Effective Strategies for Interactive Public Engagement in the Development of Healthcare Policies and Programs

by Julia Abelson, PhD | Mar 09, 2011
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Identifying effective strategies for involving the public in healthcare issues is a priority for Canadian health system managers and policy-makers. This synthesis aims to answer an overarching question: What is known about the effectiveness of interactive strategies for engaging the public in the development of healthcare policies and programs?

This report was prepared for and funded by the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation and the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation. As such, attention was paid to aspects of the New Brunswick context relevant to public engagement design, with specific emphasis on interactive public engagement – that is, informed discussion among citizens designed to contribute to decision-making.

Key messages

  • Interactive public engagement – that is, informed discussion among citizens that is designed to contribute to decision-making – can be implemented successfully in a variety of situations.
  • The degree to which these processes are likely to be successfully implemented is shaped by a range of contextual variables. Organizational commitment and issue characteristics seem to play more important roles than other contextual variables.
  • Public engagement mechanisms should be adapted to the wider context of policy development around the issue, including the type of topic, the group(s) to be engaged, the history of the issue and the perceived power dynamics.
  • The skills required to conduct interactive processes can be learned in a supportive organizational environment.
  • Participants in well-designed interactive public engagement processes tend to report high levels of satisfaction with the communication of objectives, adequacy of the information materials provided to inform discussions, and the logistics and management of the deliberation. Increased levels of topic-specific learning are also commonly reported.
  • Interactive public engagement methods can influence participant views but are less likely to change more dominant views (top rankings, highest priorities).
  • Group debate is an important contributor to perceived satisfaction with the process and the subjective outcomes of the event. Process satisfaction does not necessarily correspond with the perceived impact of participation on policy decision-making.
  • Partnerships play a central role in promoting the effectiveness of community-based public engagement strategies. The institutionalization of these partnerships beyond their active phase is critical to enabling sustainable change.