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What’s the Buzz About Community Engagement?

Community Engagement
I’ve been hearing the term “community engagement” used more and more lately. Although it was defined in a publication by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1997, the second edition of Principles of Community Engagement really seems to be catching on (CDC, 2011). Since community engagement often involves partnerships and coalitions, it seemed like a good topic for my blog!

What is Community Engagement?

Community engagement is “the process of working collaboratively with and
through groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, or similar situations to address issues affecting the well-being of those people” (CDC, 1997, p 9). The goals of community engagement are to “build trust, enlist new resources and allies, create better communication, and improve overall health outcomes as successful projects evolve into lasting collaborations” (CDC, 2011, p. 3). Coalitions, partnerships and other collaborative efforts are the catalysts that help mobilize resources, influence systems, change relationships among partners, and change policies, programs, and practices (CDC, 2011, p. 3).

What Does It Look Like?

Community engagement can take many forms and include organized groups,
agencies, institutions, or individuals that are engaged in health promotion, research, or policy making. Community engagement can also be seen as a continuum of community involvement. The following figure, modified from the International Association for Public Participation shows how a specific collaboration is likely to move along a continuum toward greater community involvement, and may evolve into a long-term partnership that focuses on a wide range of social, economic, political, and environmental factors that affect health (CDC, 2011, p. 8).
Why Should We Do It?

Engaging community members in developing projects increases their level of awareness, allows them to advocate for their ideas, and offers a way to gather advice based on the their expertise and experiences. Further, when communities are engaged at the beginning and throughout the project, people are more receptive to the outcome and are capable of implementing change and maintaining partnerships longer (Virginia Cooperative Extension, 2012).

How Do We Do It?
The following principles should guide you in what to consider prior to engagement, what is needed for engagement to occur, and what you need to do to make engagement efforts succeed (CDC, 2001, p. 45-53). I was delighted to see that the Community Coalition Action Theory (CCAT) (Butterfoss and Kegler, 2002; 2009) was recognized as a cornerstone in tying community engagement to theory since its 21 propositions support these principles (CDC, 2011, p. 94-95).


1. Be clear about the goals of the engagement effort and the populations and/or
communities you want to engage.

2. Become knowledgeable about the community’s culture, economic conditions,
social networks, political and power structures, norms and values, history,
demographic trends, experience with efforts by outside groups to engage it in
various programs, and the community’s perceptions of those initiating the
engagement activities.

3. Go to the community, establish relationships, build trust, work with both formal and informal leaders, and seek commitment from community organizations and leaders to create processes for mobilizing the community

4. Understand that collective self-determination is the responsibility and right of all people in a community. No external entity should assume it can bestow on a community the power to act in its own self-interest.

5. Partner with the community to create change and improve health.

6. Recognize and respect the diversity of the community.

7. Identify and mobilize community assets and strengths and develop the community’s capacity and resources to make decisions and take action in order to sustain community engagement.

8. Prepare to release control of actions or interventions.

9. Know that community collaboration requires long-term commitment by the engaging organization and its partners.


Butterfoss, FD and Kegler, MC. (2009). The Community Coalition Action Theory. In DiClemente, R, Crosby, L, Kegler, MC. (Eds.) Emerging Theories in Health Promotion Practice and Research, 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (20011). Principles of Community Engagement, 2nd Edition. NIH Publication No. 11-7782. Washington, DC. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/communityengagement/pdf/PCE_Report_508_FINAL.pdf

Virginia Cooperative Extension. (2012). Community Engagement. Petersburg, VA: Author.http://www.uvm.edu/extension/community/buildingcapacity/pdfs/community_engagement_handout.pdf