Collecting evidence about whether community engagement works is difficult, far more difficult than measuring the effectiveness of a new medicine. A new report looks at 361 studies and concludes overall that community engagement works.
The review considered the following questions:
- What is the range of models and approaches underpinning community engagement?
- What are the mechanisms and contexts through which communities are engaged?
- Which approaches to community engagement are associated with improved health outcomes among disadvantaged groups? How do these approaches lead to improved outcomes?
- Which approaches to community engagement are associated with reductions in inequalities in health? How do these approaches lead to reductions in health inequalities?
- Which types of intervention work best when communities are engaged?
- Is community engagement associated with better outcomes for some groups than others? (In particular, does it work better or less well for children and young people?)
- How do targeted and universal interventions compare in terms of community engagement and their impact on inequalities?
- What are the resource implications of effective approaches to community engagement?
- Are better outcomes simply the result of increased resources, or are some approaches to community engagement potentially more cost-effective than others
The conclusion in brief and, of course, with many qualifications was:
"the meta-analysis suggest that public health interventions using community engagement for disadvantaged groups are effective in terms of health behaviours, health consequences, participant self-efficacy and perceived social support outcomes. These findings appear to be robust and not due to systematic methodological biases. There are also indications from a small number of studies that interventions can improve outcomes for the community and the engagees."