Objectives: To engage a community to critically examine local health disparities.
Design: Concept mapping is a tool used to rapidly assess the variations in thinking of large stakeholder groups' about a particular topic.
Setting: Jackson, Mississippi.
Participants: Community members.
Methods: Dialog groups and community meetings were held, and participants were asked to respond to the statement, "A specific thing that causes African Americans to get sicker and die sooner is..." Aggregate responses were rated for importance and feasibility and then sorted into related groups. Aggregate sorts and ratings were then processed by using multidimensional scaling and hierarchical cluster analysis.
Results: There were 132 (unduplicated) reported contributors to health disparities. These responses fell into eight general clusters: economic issues, government, contextual factors, cultural factors, HIV, stress, environment, and motivation. Factors respondents felt were the most important contributors to disparities (economic factors, contextual factors, stress) did not correlate with those that they thought were most likely to be changed in society (contextual factors, government, motivation).
Conclusions: Concept mapping provided a mechanism for rapidly documenting community thinking about health disparities. This mechanism stimulated community dialog and was used as a first step toward the long-term goal of creating equal community, academic, and medical partnerships for addressing disparities. The concept mapping process stimulated critical thinking about contributors to health inequities and uncovered contextual factors previously unknown to researchers and public health planners. The process allowed for active engagement and exchange of knowledge between the community and researchers and allowed a mechanism for identifying and rectifying disconnects in knowledge within and between stakeholder groups.