‘Support from the Start’ aims to improve health in areas of East Lothian that have the poorest health outcomes by focusing on early years and parenting. Engaging service providers and members of the community is key to its success.
But what does ‘enagement’actually mean and how can it be achieved?
Communties scotland has developed standards for community engagement, and the guidelines for the standards gives the following definition :-
Developing and sustaining a working relationship between one or more public body and one or more community group, to help them both to understand and act on the needs or issues that the community experiences
So in this case community engagement means :
Developing and sustaining a working relationship betweent council, health and voluntary sector services that provide or support services to parents and children between 0 and eight, and the communities of Tranent, Wallyford, Whitecraig, Prestonpans and Musselburgh East to help them both understand and act on the issue of health inequality.
How can this ‘working relationship’ be developed and sustained?
In my experience good working relationships are like good conversations created from a mutual interest, and a mutual acceptance that the other person has something valid and important to offer / say. Crucially both sides need to demonstrate that they are listening to maintain the interest and involvement of the other partner.
At a national conference on Equally Well I heard a speaker from the International Futures forum talk about a ‘civic conversation’ as method of community engagement. The idea of a ‘civic conversaton’ was first put forward by philospher Anthony Grayling and has since been developed as a methodology for trying to find out what people and services thought was important for the future of Glasgow, and to develop an understanding between services and community about the desired future.
If we have health as part of the ethos of the city, then what policies and actions ought we develop to make this apparent and explicit. A civic conversation explores aspirations and possibilities for worthwhile action to ensure that both Glasgow and Glaswegians flourish. The basic premise underlying the civic conversation is that the way a community talks to itself, how it forms its values, beliefs and policies ultimately influences how it behaves.
On the 16th March Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer is coming to a conference in East Lothian to help us start a ‘civic conversation’ about health inequality. He will tell us why acting on health inequality is so important to East Lothian’s and Scotland’s future, and why the early years of life are crucial to improving health and preventing illness. Having intiated this ‘civic conversation’ we will need to be able to develop and sustain it, and the afternoon session of the conference will look at how we can take this conversation into the target communities. However, the end of the conference will not be the end of the conversation only the end of its beginning. We hope the community members and service providers that attend will go away with ideas about how to continue a ‘civic conversation’, and that the result of the many conversations that take place will be brought together in the following year at an event that will focus on developing and deepeing the conversation by showing how services and communities have listened to each other on the issue of health inequality.