Community Engagement and Collaboration with Key Stakeholders

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Community Engagement and Collaboration with Key Stakeholders

For community responders to be effective, they must engage and partner with trusted members of the community and local organizations like service providers, police departments, EMS, 911, and health departments so that they can swiftly connect people to needed services after a call for service occurs. Meaningful community engagement, however, starts with recognizing the power and voices of the people who live in the community and asking them to help design the program, monitor its impact after the program is implemented, and ensure the program is well known and trusted among the community it is meant to serve. This kind of all-hands community engagement also helps jurisdictions ensure that service referrals are easy and convenient because local service providers help inform the design of the connections.

Core Components of Community Engagement and Collaboration

1. Space for all stakeholders

Community engagement processes should involve an array of stakeholders including local agencies that have experience addressing crisis calls and social disturbances (e.g., law enforcement, 911 call center operators and dispatchers, EMS, mobile crisis teams). Read More…

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In addition, people who have had direct experience with receiving crisis services and with police responses should be core stakeholders. Some other key stakeholders include: behavioral health and housing service providers, harm reduction providers, legislators, local government representatives, longtime community organization leaders, neighborhood watch groups, educators, counselors, people and family members of people with serious mental illness, people who use drugs or witnessed or experienced an overdose, faith-based leaders, and more. Engagement efforts should create opportunities for all stakeholders to come together—including residents of all cultural, racial, religious, and political backgrounds—to collaboratively identify challenges, and design solutions to reimagine public safety in their community.

2. A multi-pronged engagement approach

Community responder programs will need to adopt a number of engagement strategies to ensure that the necessary individuals and groups are involved in the program’s development and implementation. Read More…

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Some methods that existing community responder programs have used include surveys, focus groups, town halls, public information campaigns, consultations with expert community members, stakeholder partnerships that give community members a formal role in decision-making processes, and consistent updates on the planning processes. These efforts have all helped programs build authentic and trusting relationships with the wider community and ensured that people actually use the program. These kind of engagement practices should also be seen as ongoing efforts to give stakeholders regular opportunities to inform and shape the program.

3. Transparency in decision-making processes

Community engagement efforts should be founded on shared decision making during all planning and implementation step. One way to do this is ensuring that the stakeholder group is representative of the community’s demographics and that the group is responsive to community feedback. Read More…

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It is also important to make sure that people who have had firsthand experience with the health care or criminal justice systems are included and able to inform the development process. This transparency can help maintain community members’ trust and deepen relationships, especially among people who have been most harmed by a jurisdiction’s existing crisis responses and interactions with the criminal justice system.

4. Trust among BIPOC community members

According to a Harvard University study released in 2020, “Black Americans are 3.23 times more likely than White Americans to be killed by police.” Statistics like this can make BIPOC communities reluctant to trust first responders of any kind. Read More…

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Jurisdictions implementing a community responder program should ensure they are building trust with BIPOC community members to help offset any concerns. One way to build this trust can be to partner with credible messengers in the BIPOC community to get their buy-in and input as the program is being planned and continues.


Successful community responder programs—teams that position health professionals and community members trained in crisis response as first responders—will involve stakeholders early and often. These programs typically provide immediate assistance for people experiencing behavioral health crises (i.e., mental health, substance use, and overdose crises), conduct wellness checks, help people with housing needs, and more. However, they can be challenging to implement because they require buy-in from local elected leadership, law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services, emergency communications, service providers, and community members. This article outlines key strategies and tips to obtaining support for the program from local leaders.

iconCommunity Engagement: Planning and Ongoing Support for Community Responder Programs

Leaders around the country have begun to reckon with racial injustice and consider how to reimagine public safety in their jurisdictions. Communities are discussing how to center racial justice in public safety, who should respond to what type of incidents, and how community members can support each other in thinking through the best local options. This event featured three leaders who have been involved in developing community crisis responses for people who have behavioral health needs and are experiencing housing instability or poverty that might typically involve them in the criminal legal system.


Developing and Strengthening Partnerships with Police, Fire, and EMS: A Q&A with the CAHOOTS Program

Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) has been operating out of Eugene, Oregon, for more than 30 years. The CAHOOTS model has been replicated nationwide, with White Bird Clinic as its nonprofit mental health and crisis services partner. The CSG Justice Center spoke with CAHOOTS Director of Consulting Timothy Black to discuss ways that community responder programs can manage partnerships with other first responders.