Report & Toolkit: Strategies for Strengthening Community Engagement
- Amy DeLisio, MPH, RDN
- Emilie McClintic, Jamie Frederick, Metria Munyan, Katherine Hawksworth, Jesse Tedrick
Community engagement is the process of working collaboratively with a group of people to address and prioritize the issues that are most affecting their well-being. Community engagement ensures that individuals who are most impacted by challenges and inequities have an equal voice in designing and implementing solutions and accelerating change. The active participation of residents and their families, with local partners and trusted leaders is an integral part of community public health needed to reduce inequities.
PHI’s Center for Wellness and Nutrition (CWN) provides tailored TA and support to public health organizations and communities to help launch, scale and evaluate community engagement strategies—helping to build trust and sustainable change, and leading to greater impact and advancement of equity goals.
The following CWN resources provide insights, tools, guidance, local examples and more to help strengthen your community engagement efforts:
Report: We’re All in This Together: Strengthening Community Engagement Strategies Through a Collaborative Technical Assistance Model
Through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the Public Health Institute Center for Wellness and Nutrition (PHI CWN) offered technical assistance, resources, and training to interested Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) recipients across the country to help organizations deepen their community engagement efforts to advance systems change in local communities across the country focused on supporting priority populations.
We’re All in This Together: Strengthening Community Engagement Strategies Through a Collaborative Technical Assistance Model describes the qualitative study conducted to assess changes in community engagement practices and demonstrate these successes through local stories. It also includes recommendations to increase effective community engagement efforts in your work.
Recommendations to increase effective community engagement:
The support that CWN provided REACH recipient organizations led to more effective community engagement efforts. CWN will continue to offer the following support:
- Provide opportunities for recipients to network with one another and share best practices and lessons learned for conducting community engagement.
- Support the development of feedback loops between residents and organizations. While many organizations conduct surveys and/or focus groups of residents, regularly making decisions based on the results and discussing the results and decisions with residents is also a key step to improving community engagement and project outcomes.
- Support recipients in overcoming barriers to community engagement. Specific barriers that were mentioned at baseline were also mentioned again at follow-up (e.g., funding constraints, low trust, time/fatigue, etc.). Since these barriers continue to persist, help recipients to develop creative strategies to address and overcome barriers.
- Continue to open opportunities for TA and training to community-based organizations and partners of recipients as an approach to deepen peer learning, community engagement networks and a local culture shift.
Community Engagement Project Highlight: Healthy Savannah Style Community Engagement
Healthy Savannah is a nonprofit organization that partners with a coalition of over 200 public and private organizations to create a culture of health that benefits all city residents. Healthy Savannah focuses its efforts on low-resourced Black residents using an intentional community engagement process to prioritize community changes and address local health inequities. The PHI CWN has acted as a technical assistant partner since the onset of Healthy Savannah’s REACH project.
Healthy Savannah centers on community voice and tailors its work based on these recommendations. Examples of their community engagement efforts include annual surveys, community outreach, community member interviews, listening sessions, and attending neighborhood association meetings. Healthy Savannah supports its partners by sharing community engagement strategies and resources, including inviting partners to strategic planning sessions offered by the PHI CWN. This approach motivates other organizations to conduct community engagement activities and positions Healthy Savannah as a trusted resource.
Community Engagement Success
Two members from the City of Savannah’s Department of Economic Development attended a call with PHI CWN in July of 2021 to plan effective engagement strategies. PHI CWN’s Community Engagement Toolkit’s participatory action approach guided their efforts. They developed asset mapping in three historically hard-to-reach key areas in Savannah. Since incorporating strategies from the toolkit, the reception has been warmer. The Department of Economic Development members now attend Neighborhood Association meetings each month and have established strong relationships with the City of Savannah’s Community Outreach Coordinators. Active listening has been key to their success. The office now leads their actions by asking the following questions: tell us about your neighborhood, what is important to you, and why?
Healthy Savannah received supplemental funding from the CDC for COVID-19 and flu outreach. They recruited a team of Community Health Advocates that worked in their neighborhoods to boost vaccine acceptance and access. This success has inspired Healthy Savannah to build a permanent team to support its work in all areas, including nutrition, physical activity, and community clinical linkages.
Healthy Savannah will partner with PHI CWN to refine its community engagement strategies. As part of a larger social movement to promote systemic change, the coalition aims to open the space to more partners to expand community engagement efforts throughout the city. Being intentional and improving how the coalition conducts community engagement will better serve the community and truly instill a culture of health.
Toolkit: Community Engagement: A Participatory Action Approach Towards Health Equity and Justice
In 2020, the PHI Center for Wellness and Nutrition released the Community Engagement Toolkit: A Participatory Action Approach Towards Health Equity and Justice, an easy-to-use resource with action-focused activities, tools, and resources to support community members in exploring and understanding issues affecting their communities.Explore the toolkit
The toolkit is designed to guide local public health leaders, community liaisons, and coalitions through a step-by-step process of incorporating effective community engagement strategies into their local programs in order to support community members in exploring and understanding issues affecting their communities. Included are tips for organizing, educating or advocating for change. Typical of facilitating community-driven projects, each is different, so this toolkit is a guide for facilitation with a base set of activities, tools and resources.