Background: Community engagement has become mainstream practice in many sectors,
such that many might say that it has become another box to be ticked when planning and
delivering projects. There are many potential benefits of community engagement to the
residents, local stakeholders and external delivery agencies; however gaps have been
identified in the evaluation of impact, barriers and facilitators of community engagement
(NICE, 2008). This study prospectively looks at how the process of community engagement
under the Well London programme (a five-year health promotion programme which
addresses physical activity, diet and mental wellbeing) was delivered in multiple deprived
neighbourhoods, and how this process influenced the different stakeholders and the health
promotion projects delivered.
Methods: This study used a mixed method approach to examine the process, perceptions,
impacts, incentives, barriers and challenges of community engagement. Data were
collected through literature review, questionnaire surveys, participant observation,
qualitative interviews and evidence from documentary sources.
Results: The study found that the World Café and appreciative enquiry approaches used
were useful and effective tools for engaging communities; and the primary motivation for
residents’ participation was the desire to belong to a community which they could help
shape for the better. Key lessons from the process are the need to manage the
expectations of local stakeholders and residents by effectively communicating
programme goals and limitations; and the need for sufficient time to build relationships and
trust for engagement. Residents’ level of engagement was influenced by past experiences
of consultation processes, local politics and regeneration. There is a need to have good
knowledge of the community that is being engaged, and to know the local context and
peculiarities which differentiate communities.
Residents of different ages, gender and cultures engage differently and processes should
be sensitive to, and accommodate these differences. The impact of the CEP on the design
and delivery of projects was inconclusive.