Introduction to CE

Community engagement (CE) is a term that links two basic ideas: “community” and “engagement”.

A “community” is a group of people who share some kind of bond or characteristic. For practical purposes, there are five types of communities:

  1. Geographical communities.
  2. Communities of interest.
  3. Communities of common characteristics.
  4. Communities of common experience.
  5. Communities of shared belief.

The legislation creating Ontario’s Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) specifies three “communities” to be engaged:
  • Patients and other individuals in the geographic area of the network;
  • Health service providers and any other person or entity that provides services in or for the local health system; and
  • Employees in the local health system.

Local Health System Integration Act, 2006

“Engagement” refers to a planned process to work with a community to achieve a defined goal that may range from simply informing the community all the way up to engaging the community in final decision making.

Definitions of CE

The following are some definitions of CE specific to the health environment:

Community Engagement encompasses a wide variety of activities from consultations with the
public to community development and community capacity building. The goal of Community
Engagement is to develop and enhance public participation in health service planning and
decision-making, and raise awareness within the health system about community issues and
concerns that may not otherwise be apparent.
Vancouver Coastal Health Authority

Engagement is “the active involvement of people in any decisions that may affect the health
of them, their families and the communities they are linked to… [Engagement] assumes
community engagement will aim to give equal status to lay people in decision making and
take seriously lay knowledge and expertise.

National Collaborating Centre for Community Engagement, Lancaster University

Citizen engagement is a process that:

  • Involves citizens, not just the public as represented by associations, health professionals, lobbyists and interest groups, in policy formulation, priority setting and program delivery.
  • Is a key component of ‘governance,’ namely the process and traditions that determine how a society steers itself and how citizens are accorded a voice on issues of public concern, and how decisions are made on these issues.
  • Builds on, complements and generally moves beyond information distribution and consultation practices. It does not replace ‘traditional’ consultation with stakeholder organizations, nor does it replace citizens’ role in the broader democratic process. Its purpose is to provide new opportunities to bring interested parties together as civic-minded individuals concerned about health issues.
Health Canada

Community engagement is the process of working collaboratively with and through groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, or similar situations to address issues affecting the well-being of those people. 

Centers for Disease Control

Ontario has legislation that specifically defines the meaning and requirements for CE in that jurisdiction.
For more information, go to Legal requirements »

Other Definitions

Other concepts in the literature that are similar to CE include: public, stakeholder or citizen engagement, and public participation. These key terms are defined as follows:

Public involvement encompasses the broad range of approaches used to involve the public in decision-making processes. There are three levels of involvement, based on the flow of information between the public and the sponsors:
  • Public communication, where information flows in one direction from the sponsor to the public;
  • Public consultation, where the sponsor asks for information on a specific issue and information flows in one direction from the public to the sponsor; and
  • Public participation, where there is some degree of dialogue and deliberation between the sponsor and the public, and the flow of information is bi-directional.
Canadian Policy Research Networks 

Citizen engagement reflects a desire to establish an ongoing relationship between the sponsor and the public and requires sponsors to “share in agenda-setting and to ensure that proposals generated jointly will be taken into account in reaching a final decision.” 

Canadian Policy Research Networks

Public engagement generally involves a mutually-beneficial partnership between the public and an institution perceived as having power (government, a university, a corporation, etc.). 

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation

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