Background: There is growing recognition of the importance of the active involvement of consumers and community members in health care. Despite the long history of consumer and community engagement (CCE) research and practice, there is no consensus on the best strategies for CCE. In this paper, we identify various dimensions of CCE-related strategies and offer a practical model to assist policy-makers, practitioners and researchers.
Methods: We undertook a large-scale, scoping meta-review and searched six databases using a list of nine medical subject headings (MeSH) and a comprehensive list of 47 phrases. We identified and examined a total of 90 relevant systematic reviews.
Results: Identified reviews show that although there is a significant body of research on CCE, the development of the field is hindered by a lack of evidence relating to specific elements of CCE. They also indicate a diverse and growing enterprise, drawing on a wide range of disciplinary, political and philosophical perspectives and a mix of definitions, targets, approaches, strategies and mechanisms. CCE interventions and strategies aim to involve consumers, community members and the public in general, as well as specific sub-groups, including children and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Strategies for CCE vary in terms of their aim and type of proposed activity, as do the methods and tools which have been developed to support them. Methods and tools include shared decision making, use of decision aids, consumer representation, application of electronic and internet-based facilities, and peer support. The success of CCE is dependent on both the approach taken and contextual factors, including structural facilitators such as governmental support, as well as barriers such as costs, organisational culture and population-specific limitations.
Conclusions: The diversity of the field indicates the need to measure each component of CCE. This meta-review provides the basis for development of a new eight stage model of consumer and community engagement. This model emphasises the importance of clarity and focus, as well as an extensive evaluation of contextual factors within specific settings, before the implementation of CCE strategies, enabling those involved in CCE to determine potential facilitators and barriers to the process.