Traditional approaches to engaging communities through health providers have focused on better information provision and health messaging, and on the development of the providers’ communication skills. On the users’ side, this approach has prioritized increasing participation in decision-making and empowerment, either through helping patients, families and communities to develop enough literacy to use and navigate the health system or through mechanisms that promote social accountability and citizens’ rights. Neither side of this traditional approach reflect how health systems and communities relate to each other. To move towards a more meaningful understanding of what community engagement is and how it works, several changes need to take place.

First, we need to recognize that health systems have a fundamental responsibility and obligation for engaging with patients, their families, local communities, as well as a range of stakeholders, partners and sectors. Health systems should not solely rely on community health workers, despite their successful contribution to delivering vital services to the most vulnerable. Health systems already engage with communities at multiple levels…

Second, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests the need to develop greater focus on the dynamic interrelationship between brain and body functions, and how connections are made in interpersonal interaction…

Third, the most important change that could facilitate integrating community engagement in UHC is proper funding for engagement interventions…

It is no longer about how much health professionals know, but about how they use their knowledge and work with and through others that makes a difference…

A workforce able to maintain receptive states, build relationships, manage group processes and synthesize quantitative and qualitative data can support health services to be integrated, coordinated, adaptive and responsive. These same skills and competencies connect and activate the collective intelligence that is distributed throughout the health system, which encourages innovation and fosters resilience in people and health systems.
Perspective paper in the WHO Bulletin (September 2018). Full text here: http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/96/9/17-202382/en/

Universal health coverage and community engagement
Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2018;96:660-661. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2471/BLT.17.202382