Background: Approaches that engage and support lay health workers in the delivery of health improvement activities have been widely applied across different health issues and populations. The lack of a common terminology, inconsistency in the use of role descriptors and poor indexing of lay health worker roles are all barriers to the development of a shared evidence base for lay health worker interventions.
Objectives: The aim of the paper is to report results from a scoping study of approaches to involve lay people in public health roles and to present a framework for categorisation of the different dimensions of lay health worker programmes.
Methods: Our scoping study comprised a systematic scoping review to map the literature on lay health worker interventions and to identify role dimensions and common models. The review, which was limited to interventions relevant to UK public health priorities, covered a total of 224 publications. The scoping study also drew on experiential evidence from UK practice.
Results: Research-based and practice-based evidence confirmed the variety of role descriptors in use and the complexity of role dimensions. Five common models that define the primary role of the lay health worker were identified from the literature. A framework was later developed that grouped features of lay health worker programmes into four dimensions: intervention, role, professional support/service and the community.
Discussion and conclusion: More account needs to be taken of the variations that occur between lay health worker programmes. This framework, with the mapping of key categories of difference, may enable better description of lay health worker programmes, which will in turn assist in building a shared evidence base. More research is needed to examine the transferability of the framework within different contexts.