Developing a socio-ecological model for community engagement in a health programme in an underserved urban area

Publication authors

Lizzie Caperon ,Fiona Saville, Sara Ahern


Despite a recent increase in community engagement in health initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic, health inequalities and health inequities remain a serious problem for society, often affecting those in underserved communities the most. Often individualised incentives such as payment for vaccinations have been used to increase involvement in health initiatives but evidence suggests that these do not always work and can be ineffective. This paper addresses the real world problem of a lack of involvement of communities in health programmes and subsequent health inequalities. Using data from nine workshops with community members evaluating a large community health programme, we develop a socio-ecological model [SEM] of influences on community engagement in health programmes to identify holistic and systemic barriers and enablers to such engagement. To date SEM has not been used to develop solutions to improve community engagement in health programmes. Such an approach holds the potential to look beyond individualised conceptualisations of behaviour and instead consider a multitude of social and cultural influences. This knowledge can then be used to develop multi-faceted and multi-layered solutions to tackle the barriers to community engagement in health programmes. Our SEM highlights the overarching importance of the socio-cultural environment in influencing community engagement. Within the socio-cultural environment were factors such as trust, social support and community mindedness. We also found that other factors affecting community engagement fall within individual, economic, technological, political and physical environments. Such factors include engagement in community organisation governance and processes, access to and ability to use technology and access to safe outdoor spaces. We propose further testing our socioecological model in other communities.