Background: Despite the increasing prioritization of community engagement as a key component to reduce sexually transmitted disease (STD) disparities, there is a need to better understand the characteristics and methods of successful community engagement and partnership.
Methods: We conducted an evaluation of the community engagement approaches and methods applied across the 4-site CDC Community Approaches to Reducing STDs (CARS) initiative. This initiative was designed to support the planning, implementation, and evaluation of innovative and interdisciplinary projects to reduce STD disparities, promote sexual health, and advance community wellness using community engagement methods and multi-sector partnerships to build local capacity to reduce STD disparities in communities with disproportionately high STD burden. We used a mixed-methods approach. We abstracted data from existing archival project documentation including proposal documents, logic models, memoranda of agreement, community advisory board/partnership meeting minutes, project materials (e.g., summaries of interventions and interim progress reports). We also collected qualitative and quantitative data through annual individual and small-group in-depth interviews and web-based quantitative assessments of site stakeholders including community members, representatives from local community-based organizations, and project staff and leadership. Data were collected, analyzed, and interpreted using standard procedures. Triangulation of findings from different methods was refined using a multitrait-multimethod matrix.
Results: Successful community engagement included: broad participation of partners in establishing a vision and mission together; open communication while respecting various ways of communicating; recognizing, acknowledging, and reducing power differentials; financial and motivational transparency; unflagging commitment to collaboration; working through conflict; non-token community decision-making power; strong charismatic leadership; leveraging talent and resources; and using a stepwise approach to build a shared history of success.
Conclusions: Findings from this evaluation provide insights for representatives from health departments, community-based organizations, and research institutions who want to harness community engagement and partnership approaches to reduce STD disparities and increase health equity.