This module is about community engagement and public health promotion, specifically the connection between community engagement, public health promotion, public health policy, and population health improvement. Modules Five and Six challenged you to think about evidence-based practices, technology, planning, and design. Those are necessary tools and building blocks for successful public health practice and policy design, but they are not sufficient on their own because rarely do public health or healthcare challenges present in a vacuum. Public health challenges and issues, whether well established or emerging, occur in communities and affect populations. To put it another way, many great population health improvement strategies have failed without community engagement or provider buy-in.
Community engagement encompasses a variety of practices. In the case of a community intervention, it means including members of the community and working with the community’s strengths, values, and needs when creating an intervention. “As such, community engagement involves interpersonal trust, communication, and collaboration. Such engagement, or participation, should focus on, and result from, the needs, expectations, and desires of a community’s members” (Minnesota Department of Health, 2002, p. 15).
Consider the last time you worked as part of a group. Your attitude towards that group experience was likely influenced by whether you felt included or valued by members of the group. You may even have personal experience being part of public health research, strategy, or intervention; many of us have completed surveys about our attitudes towards soda, clean environment, regulation, and everything in between. How did the survey administrator make you feel? Did you ever learn about the results of the survey and any planned next steps? Many people report feeling valued and included when that feedback loop is closed; it affirms that their time and participation was meaningful and that they were heard, regardless of the ultimate outcome.
As you proceed through this module, do not be afraid to make the discussion in this module personal to you and your community. It can be easy to think about “others” when we navigate public health courses, but in reality, everyone is a part of a bigger population or community. We live and work in areas with public health issues. We may have personal experience trying to engage our community in solving an issue. (Have you ever attended a city council meeting or school board meeting? It can be hard work and tough going, but rewarding as well.) Draw on that personal experience to enrich the discussion.
You will also want to consider everything you learn in the module about community engagement and population health improvement as you build your recommendations for Milestone Three. There is no one “right” way to engage a community, and your personal experience can inform the recommendations you make. Community is personal.
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