What is Community Engagement?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Committee on Community Engagement defines community engagement as “the process of working collaboratively with and through groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, or similar situations to address issues affecting the well-being of those people.” Community engagement “involves partnerships and coalitions that help mobilize resources and influence systems, change relationships among partners, and serve as a catalyst for changing policies, programs, and practices.”
In other words, community engagement is the synergistic process of bringing a diverse group together for the purpose of reaching a shared goal. It is a process that is both evidence-based, rooted in social science, as well as a creative process built on strong, cooperative relationships.
Building and sustaining community engagement is critical to the long-term success of community programs, and ultimately, achieving better health outcomes for youth. With that in mind, establishing a clear goal is the centerpiece of working collaboratively with a community stakeholder or advisory group, to support community engagement. These three steps will support establishing a clear goal:
- Assess Community Needs and Resources. With project partners, conduct a thorough needs and resource assessment. Use quantitative data (e.g., surveys, vital statistics, etc.) and qualitative data (e.g., focus groups, interviews, etc.) to identify youth, community resources, and potential partnerships.
- Share Findings with the Community. Tell the story of the initiative, complete with the purpose and vision. Use methods such as community or town hall-style meetings, hold a press conference, publish stories in local papers or newsletters (e.g., articles, letters to the editor, etc.), and spread the word via social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Sharing findings should be a routine and regular task, to build mutual understanding and collaboration for the project. Sharing also builds reciprocity and can support leveraging community resources and wisdom, particularly when the community is encouraged to respond to and contribute to project findings and planning.
- Partner with Appropriate Individuals and Organizations. The assessment and outreach to share findings will help you to partner with appropriate individuals and organizations. Think about people and organizations who could be involved in the community stakeholder or advisory group. It’s important to consider capacities and characteristics, such as:
- Diverse knowledge, skills and capacities
- Thinkers and “doers”
- Manageable size
- These three steps will build the foundation of community engagement. From here, of course, there’s much work to be done, in the ongoing partnership with the community and key stakeholders, to sustain the project.
Here are some more resources to support you in your efforts to engage the community:
- Healthy Teen Network provides trainings and technical assistance to support your efforts to build community engagement. We can support you from your initial steps in developing an action plan and conducting a needs and resource assessment, to the ongoing implementation and sustainability of community stakeholder or advisory groups.
- Community Engagement in Public Health. Mary Anne Morgan and Jennifer Lifshay. Contra Costa Health Services, 2006.
- Developing and Sustaining Community-Based Participatory Research Partnerships: A Skill-Building Curriculum. The Examining Community-Institutional Partnerships for Prevention Research Group, University of Washington.
- It’s Not Enough to Collect the Data: Presenting Evaluation Findings So That They Will Make A Difference. Minnesota Department of Health.
- Principles of Community Engagement. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Committee on Community Engagement, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Practice Program Office, Atlanta, GA, 1997.
- Successful Community Engagement: Laying the Foundation for Effective Teen Pregnancy Prevention. Barbara Goldberg; Victoria Frank; Susan Bekenstein; Patricia Garrity and Jesus Ruiz, Journal of Children and Poverty, 17(1) pp. 65-86, 2011.
What are some challenges or lessons learned you’ve realized in your efforts to engage the community?