Community outreach refers to a targeted campaign or communication by an organization to interact with a particular group of people to meet a specific goal. 1 For example, a team of Community Health Workers may conduct outreach to share information with people in a particular community about how to avoid lifestyle diseases like cancer and diabetes.

In order to be effective, outreach planning is imperative, outlining specific goals, timelines, strategies and activities that guide the outreach team. Before beginning outreach, it is also necessary to research and understand the demographics, built environment and lived experience of the target participants, and then to develop an outreach strategy that will resonate with the specific community members. El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center has conducted culturally sensitive, high impact community engagement centering Community Health Workers since 1991. This blog will share tools to create effective outreach strategies, especially for outreach related to social disparities, educational campaigns and the social determinants of health.

Our experience has shown that effective community outreach and engagement doesn’t have to be hard and can be accessible to government, healthcare, faith-based, and community organizations. Success requires developing an effective community outreach strategy and the information below details best practices:

Define your goals and objectives

Before deciding upon strategies, define the goals of what the group wants to achieve. For instance, you could set an overarching goal like increasing awareness about lifestyle diseases or encouraging people in your target group to do full body checkups regularly. You should also set objectives that are SMART 2 (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound).
Unlike goals that are broad, objectives have to be very specific. For example, a SMART objective might be; to ensure that at least 50% of Latina women aged 50+ who live in zip code 92410 conduct Know Your Numbers biometric screenings by June 30, 2024. This objective meets all the criteria to make it SMART. Share these objectives with stakeholders and members of the team to ensure clarity and agreement.

 Identify your target population

Once goals and objectives have been clearly defined and agreed upon, the next step is to identify and research the people that the campaign intends to reach. Specify the geographic profile (census tracts, neighborhoods, zip codes, cities) and the demographics of the people who will be engaged. If outreach will be conducted door-to-door at the neighborhood level, it may be helpful to assess whether outreach will be conducted at apartments or homes or a mix of both. These details will make it easy to come with the most effective strategies and will foster optimal time management for the project and team. Esri ARC GIS tools can help with neighborhood-level planning, but these can be expensive and require training to use. For a free and accessible tool, Google Maps is also effective.

Create your message

The message you intend to deliver to the people you want to reach out to is very crucial. It needs to be clear, as simple as possible and translated into the languages preferred by your target audience. The development and printing of appropriate flyers and educational materials will alto take time and resources, so plan accordingly for this. Also, it is critical to beta-test these materials with members of the target population to ensure comprehension, cultural resonance, and that the materials are engaging. Community Health Workers, often members and peers of the population itself, are excellent assets for this step. Additionally, partnering with hospitals and city departments can support this step. They may have materials or resources to support the effective creation of messaging.

Decide on the roles of each member of your team

Once planning, research and message creation are complete, identify and distribute outreach roles amongst team member. Our experience shows that a team needs a coordinator or leader. This person creates outreach schedules, manages team deployment, sets up data tracking protocol (Do you need to track the number of people engaged? How will tracking occur?) and manages communication. Assess the individual skillsets of each individual on your team and delegate tasks accordingly. For someone is good at speaking, front them as the main speaker when it comes to sharing the message. This way, every member of the team will be productive during the outreach.

Agree on the best outreach strategy

The final step is defining the most impactful outreach strategies to achieve your goals and SMART objectives. The strategies should be suitable to the target group you intend to engage and should also be reasonably easy to execute by your team based on their skill sets and experience.

Some examples of effective community outreach strategies include:

1. House meetings
With this strategy, community members can gather at a home within the target geography, and then outreach team members can participate in a house meeting to deliver the campaign message. This strategy is ideal for handling groups of a 5-10 people and may not prove to be an option when considering COVID-19 precautions. If this is a safe and worthwhile option, ensure that resources are available to provide participants with refreshments and incentives for participating.

2. Coordinating and joining local events

El Sol has had tremendous success with organizing or participating in local health fairs, school-based parent and family events, swap meets, outdoor markets, faith-based food distribution events, picnics, city-based concerts in the park, and sporting events. Through the use of educational booths/tables, interactive artistic activities (puppet shows, skits, Zumba classes, theater performances, and demonstrations, El Sol has been able to provide health education to more than 90,000 Inland Empire residents annually.  For our COVID-19 response efforts, we created our own vaccination events in partnership with healthcare clinicians and other partners. Special consideration and planning must be given to harder-to-reach populations (i.e. farm workers). For example, targeted outreach for harder-to-reach populations may need to occur onsite at ranches, farms, warehouses, etc.

3. Door-to-door outreach

You can decide to meet people in your target group at their homes and share your message directly. This strategy takes time, but it is very effective because it gives you a chance to package your message for the specific person you with whom you are interacting. However, this is a time-consuming endeavor, with average conversations taking anywhere from 3-15 minutes. Also, it is critical to train outreach staff on safety precautions, including COVID-19 safety protocol, personal safety precautions, and heat and hydration self-care.

4.  Webinars or workshops

You may also decide to invite your target group to virtual or in-person seminars/workshops and share the educational information. To have a successful workshop or seminar, it may be necessary to conduct outreach and communicate to your target group through social media, email, texts, phone calls or neighborhood canvassing. You may also have to incentivize those who attend as a way of motivating higher impact

 Final thoughts

For effective, equitable health-related outreach, best practices include the use of community health workers who can create effective engagement strategies because they better understand the lived experience and cultural practices of the people in their community. El Sol’s thirty years of experience can be beneficial to organizations wishing to address population health and specify solutions that respond to the Social Determinants of Health.