Principles for activating effective health engagement

Evidence from health engagement produces eight guiding principles for successful initiatives.

Collaborative models of health and social care rely on community engagement to bring valuable perspectives into the design and delivery of services. To this end, inclusion, accessibility, and support are key areas of focus, suggest Weger et al in ‘Achieving successful community engagement: a rapid realist review’.

In consultation with a local panel of stakeholders, professionals, and citizens, the authors identify eight evidence-based, action-oriented guiding principles for building better interventions. The review describes the eight principles for supporting ‘meaningful’ participation in health engagement projects as:

  1. ‘Ensure staff provide supportive and facilitative leadership to citizens based on transparency’

Organisational leadership should enable transparent, easy exchange of information between participants and professionals and help bring clarity around outcomes.

  1. ‘Foster a safe and trusting environment enabling citizens to provide input’

Activities and processes should speak to citizen needs and sensitivity, and account for practical and cultural barriers to participation.  

  1. Ensure citizens’ early involvement’

Organisations can help align their priorities and definitions with community needs and expectations by bringing citizens early into the conversation.

  1. Share decision-making and governance control with citizens’

Bringing citizens into governance roles within an initiative can foster relationships, underline the value of their contributions, and help citizens deal with processes and structures.

  1. ‘Acknowledge and address citizens’ experiences of power imbalances between citizens and professionals’

Participants should be able to feel that they can contribute mutually and legitimately with professionals.  

  1. ‘Invest in citizens who feel they lack the skills and confidence to engage’

Learning opportunities can bolster citizens with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to contribute to the conversation.  

  1. ‘Create quick and tangible wins’

Momentum and feedback around citizen input can help mobilize the community and foster trust to sustain engagement.

  1. ‘Take into account both citizens’ and organisations’ motivations’

Engagement should speak to the interests and motivations of the community, and nurture relationships for long-term collaboration.  

Power imbalances around participants and professionals emerge as a common theme in the research, the study points out. The authors recommend taking their findings into local contexts and addressing power balances with suitable measures to equip and motivate engagement.  

E. de Weger is a researcher in the National Institute for Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, The Netherlands. N. Van Vooren is a junior researcher at RIVM. K.G. Luijkx is Professor in the Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Tilburg University, The Netherlands. C. A. Baan leads the Department of Quality of Care and Health Economics at RIVM, and is Professor of Integrated Health Care at Tilburg University. H. W. Drewes is a researcher at RIVM.

Photo: Rawpixel

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