Community participation

Effective health promotion practice places people at the heart of all activities. Health promotion needs to be carried out by people and with people, rather than on people or to people. This requires us to engage with communities in ways that allow people to have ownership of and involvement in all stages of health promotion activities.

Community participation is also known as community engagement or community action.

There are four different levels of community engagement and it's important to be honest with communities about which level is being applied at any one time.

The most basic level is to provide information to individuals or the community about decisions and activities underway − this is a one-way flow of information. This may involve communication in the form of fact sheets, websites and information kits.The second level is toconsult

with individuals and the community and get feedback on the proposed activities. This is a limited two-way communication flow; however, it can be used effectively when community input is required to influence a decision on a preferred option. This level may involve communication in the form of focus groups, public submissions or comments and surveys.

The third level of engagement is involvement; by working with the community to explore issues it may be possible to progress discussions to policy development and program responses. This level can be used when community issues are more complex. Examples of community engagement at this level include working groups, committees and workshops involving community members.

The fourth and highest level of engagement is collaboration, where there is a partnership with the community. This level is used where there is a substantial timeframe involved and there is a chance to set the agenda together. Examples of engagement at this level include strategic advisory boards and committees. At this level of engagement the community can define their own goals and contribute to decision-making to address a collective health issue.

An engaged and empowered community is one in which individuals and organisations apply their skills and resources to gain increased influence over the determinants of health, address health priorities and meet their respective health needs.

Effective community participation needs a good understanding of our communities or the groups and individuals we work with. We need to get to know their needs, priorities, capacity and any barriers to taking action before launching into any interventions.

Community participation also requires skills that recognise we don't all have the same life experiences. Enabling, mediating and advocacy, the ability to listen, empathise and respond are important for effective community participation.

Practitioners can find more information on how to decide on the appropriate level of engagement to use and ideas for different types of engagement techniques in the Department of Health and Human Services Your Care Your Say resources. The National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards, and specifically Standard 2: Partnering with Consumers, may also be useful for information on engaging individuals.

For further information and to apply these principles in your work, view this checklist