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Let’s Talk: Community engagement for health equity

Cette ressource est également disponible en français.

This installment of the Let’s Talk series emphasizes that engagement with communities that live with inequities is essential public health practice to achieve population health equity. It defines community engagement for health equity and encourages a shift in how community members who live with inequities are viewed: as stakeholders and partners in public health prioritization and decision-making.

Core concepts include the following:

  • Recognition that community knowledge is valid evidence to support public health efforts
  • Community engagement practices improve health
  • Inclusivity is foundational to equitable engagement

Five key practices

Meaningful community engagement for health equity is based on five key practices:

  1. Valuing engagement as core public health practice
  2. Sharing power with communities
  3. Building trust first
  4. Codeveloping the structure and expectations of engagement
  5. Using language that values community.

Each key practice is explored, along with strategies and practice examples.  

Building capacity for community engagement to address health equity

This resource describes pre-engagement activities that are essential for building capacity for meaningful engagement. These activities include understanding the history of colonialism and structural inequities within the community; it also involves identifying which populations live with inequities, as well as existing relationships and trusted networks.

Organization-level commitment is described as being based on three things:

  1. The development of policies and processes that establish the work as priority
  2. Leadership and staff development to support ongoing engagement,
  3. Ensuring community members who live with inequities are present at prioritization and decision-making tables

Discussion questions

The document includes five discussion questions to encourage a shift towards deeper levels of authentic engagement between public health and community members who live with inequities.

Use this resource to:

  • facilitate a discussion about how to build trust and develop ongoing relationships with community members who live with inequities as regular public health practice;
  • establish organizational processes that require regular reporting and integration of community-identified health equity priorities into multiple areas (workplans, strategic plans and every aspect of public heath planning); and
  • reflect on current engagement practices in your organization about who from the community is ‘not at the table,’ and develop mechanisms to share power with communities to support deeper community engagement.

Related resources

Review summary: Community engagement to reduce inequalities in health (2015)

Leadership for health equity: Working intersectorally and engaging the community in Western Health (2014)

Fostering health through healing: engaging the community to create a poverty reduction strategy in Nunavut (2014)

Webinar recording: Peer engagement to inform public health action on substance use and health equity (2020)

Webinar recording: Informing public health programs through engagement with communities that live with health inequities (2019)


More from the Let's Talk Series


National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health. (2021). Let’s Talk: Community engagement for health equity. Antigonish, NS: NCCDH, St. Francis Xavier University. 

Tags: Community engagement, Intersectoral action, Key concepts, Leadership & capacity building, Document, Report / Document, Let's Talk