Public agencies centering equity in community engagement

Genuine, local-level engagement between public agencies and the communities they serve is crucial to meeting the needs and priorities of people experiencing health inequities, particularly communities of color and low-income people. Many root causes of health inequities are shaped by decisions made and implemented by local government, from opportunities to access safe, stable and quality housing, to education, transportation, and employment. As research affirms the role of community power in achieving health, it’s clear that the health of communities is closely linked to their ability to influence the decisions of local government.

Picture of the first page of a report on equity-centered community engagement by public agencies

We know that current engagement approaches fall short and do not always uncover the needs and priorities of groups who are systematically denied access to power and resources. Communities of color and low-income people are frequently excluded from decision-making processes, resulting in profound consequences. Without intentionally adopting engagement approaches that aim to shift power, public agencies will continue to perpetuate and exacerbate existing inequities.

This brief, developed with ThinkForward Strategies and in partnership with Blue Shield of California Foundation, summarizes what we know about the current state of public agency community engagement practices and identifies examples that center equity in their design and implementation. It builds on the existing literature that makes the case for and provides guidance on equity-centered community engagement by government agencies.

In March 2024, we shared this research in partnership with California Department of Public Health on a webinar for local health department practitioners. The slides are available here and the webinar recording is available here.