Principles of community engagement: Relinquish your power so that communities can take control

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Community engagement that leads to empowerment is good for health.

Public Health Wales employees should reflect on the power that individuals and organisations hold, acknowledge it and relinquish it when working with or for communities according to a new guide that aims to inform both individual and organisational practice when engaging with communities.

The new guide will help professionals to create conditions where communities can take control and become empowered. The guidance was informed by findings from focus group work with community members, community facing organisations and staff from across Public Health Wales. 

It defines and then explores community engagement for empowerment, and also looks at the multiple barriers to systematic empowerment. These include community engagement practice, professional culture, positional power, national policy imperatives and public sector organisational ethos and culture.

The document highlights the need to recognise, value, and use all forms of knowledge in an equal way as it is only by listening to communities that we can develop interventions and services that are appropriate for those communities.

Carol Owen, Principal Public Health Practitioner, Health Improvement Division, Public Health Wales, said:

 “It’s really important that we as health professionals reflect on our own practice and work to advocate for improved community engagement practice across Wales. One of the guide’s prevailing themes is that we need to listen to communities and create conditions where they can take power and are involved in making decisions that affect their community. 

“The document provides an excellent framework for action, and early findings from one of the  ‘testing sites’ within Public Health Wales indicates that the Guide has been beneficial by challenging practitioners to really think about power dynamics when working with communities.” 

As supporting and enabling individuals and communities to have more influence over decisions that affect them and their health and wellbeing is a core theme running through the Public Health Skills and Knowledge Framework, this guide should be of particular interest to public health professionals.

The guide highlights that the successful outcome of community engagement is empowered communities and adoption of the following principles will help to achieve this:

  1.  Community engagement that leads to empowerment must be systematised and long term.
     
  2.  Community engagement that aims to empower means that we need to create participatory spaces which aim to foster dialogue on an equal basis and contribute to building trusting relationships over time.
     
  3.  Community engagement which leads to individual and community empowerment means acknowledging the power imbalance and being explicit about relinquishing power.
     
  4.  Empowering communities requires us to acknowledge, value, and release capacity in communities before commencing work to build further assets.
     
  5.  Words are important; how communities are described can be stigmatising and disempowering and may not reflect how a community sees itself.
     
  6.  Community engagement that aims to empower requires us to recognise, value, and use all forms of knowledge in an equal way.
     
  7.   Recognise and value the workforce who provide an interface with communities; effective engagement for empowerment can be facilitated by working through others.
     
  8.  Community empowerment requires action across the whole system, not just within the community. Those working with and for communities must have the courage to unlearn and address the changes needed within their own organisations.

The document will support our staff to be champions for community engagement for empowerment, through their own actions and through advocating for the Principles in their partnership across the wider public sector. 

The full guide can be found via the following link :

Guide

Principles of Community Engagement for Empowerment

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