Community participation in health

To develop effective interventions for the community, in particular for older people with low health literacy, it is critical to have a good understanding of people’s belief, perceptions and behaviour in the community. Community participation has proven to be very useful to attain this. It facilitates a number of positive aspects, which will be explained below.

Exchanging knowledge and information

An important aspect of community participation is the exchange of knowledge and information. This exchange supports a process of joint learning (so called co-learning) between different stakeholders, including older adults, health professionals, policy makers, researchers, organisations and other community members, as they can learn from each other’s perspectives.


For people in the community, information from other stakeholders such as health professionals will help to better understand their health problems and allow them to make informed decisions on what to do to stay healthy or become healthy. People in the community on the other hand can provide information to other stakeholders about their communities’ cultural beliefs and values. They can tell for example more about who traditionally makes decisions in a household. Moreover, people in the community can help identifying health-related needs in their community, including those of older people and other vulnerable people. All this information will provide other stakeholders, such as health professionals and researchers, with knowledge that will help to understand behaviour in the community. It will contribute to tailoring the intervention to that local situation.

Why is community participation important?

Community participation can contribute to increased mutual understanding and trust amongst stakeholders which enhances the likeliness that people really adopt and use the intervention. Community participation gives people a more active role in their community, which facilitates empowerment and self-fulfillment. This may lead to sustainable actions and reduced inequalities. An important factor in poor health and low health literacy is loneliness. Community participation encourages people to meet fellow community members and exchange experiences and information. This makes fellow community members more aware of the situation of someone with health (literacy) problems, which may encourage contact also at other occasions. Community participation is therefore an important strategy to reduce loneliness in a community.

How to facilitate community participation and co-learning?

Involving communities facilitates social bonds (social capital) among people. These social networks are important for sharing information and mutual support within the community and help reduce social exclusion.

It is particularly helpful to involve volunteers or peers, as they can function as role models. Identification with such role models can support the empowerment of people with low health literacy.

Examples of community participation in health

The set of 20 interventions shows some good examples of interventions with this approach, e.g. in ‘Erlebnis Internet’, ‘50plus net’ and the ‘Pairs Programme’. Buddy-programmes and interventions for informal caregivers like ‘Filmauve’ can help to create more knowledge on and empathy with low health literacy in both professionals (students), and citizen-groups.

Platform-oriented interventions, such as ‘Age Action Alliance’ and ‘50plus net’ show that they have a stimulating effect on the participation of older adults in society and in this way support the fight against social exclusion and mental health problems. The ‘KOVE’ intervention is a good example of a platform-based approach where activation is combined with exchange of information, joint problem solving, and adjusting contextual factors.


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A.L. Jefferson et al. Medical student education program in Alzheimer’s disease: The PAIRS Program. BMC Medical Education: 2012.

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Age Action Alliance. Themes. Age Action Allicance, European Commission, Beth Johnson Foundation; 2012. Available from: Find website here

Kilburn Older Voices Exchange (KOVE). KOVE projects. Web design Copyright 2009 Tony Ellis. Last updated: 08-05-2010. Available from: Find website here