Community development, improved health outcomes and clear ROI

The Health Empowerment Leverage Project (HELP) has been working to promote better collaboration between health agencies and local communities, with a particular interest in the potential for community development to play a wider role in relation to innovation, prevention and participation.

Community development offers support for independent voluntary local community groups, organisations and networks, producing wider and more effective community activity. As a “bottom-up” approach, it ensures work is driven and owned by residents, and complements “top-down” engagement by public agencies such as local authorities and (what were) PCTs. Qualitative impacts can be both directly in individuals involved in community development, and indirectly through service changes and resulting improvements.

As such, community development is of particular interest to me in its similarities with the role that disabled people’s user-led organisations play in involving and representing disabled people in coproducing services in social care and health. Where “residents” drive community development, so “service users and/or disabled people” drive coproduction.

Community development is a proxy for the work of DPULOs.

In the case of HELP, the role of community development was tested in a health setting in 3 particular geographical areas. The qualitative results were impressive:

  • New developments – such as increased volunteering, wider social networks, better cooperation between community groups, and greater trust between residents and public agencies – were observed.
  • Residents who were active in community development benefitted the most, but all residents benefitted from the improvements they secured, including in services and ameneties
  • The increased dialogue and collaboration with communities gave public agencies better intelligence for commissioning and engendered more trust and cooperation from service users.

From a quantitative point of view, there were further substantial results:

  • Cardiovascular disease, depression and obesity were three widespread conditions which the research showed to be alleviated by general community activity: it was cautiously estimated the range of activity generated by a two-year community development pilot project prevents 5% a year of the known events in respect of this limited selection of the relevant health conditions.
  • (Similar projects suggest community development can also contribute to improvements in areas such as emergency ambulance calls, A&E attendance, emergency hospital admissions / readmissions and the prevention of falls.)
  • In an illustrative neighbourhood of 5,000 people, there would be a saving for the health service of £558,714 over three years on depression, obesity, CVD and a small number of the other health factors. This is a saving of £3.80 for every £1 invested in a £145,000 community development programme over the same period.
  • If the community development method was applied simultaneously in 3 neighbourhoods, there would be a likely saving for the local health service of £1,676,142 from an investment of £261,900, a return of £6.40 for every £1 invested.
  • Further savings produced by associated reductions in crime and anti-social behaviour from the same activities produces further savings, which aren’t included in the above.

The final key point to draw out is that community development in this form is not an additional layer or thing that public agencies must do: it is instead described as a “stimulant” that brings alive the interface between residents (users) and public agencies.

These are important qualitative and quantitative results that demonstrate the value added by community development approaches and, by extension, coproduction with organisations such as DPULOs.

You can find out more about the Health Empowerment Leverage Project here.

(Inevitably, my summary above misses out several key discussions / issues / thoughts etc. Thus, below is the full document from which I’ve drawn out the above.)


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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