Currently, the engagement of local communities in Health Impact Assessment is becoming more and more important. A scoping review was performed to take stock of visions, methods and experiences in this field.
A combined Scopus and Medline search yielded 100 articles in scientific journals. The final selection consisted of 43 papers, including case studies, evaluation studies, reviews, and opinion papers. After analysis, consultation of four experts was performed to check preliminary study outcomes. A grey literature web search was performed to check and complement the results.
Results show that community participation is generally considered a core element in HIA. Views as expressed in the papers concern, firstly, the need for and value of local knowledge, secondly, the adherence to or application of democratic values and, thirdly, empowerment of communities. Three categories of methods are used in relation to community participation, often in combination: methods to facilitate knowledge elicitation, to ensure the inclusion of communities in the HIA process, and to build community capacity to participate in policy development. However, the theoretical or practical underpinning of the choice for specific methods is mostly not presented. The experiences described in the papers mainly focus on the access to local knowledge and its usability as a source of evidence in the HIA process. Described effects of community participation are (improved) relations between communities and local agencies, policy makers and professionals and the empowerment of community members. Although these effects are ascribed to community participation, many papers do not provide support for this conclusion beyond the retrospective perception of participants. Expert consultation and additional analysis of the grey literature supported the results derived from the scientific literature and provided more in-depth knowledge. In the grey literature theoretical frameworks, methods and tools for community participation in HIA were more extensively reported as compared to the scientific literature.
We conclude that the visions, methods and experiences concerning community participation show that a participative approach may contribute to better, context specific knowledge. It appears that participative HIA has health promotion potential as it helps develop responsive policies.
To accomplish this, HIA should, firstly, be better embedded in broader health promotion programmes. Secondly, the methods and approaches for community participation applied in HIA should be theory-informed and well described. The grey literature offers entry points. Finally, more robust and systematic evaluation and research is needed to assess the impact of HIAs on communities and policies.