Background: Despite the prioritization of community engagement as a key component to reduce sexually transmitted disease (STD) disparities, we know little about building these partnerships outside of research focused projects.
Methods: We conducted an evaluation of the community engagement approaches and methods applied across the 8-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 with 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: Three meta-themes, with subthemes, have emerged from this work that have implications for building and maintaining community engaged partnerships: (1) Characteristics of institutional culture (including commitment and backing, commitment to social justice, and strong leadership); (2) collaborative groups and people-focused orientation (including establishment of vision and mission together, financial and motivational transparency, and unflagging commitment to creating, nurturing, and maintaining “people networks”); and (3) an ability to embrace chaos in relationships, planning, and opportunities.
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 to reduce STD disparities and increase health equity.