Developing Community and Public Health Capacity for Change
- National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
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For those in community or public health, the topics in this article will be nothing new-but as busy professionals ourselves, we often find it helpful to be reminded of the basic premises of our chosen fields. It’s so easy in our hectic-and very important-drive to complete work tasks that we lose sight of those core values for which we strive.
There are a growing number of evidence-based interventions for use by community and public health professionals to promote health and prevent disease. [Leeman, Calancie, et al: 2015] These practices have the potential to improve environments, behaviors, and health outcomes in our communities. In order to adopt these practices, however, public health agencies and community partners often need additional tools, strategies, and training to enhance their capacity to improve health outcomes.
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The most effective prevention strategies actively engage the communities they are intended to serve. Effective health promotion and health-enhancing social change require communities to identify, plan, channel resources, and take action. The concept that a community is the solution to its own problems is not new. There is considerable support for designing community-based interventions to improve the health behaviors and overall health status of community members. According to Sotomayor, Pawlik, and Dominguez in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, “These community-based interventions are important because health disparities and the high rate of chronic diseases in minority populations, particularly among those who are poor and lack access to community resources, are not likely to be prevented without them.” [Sotomayor, Pawlik, and Dominguez: 2007]
The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Healthy People 2020 strives to
- Identify nationwide health improvement priorities.
- Increase public awareness and understanding of the determinants of health, disease, and disability and the opportunities for progress.
- Provide measurable objectives and goals that are applicable at the national, State, and local levels.
- Engage multiple sectors to take actions to strengthen policies and improve practices that are driven by the best available evidence and knowledge.
- Identify critical research, evaluation, and data collection needs.
Many health prevention and promotion consultants stress the importance that local leaders play in building community health. The Healthy People 2020 toolkit Identifying & Engaging Community Partners, answers the question “How Do You Define Meaningful Citizen Participation?” in this way:
- Power to make decisions and affect outcomes
- Citizen driven; from the community up, not top down
- Proactive, not reactive
- Encourages and facilitates broad community involvement
- Inclusive, not exclusive; accessible to all
- Balanced representation in the participation process; not just major “partners”
- Consensus-oriented decision making Compromise; give and take
- Opportunities for involvement in all levels of activity, which include creating a vision, planning, prioritizing, deciding, evaluating [ODPHP: 2010]
Building strong relationships with necessary community partners can be time consuming. Facilitating meetings to allow the meaningful participation outlined above requires a particular, practiced set of skills. Here’s where a community health consultant could be extremely valuable. Each community health consultant is different, of course, but in general he or she will have significant experience with the following tasks:
- Developing health education and promotion programs, such as school or community presentations, workshops, trainings, etc.
- Writing and formatting health education materials, such as reports, bulletins, and visual aids, to address public health concerns.
- Developing working relationships with agencies and organizations interested in public health.
- Designing and conducting evaluations to assess the quality and performance of health communication and education programs.
- Collaborating with community groups and public health officials to identify community health needs and the availability of services needed.
- Writing press releases and public service announcements, conducting media campaigns, or maintaining program-related Web sites.
- Developing grant proposals to obtain funding for health education programs and related work.