Participating in Life-Changing Decisions: The Value of Community Engagement

A community meeting is called.  Everyone gathers together, anxious to discuss how they can help themselves.

Before long, hands are raised, questions are asked, and the conversation becomes lively.

“Well, it sounds good that we can improve our circumstances,” one man says, “but how exactly do we do this?”

“What is involved on our part,” asks a young woman, “I’m so busy with my children and my home!”

“Listen, everyone, if we want things to get better, we have to take charge. Let’s think about how we can do it, not whether we can do it…together!”

This is community engagement: enabling community members to be actively involved in tackling issues that affect their lives—be it their health, environment, or social situation. Community engagement empowers communities and their social networks to reflect on and address a range of behaviors, issues, and decisions that affect their lives and to become proactively involved in their community’s development. It is a strategy that raises awareness and strengthens the community’s capacity to effect change.

Community engagement helps people improve their own health and living conditions while strengthening and enhancing the community’s ability to work together for any goal that is important to its members. The end result of a successful community engagement effort is not simply a “problem solved” but rather the increased capacity of a community to successfully address other needs and desires.

Using a community engagement approach allows the community to:

  • Develop an ongoing dialogue with health programs
  • Empower themselves to address their own health needs
  • Recognize diversity and equity
  • Work in partnership with programs to create locally appropriate responses
  • Be linked to external resources

Like any development approach, community engagement is not a panacea; it is not the answer to every development issue or the right approach for every community. Even within the same community, it may be the right approach for certain health issues but not for others. Under the right circumstances, however, community engagement has been proven to be a powerful tool for unleashing the potential of individuals and communities around the world.

In the newest Trending Topic from the Compass, you can find both tools and program examples on community engagement as well as some for community mobilization.

We invite you to add your own project materials or favorite tools by visiting the upload page. If you have any questions or comments, please contact the Compass.