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Community Engagement

Overview

Community Engagement

Health Policy and Planning supports meaningful, transparent and inclusive public participation of residents that are most impacted by the decisions at stake in planning and policy processes. Community expertise, experience, aspirations and needs are central to the decision-making process, in order to:

  • Learn about the issues we are trying to address.
  • Share power and resources.
  • Build community ownership of the issues.
  • Foster authentic partnership (i.e. do “with” versus doing “for”)
  • Honor community residents’ knowledge and lived experiences.
  • Develop effective solutions, and inform implementation, and evaluation.
  • Support and empower the leadership of local residents in decisions impacting their communities.
  • Continue to build relationships and trust.
  • Best determine how to prioritize issues and maximize outcomes and benefits.

Governmental agencies typically structure community engagement as a process to gather public input on a draft plan or policy after it’s been developed. However, it’s important to reverse this framing and be intentional in understanding community-identified priorities and solutions at the outset. The project, plan, or policy belongs to the community, and government is responsible as public servants in understanding the aspirations and needs of the community, to manifest it within the project, plan, and policy.

Health Policy and Planning supports local jurisdictions in advancing meaningful community participation in planning processes through sharing information, supporting facilitation, data analysis, sharing health implications, partnering with community-based organizations (CBOs), providing accessible meetings, and conducting outreach.

Health Connection:
Research on the relationship between civic engagement and health is still nascent but increasingly revealing the connection between the two.  Civic engagement can include participating in community activities, volunteering, or voting, among other activities.  All of these activities, however, are associated with improved health outcomes as people strengthen their social networks and improve community trust[i] [ii]. Social networks and community trust increase social capital, and increased social capital is associated with improved health outcomes[iii].

In addition, meaningful civic participation ensures improved decision-making that better incorporates the experiences of those most impacted by the decision. The community helps to illuminate the health impacts of decisions on the community. And supports a process that will likely result in stronger implementation of the decision due to community accountability.  

This chapter focuses on best practices for community engagement and how they can be implemented to serve all residents, especially those most impacted.

[i] Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Civic Participation, 2020. Accessed https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-health/interventions-resources/civic-participation 
[ii] Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. Civic Engagement, 2020. Accessed https://www.rwjf.org/en/cultureofhealth/taking-action/making-health-a-shared-value/civic-engagement.html
[iii] Rocco L, Suhrcke M. Is social capital good for health? A European perspective. Copenhagen, WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2012.

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