HC Link has been a leader in working with Francophone groups and delivering services in French since its beginnings in 2009. More recently, we have begun to develop services and supports to build the capacity of community groups, networks and organizations to meaningfully engage Francophones in their community - even if they don’t speak French. In our recent resource on this topic, we created a list of nine keys for success and this article provides a more detailed look at incorporating these keys into your work. While this article was written with the Francophone community in mind, many of these tips and strategies would apply to working with or engaging many other populations.
It is important to understand the context and environments of Francophones in your community, such as the history of Francophones in Canada and Ontario, where Francophones in your community are located, and any history (positive or not) that your organization/group has in working with Francophones. One such context is that there is no single ‘Francophone community’. Franco-Ontarians have language in common but come from diverse cultures, religions, values and experiences and therefore it’s important to take into account the different cultures of the participants when developing your engagement strategy.
Develop clear goals for your community engagement strategy and define the target groups according to those goals. For instance, do you need to reach the general Francophone public, or is it more appropriate to work with established groups or organizations? As in any community engagement strategy, it’s important to involve Francophones in each step of the process rather than view the engagement as an ‘add-on’ or consult with the group after critical decisions have been made. Consider how the Francophone community can be involved in scoping, needs assessment, planning and evaluation activities. Report back to the Francophone community following the engagement/consultation and be clear about how their participation affected outcomes.
While there is much you can do to work with and engage Francophones even if you don’t speak the language, at some point you will need the assistance of a French-speaking individual to work with Francophone communities. It’s true that many Francophones do speak English, and yet the results of your consultative process may be richer if people can participate, share and express themselves in their first language. Having a coordinator or facilitator who speaks fluent French will facilitate this process.
Many of us who are used to sell-out crowds at our events may be disappointed with small turnouts at French events. Remind yourself that since the Francophone population makes up 4.8% of Ontario’s population, it’s understandable that attendance numbers will be lower! Start with the number of people you have and regard your first few events as stepping stones to establishing a long-standing relationship with Francophones in your community. One strategy that can help you reach Francophones is to advertise in French in Francophone media. You can also create or strengthen relationships with Francophone organizations and groups that have connections to Francophones in your community. Developing the capacity of your organization to be a viable potential partner on various francophone projects will increase your chances of success.