Community engagement has long been touted as a viable strategy to meet the demands of a changing healthcare system. But as healthcare transitions from a traditional fee-for-service model to a more consumer-centric fee-for-value model, community engagement is becoming an even greater focus among design-minded marketers.


Merriam-Webster’s definition likewise states that a community is “a group of people who live in the same area or a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.”

In our everyday working vocabulary, a community often has two dimensions. First, location, a physical place where people live and interact in close proximity to one another. Second, shared characteristics, people who share common interests, beliefs, values, activities, and goals. While such a definition works well on a colloquial level, it’s not enough when our strategy involves community engagement, activation, and collaboration.

What’s missing is a critical third dimension, a community holds within it the power to affect change through ownership and decision making.


There are two ways to think about power as in the relationship between a healthcare organization and the community.

First, power is finite and zero-sum—for one group to gain power, another group must give it up. We often look at power this way and fear the consequences of giving up control to another group. The other way to think about power is that power is infinite and, when shared, increases the power for both parties.

Traditionally, healthcare strategies have not tapped into the power of the community. Engagement with the community has often been a survey, an open house, a billboard, or an app. These models are top-down. Decision-making flows in one direction, from the hospitals to the community.

In many instances, the relationship emulates the clichéd relationship between the provider and patient. By focusing on this traditional model, hospitals run the risk of engaging “at” rather than engaging “with” the community.

An alternative model exists that brings in patients, their families, and community members into decision making advisory positions. This model goes beyond the use of traditional marketing and encourages community decision making. This model empowers the community to take ownership of their own health.

Which model does your organization abide by?

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