Principles, Ethics and Rights

Community Engagement

Detailed Discussion

‘Community engaged practice’ is a term used to describe a creative approach that embeds direct engagement and exchange between practitioners and communities within a project. There are many interchangeable terms for community engaged practice including community arts, community and cultural development and socially-engaged art. 

In this section of the Code, the term 'practitioner' includes artists, individuals, organisations and institutions.

Current Conditions

Key Concepts

Social Justice

Within the field of community engaged practice, culture is recognised as a human right. While not all community engaged projects are political in content or themes, social justice often underpins the process of community engaged projects. Community engaged practitioners draw on their skills of professional arts practice to build cultural capacity, remove barriers to cultural representation or provide a platform to interrogate a community cause or issue.

Engagement vs Consultation

‘Community engagement’ is distinctly different to ‘community consultation’. The former engages with or builds a community around a project, underpinned by meaningful relationships and self-determination from the community. Community consultation seeks community input to inform decision-making that may or may not impact the community directly.

Community Building

‘Community engaged practice’ could be more accurately called ‘community building practice’. Community engaged practitioners build a community around a project or support members of existing social groups to assemble around a project. Community is actively developed every day as part of a community engaged process.

Key Issues

Equity and Representation

Self-determination is key to best-practice community engagement, which relies on equity and representation. ‘Nothing about us without us’ is a common mantra in the field, however, it is important to take the time to understand what this really means for the community you are engaging in a practical sense. This may include planning against tokenism, appropriation, and planning for employment targets and/or cultural safety.

For more information, see Racial Equity and Representation.


For a community engaged project to be successful as well as culturally and physically safe, it needs to be resourced appropriately. Relationship building, self-education, building the cultural capacity of your organisation, and problem solving in a community context all take time, money and labour. 

Setting Expectations

Every community engaged project is different. Projects will vary in scale, cultural and societal context, and the community members engaged will have different goals and needs. It is important that all participants, including any funding bodies, are clear on the goals, motivations, outcomes and expectations of the project.

First Nations

Strong community engaged projects consider the First Nations context of the project and respond in a way that is guided by First Nations voices.

During the project conceptualisation phase, ask:

  • What country am I doing this project on and how does the relationship with country impact the work we’ll be doing here? Speak with Traditional Custodians, Land Councils, Registered Aboriginal Parties or senior Elders in the local community to understand what permission, advice or protocols need to be respected for your project. This will usually involve a consultation fee.

  • Have I educated myself? Undertake the work to understand the First Nations context of your project by asking these prompt questions: Are there First Nations artists or communities who have set a precedent by leading similar projects to yours or tackling the same issues? What is the relationship between the First Nations community and the focus community you are engaging? How have other artists or organisations working on projects similar to yours, engaged with First Nations people and perspectives?

  • What does the First Nations community want? Follow the community’s lead on the level of involvement they want to have on a project. If your project includes First Nations stories or perspectives, First Nations people should determine how their own stories are told and how they are represented. 

All parties must ensure that Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) principles are upheld for any use or adaptation of First Nations cultural heritage. First Nations peoples’ rights to their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions must be respected and protected.

It is good practice to engage a First Nations curator when commissions invite participation from First Nations artists or communities, or engage with subjects related to First Nations histories or themes.

For more information on engaging and collaborating with First Nations artists and communities, see First Nations and Working with First Nations Art Centres

Legal Requirements

Legal obligations in the area of intellectual property apply in this area, see Intellectual Property.

Establishing legal instruments such as contracts can reinforce accountability and transparency between collaborators. See NAVA’s Contracts and Agreements Factsheet

Individuals and organisations need to adhere to the Privacy Act 1988 that relates to the collection, handling and use of personal information. Artists and organisations should only collect the necessary personal information from community members to manage their engagement. This information should not be disclosed to another party without consent from a parent or guardian. 

Recommended Processes

The following good practice guidance is formed around a series of questions that practitioners should ask themselves at the start, during and at the end of a project. Depending on the project and the community, the answers will require different responses from the lead practitioner.

Relationship Building 

Community engaged practice is underpinned by relationship building. This includes acknowledging the power differences that exist between artists and communities, and anticipating that the communities will expect the relationship to extend beyond the scope of the project. The practitioner is responsible for a project culture that fosters generative, safe and equitable relationships. Part of this process is practicing self-awareness and reflection. 

Key questions to prompt this process include: 

  • Who is in the project team? ‘Who is not here that should be here?’ is a common question in community engaged practice that encourages practitioners to consider what lived experiences and skills need to be present on a team to make the project achieve its goals and embed self-determination into the DNA of the project’s process.

