Redefining Community Engagement for Health Equity

Health Equity, Part 2

August 13, 2020

In light of the persistent health disparities that have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more evident than ever that insufficient health care and food systems must be rebuilt more equitably. This can’t be done without input from the very people these systems have oppressed for so long, or else we’ll end up right back where we started. How do we move forward in a way that creates new leadership pathways for historically marginalized communities and puts decision-making power in their hands?

Well, we know community voices must be core to conversations on rebuilding in order to prevent worsening health and racial inequities. Community members must have a platform to delineate existing food and health care issues and offer workable solutions as holders of local knowledge. This can be accomplished through a wide range of means, such as needs assessments, town halls, feedback forms, etc.

While asking communities for their ideas and learning from their lived experiences is critical, keeping community members who experience health inequities and racism at the forefront throughout the planning process can ensure their knowledge informs the right solutions to truly meet community needs. By creating a community engagement model that centers equity in all stages of planning, implementation and evaluation, power shifts to community members who have been underrepresented and helps them regain control over their health.

The proposed Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge projects provide a myriad of strategies for engaging local residents as leaders in improving health outcomes in their communities. Many project teams plan unique approaches to both incorporate community voices and develop resident leadership.

For example, some teams will train a corps of community members to promote health within their cities. In Cleveland, Ohio, Baldwin Wallace University, along with other partners, will be training residents as Community Health and Empowerment Navigators in order to screen and link food-insecure residents to health services. Following a similar method, the Chula Vista project team, led by the University of California, San Diego, will train promotores to provide culturally responsive services to their primarily Latinx community.

HCCC grantees in Wheeling, West Virginia, Deerfield Beach, Florida and New Brunswick, New Jersey, have a strong focus on youth leadership and will encourage youth to become the torchbearers of improving health within their communities. They expect to engage youth within their cities through internship programs and youth advisory boards that have real decision-making power on major aspects of their initiatives.

Others, such as The Health Foundation’s project team in Wilkes County, will use human-centered design to authentically engage with the people they wish to serve. Through this process, community members will formulate their own ideas on how to change systems to increase access to foods that support health by redesigning systems to meet people where they are instead of making individuals adapt to the system.

While these are only a few examples of the engagement strategies Challenge project teams will use, all project teams will harness the power of community members and shift systems and policies to institutionalize community leadership.

The 20 programs in this project are required to go beyond mere participation and instead center the people who experience health inequities in all aspects of our work. If we truly want to restructure failing systems, it’s time to step back and give the people most affected a central role in redesigning them.







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