Community-based organizations in the health sector: a scoping review

Health Res Policy Syst. 2012 Nov 21;10:36. doi: 10.1186/1478-4505-10-36.


Community-based organizations are important health system stakeholders as they provide numerous, often highly valued programs and services to the members of their community. However, community-based organizations are described using diverse terminology and concepts from across a range of disciplines. To better understand the literature related to community-based organizations in the health sector (i.e., those working in health systems or more broadly to address population or public health issues), we conducted a scoping review by using an iterative process to identify existing literature, conceptually map it, and identify gaps and areas for future inquiry.We searched 18 databases and conducted citation searches using 15 articles to identify relevant literature. All search results were reviewed in duplicate and were included if they addressed the key characteristics of community-based organizations or networks of community-based organizations. We then coded all included articles based on the country focus, type of literature, source of literature, academic discipline, disease sector, terminology used to describe organizations and topics discussed. We identified 186 articles addressing topics related to the key characteristics of community-based organizations and/or networks of community-based organizations. The literature is largely focused on high-income countries and on mental health and addictions, HIV/AIDS or general/unspecified populations. A large number of different terms have been used in the literature to describe community-based organizations and the literature addresses a range of topics about them (mandate, structure, revenue sources and type and skills or skill mix of staff), the involvement of community members in organizations, how organizations contribute to community organizing and development and how they function in networks with each other and with government (e.g., in policy networks).Given the range of terms used to describe community-based organizations, this scoping review can be used to further map their meanings/definitions to develop a more comprehensive typology and understanding of community-based organizations. This information can be used in further investigations about the ways in which community-based organizations can be engaged in health system decision-making and the mechanisms available for facilitating or supporting their engagement.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Community Health Services / methods
  • Community Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Decision Making
  • Delivery of Health Care / methods
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Developed Countries
  • Humans
  • Terminology as Topic