What is community? An evidence-based definition for participatory public health

Am J Public Health. 2001 Dec;91(12):1929-38. doi: 10.2105/ajph.91.12.1929.


Increased emphasis on community collaboration indicates the need for consensus regarding the definition of community within public health. This study examined whether members of diverse US communities described community in similar ways. To identify strategies to support community collaboration in HIV vaccine trials, qualitative interviews were conducted with 25 African Americans in Durham, NC; 26 gay men in San Francisco, Calif; 25 injection drug users in Philadelphia, Pa; and 42 HIV vaccine researchers across the United States. Verbatim responses to the question "What does the word community mean to you?" were analyzed. Cluster analysis was used to identify similarities in the way community was described. A common definition of community emerged as a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action in geographical locations or settings. The participants differed in the emphasis they placed on particular elements of the definition. Community was defined similarly but experienced differently by people with diverse backgrounds. These results parallel similar social science findings and confirm the viability of a common definition for participatory public health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • AIDS Vaccines
  • Community-Institutional Relations*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Public Health*
  • Research Design
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • United States


  • AIDS Vaccines