  • What do my team need to particulate fully? Establishing ways of working that ensure collaborators and community can participate fully is an important step in embedding access and cultural safety in a project. The design of the project should actively reduce barriers to participation. Rather than making assumptions, ask what your team needs.

  • Have I considered authorship, appropriation and the rights of my collaborators? It is important to consider whose story is being told and to seek permissions to share stories and symbols when appropriate. You may need to do research to find out who to seek permission from. For more information, see Racial Equity and Representation. Art that is created collaboratively will result in shared intellectual property and copyright. It is important to consider if your collaborators are aware of their rights and how they will be acknowledged or attributed before commencing the project. For more information, see Intellectual Property. Consider your approach to data sovereignty. If the project collects data and information about communities, practitioners should develop an approach for its management.

  • Have I built time and resourcing into the project for relationship building and management? Managing relationships is a significant workload, that will often extend beyond the timelines of a project. You should consider if there are community members who might be better suited to carrying some relationships, and if you’ve adequately resourced relationship management in your project planning.

  • How can I ‘show up’ and listen? Consider how you can build relationships in an authentic way before the project starts. Consider showing up to community events and inviting community to your spaces. Listen to community members by asking questions without anticipating the answer; demonstrably respond to community feedback and input through action.

  • Does the community benefit from the project? It is important that the community benefit from the project in the short and long term, and that the benefits derived from the collaboration or exchange are equitable and shared. The fly-in-fly-out nature of a project, or a poorly resourced project can have negative impacts on a community.

Establishing Expectations

Why? What? When? The answers to these questions should be clear to yourself and those you are working with. The establishment of a social contract, clear expectations and boundaries are essential to foster equity, safety and trust within a project.

Key questions to prompt this process include: 

  • Am I being transparent with my motives? It is important that your collaborators understand why you have initiated this project, and for you to understand the motives of your collaborators. Clarity about individual goals can be just as important as setting overarching project goals.

  • Have I made the scope and roles of the project clear to everyone? While community engaged projects can evolve during their development, a clear roadmap at the start of the project is an important tool to develop with your collaborators. This will ensure everyone understands their roles, the project scope, process and proposed outcomes. Be factual so your own concerns or perceptions don’t distort the scope of the project and work required – be wary of pretending an artist or community’s involvement is more or less than it is. Be clear about whether you are asking for participation, consultation, collaboration or leadership. Test assumptions as the language you use to describe the scope or responsibilities might be different to the community you are engaging. 

  • Do the ambitions for the project match its resources? Ensure your timelines include adequate time and budget to complete the essential steps for engagement. If it becomes clear that there is not enough time or money at any point during a project, consider reducing the scope of the project or breaking it into stages. 

  • Are there moments to reflect and make changes during the project? Community engaged projects are dynamic, and can move in different directions as the community builds around the project. Building in moments during the process to stop, reflect and ensure everyone is on the journey can ensure all parties can make self-determined decisions about their involvement. 

  • Have I formalised the project appropriately? Supporting the informal mechanisms outlined above are formalised mechanisms that adhere to legislative and contractual obligations, which can help develop accountability and transparency between collaborators. ‘Softer’ tools can also develop a clear social contract, such as sending summary notes via email or text after a meeting or other ways of documenting agreed actions that work for the community you are engaging. 

  • Have I considered and provided for access? Participants in a project may have access requirements that need to be accommodated such as disability access, translation into another language, transport or childcare in order to participate in a project. This should be embedded into the project design.

Problem Solving

When we start on a project we often imagine it as being a perfect process or outcome. However, as a project develops we may realise that internal or external forces are creating challenges. These forces could be social, political, health related, cultural, financial, inter-personal or time related. 

For more information on recommended dispute resolution processes, see Grievance and Dispute Resolution


When is it necessary to pay community for the work they are doing on and for your project?

This will vary depending on the level of participation:

  • Collaborator: Any collaborator should be remunerated in-line with NAVA standards, see Payment Standards. Remuneration should be equitable between collaborators.

  • Participant

    • Remuneration is key in reducing financial barriers for participation. For some community members they will be turning down paid work to be part of the project, which may create challenges for ongoing participation in the project. 

    • In some instances, community will volunteer their time on a project (e.g. a weaving workshop that contributes to a larger artwork), consult with community first about appropriateness of this style of engagement and be transparent if other people on the project being paid for a similar role.

  • Consultant: Cultural consultants should be remunerated for sharing their knowledge.