Since 2007 Tower Hamlets Public Health have pioneered a community-led approach to research and consultation to explore the social and environmental determinants of health and well-being in the Borough. These projects have used an action research method that involves training local people to go out gather local insights and solutions to issues faced in their communities.
- Increasing the knowledge base of the social and environmental determinants of health and disease in Tower Hamlets, for example the impact of rubbish on use of public green space, or uneven pavements on people’s ability to get out and about.
- Generating a deeper understanding of the barriers to accessing health services, for example the impact of a poor relationships with health professionals, language barriers, or emotional and cultural issues such as shame or embarrassment.
- Developing priorities for change in collaboration with members of the local community, for example increasing availability of healthy food options in local shops.
- Effecting the design of projects, for example the Can Do Development Grants and the Health Trainers scheme which both emphasised small scale community-based solutions, rather than top-down service-based ones, to boost health and wellbeing.
- Developing the skills, knowledge and confidence of local people through PA training and accreditation.
- Accessing a broader range of community views compared to traditional methods by tapping into researcher networks, knowledge of local languages and access to diverse and numerous local venues.
- Spreading awareness of local services
.The Community Insights Programme builds on the strengths of these projects by establishing structures that support and embed community research as an approach to engagement and consultation within and beyond the Council. It is made up of three main parts:
- The Community Insights Network: A forum of local people trained in community research as well as representatives from organisations who undertake or plan to undertake community research projects. Membership includes community researchers, community groups, housing associations, local health and voluntary sector organisations, academic institutions and Tower Hamlets council departments. The network meet on a quarterly basis in order to maintain skills and receive training, share experiences and problem solve, share information about projects and feedback how insights have directed change within the system.
- The Community Insights Repository: A repository of existing community research reports and findings available to all members of the network to ensure that information is shared, so people can understand the knowledge-base on an existing issue that they want to explore, and to avoid duplication of work and consultation fatigue amongst communities.
- In-house Community Insights Researchers: A pool of specially trained community researchers employed directly by Tower Hamlets as a centralised resource to undertake high quality community research for the council.
In 2019 Shortwork worked with the Community Insights team and members of the network to evaluate the Community Insights Programme. The evaluation involved workshops facilitated using participatory evaluation tools, and in-depth interviews with the key people involved to explore the successes of the programme in meeting the following outcomes:
- Increased awareness, understanding and use of community research by service providers in Tower Hamlets.
- Increased voice and ownership in the development of services by Tower Hamlets communities.
- Increased skill, capacity and opportunity for community researchers.
- Improved, more reliable, and richer data sets.
- Long-term sustainability.
Key learning from the evaluation include:
- The importance of engaging a variety of people in the network including representatives from the Council, voluntary sector organisations and academia.
- Thoughtful and effective facilitation of the network among leaders, who are open to members shaping the direction of the network as it develops.
- The development of a forum to develop best practice and a safe space to share what worked and what didn’t in community led research projects.
- A central resource to find out about research projects and opportunities providing a direct link to commissioners.
- The diversity of the researcher team providing access to people who don’t normally engage; bringing local knowledge of when and where to access different groups; establishing rapport with local people by being approachable and relatable as a result of shared experiences, backgrounds and languages.
- The support given to community researchers who are appreciated, and have opportunities to develop transferable knowledge and skills.
- Researchers have gained personally from taking part in the programme, leading to an increase in confidence, providing a sense of purpose, and of being respected and valued.
- The importance of engaging community researchers at the beginning and end of research projects, rather than just during the fieldwork. Researchers have been involved in briefing meetings, developing research plans, and in the writing up data following fieldwork sessions.
- Commissioners are extremely positive about the insights team. They see the researchers as a bridge between the local authority and local people; engaging communities in the development of
services, whilst also spreading knowledge about the services that the Council and it’s partners provide.
- Funding has been secured to employ researchers to work on specific projects over a number of years. The programme is unusual in sustaining a group of peer researchers on multiple projects over a relatively long time frame.
Find out more about the Community Insights Programme and how to get involved here.