Having everyone's perspectives is critical to forming solid research or a well-rounded program. But how do you get the perspectives of people who are not already be involved, whether by choice or circumstance? HEDI Program Specialist, Marissa Melton, starts a conversation on how to engage unengaged communities.
Marissa: My name is Marissa, and I work in the Department of Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion here at NHF.
Can you define an unengaged community? What exactly does that mean?
Marissa: An unengaged community is a term used to describe subgroups of the population that are not involved in research or programming due to different reasons such as geographical location, socioeconomic status, age, or disability status they may not be engaged, but their voices and perspectives are valuable. So it is our responsibility to identify them and bring them to the table.
What are some tips to engage with such a community?
Marissa: My first tip is to find out where people are and then meet them where they are at. We should start by identifying the communities who are not involved and then ask why. The community's response to this question will provide insight to their lack of participation and with these responses we can create viable solutions that address their specific needs.
For example, communities who are geographically isolated or live in a rural area may be limited by the cost of transportation; therefore, we would need to create opportunities to bring programming to their area and to remove the onus from community members to shoulder the cost of these expenses.
My second tip is to create opportunities for small group discussions. Often, unengaged communities have a reason for being disconnected, and this can be difficult to share in a large group. By creating opportunities for small discussion, community members can feel more comfortable sharing their experiences.
These small discussions should also be coupled with incentives for community members. This can come in the form of gas or mileage reimbursement, grocery gift cards, or a free meal during the conversation. We want to encourage persons to engage, but also remind them that their time is valuable, and we are respectful of that.
My final tip is to focus on creative engagement strategies that use both online tools and face-to-face opportunities to engage stakeholders. We want to encourage participation and engagement through dialogue, and not simply through pushing resources at people.
Each unengaged community has different reasons for their lack of engagement; so if we provide them with different opportunities to engage through different sources, we will increase the likelihood they will participate.
Finally, I want to say it is important to remember that unengaged communities are not all the same. They have individual reasons for their lack of involvement and therefore should not be treated the same. We must focus on the individuality of their circumstances and work on viable solutions for each of them.
It is also important to remember that it is not the community's fault they are not engaged, so we cannot place blame and should only work to rectify rectify the problem moving forward.
To learn more about NHF's HEDI efforts, visit this page.