Targeted Community Engagement in Health Impact Assessments

Primary tabs

Doctors advise patients on how to stay healthy, they diagnose illnesses, and they recommend treatments to help patients overcome their conditions. In many ways, a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) provides the same advice to communities, instructing them on how to improve public health through the design of the built environment. HIAs shed light on the health impacts of plans and policies that typically fall outside of the public health arena, such as transportation plans and land use policies, and incorporate them into the decision-making process. While most HIAs include a deliberate community engagement component, Anna Rose Harkness (MCRP '13) writes in her 2013 applied research paper that some segments of the population are less likely to participate in the process than others, and the results of HIAs may not fully represent the needs of a community.

In Engaging Vulnerable Populations in Health Impact AssessmentHarkness sets out to find which populations may be overlooked by traditional methods of community engagement and what strategies can increase participation from vulnerable groups. Through a review of existing literature on challenges in community engagement and working with vulnerable populations, an evaluation of HIAs from eleven states (using the Health Impact Project’s HIA database), and interviews with HIA practitioners and policy experts, she develops a framework for engaging vulnerable populations in HIAs.

The resulting framework aims to make the successful engagement of vulnerable populations an integral part of the HIA process. Harkness proposes a five step system: 1) Review HIAs addressing similar issues, identify stakeholder groups and vulnerable populations, evaluate available engagement methods, and assess the potential benefits of the engagement process. 2) Identify partners to act as bridges to the community and select outreach methods that can connect with all residents. 3) Document and quantify outreach methods and results. 4) Evaluate outreach methods and results based on “pillars of a successful activity” and “social goal” criteria. 5) Reinforce new relationships to build on and use in the future. Just as a doctor would be sure to examine the most vulnerable parts of the human body to respond to a patient’s needs, this framework helps HIA practitioners engage a community’s most vulnerable populations and create recommendations that are more responsive to all residents in a community.

Anna Rose Harkness is a 2013 graduate of Georgia Tech's School of City and Regional Planning. Advising for her applied research paper was conducted by Associate Professor Nisha Botchwey.


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Kyle James
  • Created:02/18/2014
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016


  • No categories were selected.