Post 1: The Value of Linking Health Promotion and Community Capacity Building Through Research

Hello! Since you’ve stumbled upon this blog entry, or perhaps arrived here intentionally, I hope you’ll take the time to read about some of my research! Whether you’re a public health enthusiast, sociology major or are just reading out of curiosity, this blog will provide insight into health promotion strategies, community capacity building, and how they can be united through research.

For the past couple of weeks I have been reading Health Behavior and Health Education, by Glanz, Rimer and Viswanath. The text has provided me with a foundation in sociological theories and models such as the Health Belief Model and Social Cognitive Theory, which come into play in many prominent health promotion projects. After finishing the text, I delved into a few publications about sustainable medical interventions, community capacity building theory and social networks. After doing so, I realized that there are few texts that specifically discuss what I am researching, but rather many that discuss the concepts separately. Cognizant of this, I’m excited to be able to contribute to the growing volume of literature on health promotion guided by community capacity building and research methods. To start, I think it would be beneficial to provide some background information and explain why it would be valuable to connect community capacity building, health promotion and research to one another.

Community capacity has been defined as “the characteristics of communities that affect their ability to identify, mobilize, and address social and public health problems” (rpt. in Glanz et al. 295).  Current community capacity building theories aim to increase community capacity by considering issue selection, participation and relevance of community organizing efforts, guided by the goal of engendering community ownership of any endeavor undertaken (Glanz et al.). Social networks and the flow of information throughout a community directly impact community capacity, for they are the “foundation for collaboration and coalition building” (Diclemente et al. 209). Consequently, social networks are tangible indicators of the potential for collective action within a community and can be characterized through several research methods. Community capacity building efforts and theories can thus be enhanced through research, for empirical evidence gathered through data collection allows for one to measure changes in community capacity over time (Glanz et al.).

Social networking analysis (SNA) is an example of empirical evidence that can be used to enhance community capacity building through research.  SNA examines the density of communication networks within a group and numerically quantifies the amount of social ties (communication between two people) within a community. Because network density (the numerical output of SNA analysis) is an indication of community capacity, SNA measures taken before and at several time points during and after a community organizing effort can demonstrate changes in community capacity caused by the intervention.  Hence, research can be utilized to determine the success of community capacity building endeavors and track changes in community capacity over time (Tichy et al.). By determining if an intervention succeeded in increasing community capacity, one can evaluate whether significant changes to future efforts must be made in order to achieve greater success.

Furthermore, community capacity building and research can be implemented within the context of health education strategies. First, research can be used in conjunction with health promotion efforts to measure changes in self-efficacy (personal belief one can achieve a desired outcome), observe changes in health behavior, evaluate the success of health interventions and better understand community perceptions of a health promotion effort. Research may take the form of interviews, questionnaires or epidemiological statistics among others and can serve as an indicator of the success of a health education strategy.  For example, household interviews may reveal that an educational campaign about diabetes adequately informed its target audience, but that these individuals lack the necessary resources to make the appropriate lifestyle changes to improve their health. Similarly, a questionnaire distributed among community members may reveal that those who were involved in a particular health promotion endeavor made significant changes in their health behavior habits, but that the intervention did not research a large enough portion of the population. In both of these cases, research is used to indicate the shortcomings of health promotion efforts and may lead to changes in subsequent phases of these health interventions.

Sociological research such as SNA can also be implemented in health promotion strategies to identify local leaders and organic communication networks through which to disseminate health-related information. Through interviews and analysis of social ties, SNA can be used to identify individuals who are at the center of social networks and have the greatest interaction with other community members (Tichy et al.). These “natural helpers,” who are sought by community members for advice and information, can potentially be recruited as community health workers (Glans et al. 202). Health professionals can provide community health workers (CHWs) with relevant resources and information on particular health concerns, who can then serve as lay health workers in their community (Glanz et al.).

Lastly, research can serve as a bridge between community capacity building and health promotion strategies. Because health promotion efforts involve interaction with community members and may foster socialization among community members, it is possible that health promotion may increase community capacity. Thus, health promotion strategies may incorporate community capacity building, whether this is intentional or not. Consequently, research such as social networking analysis or DTRA (domains, tasks, resources activities) analysis, which are measures of community capacity, would be valuable additions to health education and health intervention strategies. By documenting changes in community capacity over time caused by a health intervention, one gains a greater understanding of the ways in which the project influenced its participants and may point to an explanation for the success or failure of the project.

I know that’s a lot of information to take in, but thanks for hanging in there! With all of these concepts in mind, my subsequent blog posts should be comprehensible even though I’ll be discussing some potentially unfamiliar sociological theories.  My next steps are to begin outlining what a health promotion strategy rooted in community capacity building would look like and to find case studies that demonstrate my arguments.

Works Cited:

DiClemente, Ralph J., Richard A. Crosby, and Michelle C. Kegler. Emerging Theories In Health Promotion Practice And Research : Strategies For Improving Public Health. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 26 May 2014.

Glanz, Karen, Barbara K. Rimer, and K. Viswanath. Health Behavior and Health Education Theory, Research and Practice. 4th ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008. Print.

Noel M. Tichy, Michael L. Tushman and Charles Fombrun The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Oct., 1979), pp. 507-519