can increase accountability among all stakeholders in community engagement activities.

Keep in Mind

The earlier you start thinking about how you will evaluate your community engagement work, the better. Be sure to include evaluation components in your community engagement plan. (See activity: Evaluation of Community Engagement Activities)

Where to Start
  • Leverage the information gathered in the community profile to define the
    scope of your community engagement efforts. (See activity: Developing a Community Profile)
  • Create a flexible timeline for the development of engagement activities you choose to implement.
  • Establish specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely objectives to measure progress and success. (See section: Be SMART about your Objectives)
  • Seek input and feedback on the plan from colleagues, leadership, and your community or tribal stakeholders.
  • Identify key audiences and communication objectives for each phase.
  • Identify available resources to support the implementation of your plan (e.g., time, funding, and effort required by your team).
Tips from the Field

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Be transparent, inclusive, and collaborative in your planning process. Invite community stakeholders to collaborate on the plan’s development. Welcome and incorporate their input and recommendations as relevant and appropriate.

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Stay flexible. You will likely need to evolve and adapt your community engagement plan to the local needs and conditions. Be prepared to continually gather feedback from the community and STLT partners and revise your plan as necessary.

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Do not overpromise and underdeliver! Develop an approach at the beginning for how you will communicate your intentions and set expectations with your community.

Be SMART about your Objectives

Strong community engagement objectives allow you to effectively monitor progress towards goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable or Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound. SMART objectives are statements of the important results you are working towards. Clearly defined objectives will keep you and your team on track. Clear objectives also allow you to set targets for accountability.

SMART Objectives


What do you hope to accomplish?
Why do you want to accomplish it?
What are the requirements?
What are the challenges?


How will you measure progress?
How will you know that you have achieved your objective?

Attainable or Achievable

What are the logical steps, activities, and strategies required?
Whom do you need to seek buy in from, and/or consensus with, in order to successfully implement activities?


Why is this a worthwhile objective?
What will happen if you do not accomplish this objective?
Is this objective in line with your long-term goals?

Time bound

How long will it take to accomplish this objective?
When does this objective need to be completed?

Additional Resources
    • ATSDR Community Engagement Planning Toolpdf icon (ATSDR): A fillable planning tool to help you identify, over the phases of community engagement, CE goals, partners and stakeholders; key actions for information gathering and sharing; and CE activities, materials, and timeline, over the phases of community engagement.
    • ATSDR Community Stress Resource Center (ATSDR). A toolkit containing guidance, tools, and a practical framework for reducing community stress and building resilience as part of a public health response to environmental contamination.
    • Community Engagement Guidepdf iconexternal icon (Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council). A guide that provides a framework for creating a public participation strategy.
    • Writing SMART Objectivespdf icon (CDC). A brief about writing SMART objectives, including an overview of objectives, how to write SMART objectives, a checklist, and examples of SMART objectives.
Page last reviewed: December 15, 2021