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CommonHealth Assets: Evaluating the impact of community assets for health and wellbeing

4 Feb 2022 | Jennifer McLean

Building on our interest in and research on asset-based approaches and community-led approaches for health improvement, we are delighted to be  partners in CommonHealth Assets - a new ambitious research project exploring how, for whom and in what contexts community-led organisations (CLOs), can build and mobilise their ‘assets’ to impact on the health and wellbeing of people living in deprived areas.

The project is funded by the National institute for Health Research (NIHR), is being led by the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health at Glasgow Caledonian University and brings together community and academic partners from across the UK.

Our previous research and engagement has demonstrated the crucial role that community organisations play in promoting health and wellbeing, tackling inequalities, supporting individuals, and offering activities to improve life chances and opportunities. They can be characterized as taking asset-based approaches, working and doing with, rather than doing to; and building on strengths, mobilising people, skills, relationships, environmental and material assets, to improve wellbeing in local populations. They recognise that health and wellbeing are enhanced by individual, community and organisational assets and that communities are part of the solution.

However, despite these ways of working and recognition of the value and impact of these approaches, only a small number of studies have shown that community-focused approaches can have a positive effect on health and wellbeing in an evidenced-based way.

Little is known about the impact of mobilising people as ‘health assets’, especially which approaches lead to which positive outcomes, and how different places and circumstances might affect success. Our new research project will produce new knowledge to address these gaps in the research and evidence-base.

Common Health Assets logoCommonHealth Assets is a three-year, multi-site and multi-method research project which will work with CLOs from across the UK, including Glasgow and Lanarkshire, Belfast and Londonderry, and Bournemouth and East London.

We understand that CLOs are different and work differently in different places; they are responsive to local needs and informed by their local community, we know that context really matters. We will use an approach called realist evaluation which is designed to improve our understanding about how and why different activities, projects and programmes work in different contexts and how they produce change. Our ‘programme theory’ will help us to identify how those activities cause health and wellbeing outcomes for individuals.

A range of creative, innovative, and participatory research methods will be used to test the programme theory including interviews, ‘Photovoice’, policy analysis, workshops, economic analysis, and a card sorting method called “Q”. Importantly each method will tell us something different about the CLOs and how they work, their communities, their funding and how participants feel before and after taking part in community activities.

The value of the voices and perspectives of those with lived experience is becoming increasingly recognised as a crucial part of community-based research projects. Within CommonHealth Assets, the GCPH will work with a panel of individuals who live in our CLO communities. The Lived Experience Panel will ensure that the project is informed and guided by ongoing community expertise,  the voice of community members is integrated and integral to the research project and that findings are relevant, meaningful and helpful to community organisations. 

In our next blog we will share our hopes and ambitions for the Panel, discuss the importance of ensuring lived experience informs and guides community-based research and share some initial insights from our early planning and development of this exciting and pioneering approach.

Find out more about the project.

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