As a key principle of Primary Health Care (PHC) and Health Systems Reform, community participation has a prominent place in the current global dialogue. Participation is not only promoted in the context of provision and utilization of health services. Advocates also highlight participation as a key factor in the wider context of the importance of social determinants of health and health as a human right. However, the evidence that directly links community participation to improved health status is not strong. Its absence continues to be a barrier for governments, funding agencies and health professionals to promote community participation. The purpose of this article is to review research seeking to link community participation with improved health status outcomes programmes. It updates a review undertaken by the author in 2009. The search includes published articles in the English language and examines the evidence of in the context of health care delivery including services and promotion where health professionals have defined the community's role. The results show that in most studies community participation is defined as the intervention seeking to identify a direct causal link between participation and improved health status modeled on Randomized Control studies (RCT). The majority of studies show it is not possible to examine the link because there is no standard definition of 'community' and 'participation'. Where links are found, they are situation-specific and are unpredictable and not generalizable. In the discussion, an alternative research framework is proposed arguing that community participation is better understood as a process. Once concrete interventions are identified (i.e. improved birth outcomes) then the processes producing improved health status outcomes can be examined. These processes may include and can lead to community uptake, ownership and sustainability for health improvements. However, more research is needed to ensure their validity.
Keywords: Community participation; evidence-based policy; health care reform; health outcomes.
Published by Oxford University Press in association with The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine © The Author 2014; all rights reserved.