Executive Summary

Community involvement and collaborations are cornerstones of public health action. In recent years, a number of programs, such as PATCH, APEX/PH, and Healthy Cities, have guided community mobilization activities. However, there remains a need to broaden our understanding of the key principles that underlie successful community engagement in public health.

As a result of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established the Committee for Community Engagement in October 1995. The Committee was composed of representatives from across CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). It considered a growing body of literature reflecting relevant concepts and the practical experiences of those involved in engaging individuals and organizations in communities across the country. From these foundations the Committee synthesized a list of key Community Engagement Principles. These Principles form the core of Principles of Community Engagement. They hold true for community engagement activities across public health disciplines and apply regardless of the initiating organizations. They are the practical guidelines upon which all engagement efforts should be based.

Principles of Community Engagement provides public health professionals and community leaders with a science base and practical guidelines for engaging the public in community decision-making and action for health promotion, health protection, and disease prevention. The material provided here can help public health professionals and community leaders improve communication, promote common understanding, and strengthen coordination, collaboration, and partnership efforts among themselves and community members and institutions. This book is also designed to help CDC programs and their partners guide community involvement in activities that affect or change health-related behaviors, including needs and asset assessment, planning, resource allocation, advocacy, outreach, program development, implementation, and evaluation.

It should be noted that this document was intentionally prepared for public health professionals and community leaders within organizations, rather than a more grass-roots audience. Therefore, those initiating the engagement effort may be outside the community they are trying to engage. Individuals involved in implementing engagement activities need to recognize their own role in the process and be responsive to the needs of the targeted community, as defined by that community. A community engagement process is more likely to be successful when true equality of community leadership is intended and applied, as opposed to an authoritative or top-down approach.

Community engagement is defined as the process of working collaboratively with groups of people who are affiliated by geographic proximity, special interests, or similar situations with respect to issues affecting their well-being. Engagement principles can be used by people in a range of roles, from the chief executive of an organization or program funder who needs to know how to support community engagement, to the frontline health professional or community leader who needs hands-on, practical information on how to mobilize members of a community.

In practice, community engagement is a blend of science and art. The science comes from sociology, political science, cultural anthropology, organizational development, psychology, social work, and other disciplines with organizing concepts drawn from the literature on community participation, community mobilization, constituency building, community psychology, cultural influences, and other sources. The art comes from the understanding, skill, and sensitivity that is used to apply and adapt the science in ways that fit the community and the purposes of specific engagement efforts. The results of these efforts may be defined differently and encompass a broad range of possibilities (e.g., coalitions, partnerships, collaborations), but they all fall under the general rubric of community engagement and are treated similarly in this document.

Organization Of Principles of Community Engagement

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 defines concepts of community and community engagement, and looks at why these are important in decision-making and action for health promotion, health protection, and disease prevention. It draws on organizing concepts found in the literature on community organization and development and on community participation. Part 2 summarizes the key principles of community engagement as derived from the literature and from practice, and as developed by the CDC/ATSDR Committee for Community Engagement. Part 3 links these principles to different aspects of the community engagement process. This linkage is illustrated through eight case examples showing how these approaches to engaging the community around specific health issues reflect the principles. Finally, an Appendix offers an extensive bibliography of available references to help readers learn more about the principles and concepts relevant to their communities. It includes all the references cited in the book as well as additional sources of information.

This document is a guide for understanding the principles of community engagement needed for developing and implementing a plan of action involving communities. Community processes can be difficult and labor intensive. They require dedicated resources time, money, and people to help ensure their success. While the case examples in this document highlight community engagement successes, failures do exist. We hope that thoughtful consideration of the community engagement principles, as well as the discussions that amplify them and the case examples that illustrate them, will help public health professionals and communities form partnerships that will lead to positive action on the pressing health issues facing us today, and ultimately, to improved health for the men, women, and children who live in our communities.

Back For further information on community collaboration, visit the Public Health Practice Program Office Internet site at www.cdc.gov/phppo/ or contact Michael Hatcher at Mail Stop K39, 4770 Buford Highway, N.E., Atlanta, GA., 30341-3724 or email mth1@cdc.gov.