Including Everyone: Definitions And Types Of 'Hard To Reach' Communities

Think about your community to ensure you are engaging everyone! The term 'hard to reach' is commonly used to describe individuals or groups that an organization finds difficult to contact or engage for a particular purpose.9 Identification of groups regarded as 'hard to reach' vary with the community, issue, and context but typically includes:


Those who are disadvantaged socially and economically, such as:



  • Those on low incomes

  • Individuals with physical, mental and sensory disabilities

  • Indigenous and Aboriginal people

  • Young people

  • Elderly people

  • New immigrants and citizens with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds

  • Homeless people

  • At risk children and youth

  • People with addictions

  • Sex workers

  • Unskilled and semi-skilled workers

  • Single parents

  • Long-term unemployed

  • People with literacy and numeracy needs

  • Ex-offenders and probation clients


Those facing barriers to participation, such as:



  • Newly arrived residents

  • Visible minorities and members of ethnic communities

  • Gay and lesbian people

  • Problem gamblers

  • High rise apartment dwellers

  • Residents of hostels and boarding houses

  • People living in rural and remote locations


Those restricted by lifestyle and occupation, such as:



  • The 'time poor': people who are in full-time work and/or work outside the community

  • Renters

  • Business owners that are considered to be time poor

  • Rural populations

  • Groups of people (in particular, those who are asked to regularly respond to surveys) who are becoming 'over-consulted' and increasingly reluctant to participate.


A Process to Engage the 'Hard to Reach' Populations10



  1. Identify the particular segments of the population that need to be engaged. Use demographic information to determine the extent to which these people live in your community.

  2. Be clear about which groups to targets and what needs to be achieved through the approaches to engage them.

  3. Develop strategies to engage them. Remember that successful interventions respond to the needs, characteristics, and local circumstances of the hard to reach group.

  4. Identify and use sources of good quality reliable information about the group to devise strategies.

  5. Modify established methods and develop new methods of community engagement to reach the specific populations. Decide whether to extend an existing initiative, someone else's initiative, or devise a new one.

  6. Think imaginatively about the options, i.e. using theatre or outreach buses

  7. Involve members of the hard to reach group in planning and carrying out the engagement.

  8. Develop and utilize networks for contact.

  9. Take the time to build good relationships.


Methods to engage the 'Hard to Reach' Populations11



  1. Engage diverse representation on committees.

  2. Invite citizens to conduct interviews, surveys, and focus groups with people in their community and specific population segment.

  3. Use a contact who is a respected person in the 'hard to reach' population to introduce you.

  4. Use 'snowballing', a technique where a contact provides the name of another, who provides the name of another, and so on. In some examples, the contacts are trained to take the message into the targeted community.

  5. 'Go to them' rather than expecting citizens to participate at pre-established times that are only suitable for the organizers. Meet people where they are comfortable.

  6. Hold informal get-together such as street parties, movies, golfing, or fishing trips.

  7. Make participation as enjoyable and easy as possible for people.

  8. Recognize and respect a wide range of cultural traditions.

  9. Use proper and current terminology when referring to the 'hard to reach' population group.

  10. Use appropriately varied graphics in promotional material.

  11. Use new technologies such as e-mail and text messaging.

  12. Adapt information to different needs of some individuals, particularly those from diverse culturally and language backgrounds and with hearing or visual impairment.

  13. Use accessible venues.

  14. Provide child care and transport.

  15. Provide incentives such as cash or prizes.



9 Brackertz, N., Zwart, I. Meredyth, D. and Ralston, L. (2004) Community Consultation and the 'Hard to Reach': Concepts and Practice in Victorian Local. Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology: Victoria Australia. http://www.sisr.net/cag/docs/HardtoReach_main.pdf
10 Based on: Consultationa and Engagement Resource Website, Victorian Local Governance Association and the State Government, Victoria Australia, http://www.vlgaconsultation.org.au/ and Whitnell, Sandra, Successful Inventions With Hard to Reach Groups, Social Inclusion Policy Branch, Health and Safety Commission Great Britain, April 2004, http://www.hsi.e.ov.uk/research/misc/hardtoreach.pdf
11 Ibid


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