Enhancing Equity in Cross-Sector Alignment Through Meaningful Community Engagement
In 2020, the Center for Community Health Alignment (CCHA) was awarded the Aligning Systems for Health (Health Care + Public Health + Social Services) grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This project lasted until May 2022. The purpose of the project is to explore how we can promote meaningful community engagement and fair decision-making in efforts to advance health equity. In partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, and the Arnold School of Public Health’s Core for Applied Research and Evaluation, we are committed to learning about true community engagement in efforts to better understand effective cross-sector alignment of health care, public health and social services to advance health equity.
The project goals focused on finding ways to generate input from community members on how decisions are made about health care, public health, and social services. Through a series of community meetings, the Center for Community Health Alignment and partners sought input on how to better engage community residents and needed strategies for authentic community engagement focused on the following goals:
- To better understand what meaningful community engagement takes;
- To learn how to authentically engage those who live and work in communities in efforts that impact them; and
- Identify capacity building needs to facilitate meaningful community engagement.
Partnering with several communities in South Carolina, Community Health Workers (CHWs) acted as community-based researchers to garner input from participants in the communities. CHWs are trusted members of the community and know the areas in which they serve. These existing relationships allowed the CHWs to lead valuable discussions with residents about health care, public health, social service programs, and decisions that affect their community.
While the project was short-term, our goal is to use the information gathered to help systems and organizations engage with communities and their leaders in a more meaningful way. Next steps include leveraging the information gathered to inform our work with community organizations to build better strategies and tools that will help to make system changes to better serve communities.
What is Needed to Meaningfully Engage with Communities?
Findings from the open mic community conversations reaffirmed that TRUST is the key ingredient needed to engage in an intentional and meaningful way.