Narrowing the gap between academic professional wisdom and community lay knowledge: perceptions from partnerships

Public Health. 2002 May;116(3):151-9. doi: 10.1038/


Community involvement in health through community partnerships (CPs) has been widely advocated. Putting CPs into practice is complex and represents a challenge for all the stakeholders involved in the change process. Employing data from five CPs aiming to bring together communities, academics and health service providers in South Africa, this paper aims to examine and compare the views of the health care professionals with those of the community members with respect to each other's skills and abilities. Five domains of expertise in partnership working are examined: educational competencies; partnership fostering skills; community involvement expertise; change agents proficiencies; and strategic and management capacities. The findings suggest that the community recognizes the expertise and abilities brought by the professional staff to the CPs. Community members have a positive view of the capabilities of the professionals, in particular their abilities as resource persons in the areas of budget management, policy formulation and the introduction and management of change. The professionals, on the other hand, are cautious regarding the level of skill and capability in communities. The limited appreciation of community skills by the professionals covered all the five domains of expertise examined. The findings suggest that if joint working is to survive, the professionals will need to increase their valuation of the indigenous proficiencies inherent in their community partners. We conclude that programme models need to consciously incorporate in their design and implementation, capacity building, skills transfer and empowerment strategies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Community Networks / organization & administration*
  • Community Participation*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Faculty*
  • Female
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Public Health
  • South Africa
  • Universities / organization & administration*