Utilities and challenges of applying qualitative methodology in community health projects

13 Oct

This is a follow up of the previous post regarding health-applied qualitative methodology. It is linked to the VII Ibero-American Congress of Qualitative Health Research but today’s approach is focused on the application of this methodology in community health projects.

During the process of construction and implementation of community health programs, dynamics of participation and networking are promoted in all its phases: from the analysis and identification of needs, to prioritizing initiatives and subsequent implementation. Such processes involve the corresponding allocation of actions, according to technical areas, which should enable for planning the specific programs required for each population centre, and the initiatives proposed to tackle health inequalities.

In this sense, the Catalan Agency of Public Health (ASPCAT) is making a significant commitment to community health. PINSAP (Interdepartmental Public Health Plan) is concrete evidence of this fact and a government instrument which collects and promotes health actions from a global approach (health in all policies). The aim is to improve the health of the Catalan population by involving the entire community (from Primary Care, Public Health and municipal agents from all areas, to the community – cultural, social, sports, neighbourhood, youth, school associations, etc.).


One aspect which justifies this networking and cross-sector collaboration is one of the premises of PINSAP, that of determinants of health and the fight against social inequalities. As we all know, the health of the population depends not only on factors directly related to this element, but multiple factors in the immediate environment and the daily lives of people. For this reason, the objective is to develop a multidisciplinary type of project at a community level including health in all policies.

Within the context of PINSAP, community health projects called COMSalut (Health and Community) are being implemented in different municipalities throughout Catalonia. The community itself can, and does assist in providing health. The starting point for these community projects is the creation of a local steering committee or team (EML, as per the Catalan acronym) which includes members of the different areas mentioned above (primary care, public health, municipal services and members of the community fabric). The second step is the diagnosis of health, to be followed by the prioritization and proposals for action phases. The health diagnostic process begins with a quantitative diagnosis, in which different indicators of health and lifestyles and determinants of health are identified. This phase is then followed by a qualitative diagnosis.

One of the objectives of health diagnosis in a community process is to identify needs and resources/assets which influence the health of the population in a specific neighbourhood, district or town, by drawing on the opinion of the community, both from members of the public as well as professionals, within the framework of the community process. In order to do this, a qualitative diagnosis must be carried out using the specific techniques which this methodology entails given that the aim is to identify the individual opinions of informants resulting from shared experience in that particular environment, placing the health diagnosis in a specific socioeconomic and political context. It was decided to conduct two nominal groups in each local process, one professional and one made up of members of the public, during which participants were invited to discuss positive aspects of the community, areas for improvement and potential proposals for improvement, both in general terms, as well as issues that might directly affect health. The issues are presented from a general perspective so that informants take the broadest possible approach in the area of health, expanding their viewpoint to include all community resources which might contribute to or subtract from health.

This is precisely one of the challenges involved in these community processes, since during the course of these sessions, especially in the case of groups comprising members of the public, attendees tend to focus the discussion on issues regarding urban infrastructure and local organization, as well as airing political demands and discarding for example, aspects of habits and individual and shared group lifestyles (family, neighbours, close friends, etc.).

The experience of using qualitative tools adds value to the research process carried out by the Catalan Department of Health and this is exactly what we brought to the VII Ibero-American Congress of Qualitative Health Research, which took place in Barcelona from 5 to 7 September.

Carmen Cabezas (ASPCAT), Dolors Rodríguez Arjona (ASPCAT), Vicky Serra-Sutton (AQuAS), Santi Gómez Santos (AQuAS-ASPCAT)


Key ideas to take home:

  • It is very interesting to see how the same qualitative process is weaving a network of collaboration and participation at the professional as well as community level. Networking is a successful tool in the process, but at the same time is a result that remains within the community and becomes an asset. The first phase of the process requires the setting up of a Local Committee to carry out a community diagnosis and subsequent follow-up. The succession of meetings and interdisciplinary teamwork leads to networking.
  • At this point we encounter one of the greatest challenges, and that is to raise awareness within the community, through joint reflection, of the assets and resources of their immediate environment that affect their individual and collective health. This is presented as a driving force for change to achieve increased health.


On the other hand, these community processes present a number of challenges to be faced:

  • In the first place, appropriate sampling strategies should be used to ensure the participation of key members and those who are knowledgeable of the community to be researched. The latter can be achieved by involving the local team or committee in the process in order to reach vulnerable population groups or those with special needs, as would be the case for youth, elderly people living alone, women, long-term unemployed, immigrants, etc. The individuals who should contact potential informants must be those who know the community well and are appreciated by the community.
  • Secondly, this type of community process involves another challenge which is, how to translate the results into a credible technical report and one that is beneficial to local team members and the community at large.

As a reflection within the context of this conference and the development of local community processes, we can see that qualitative tools can provide opportunities for active participation. This leads to networking and motivation and the implication of the team and the community. The process itself achieves the ultimate goal of raising awareness within the community about the factors present in the immediate environment and this represents a potential driving force for change.

This result is achieved through interdisciplinary activities and motivation, values which are ever-present and very current. However, I believe that we should carefully rethink what is really involved in a multidisciplinary project. Is it simply the sum of forces or does it involve something else? I think we should undertake the task to put into practice networking operationally, through incorporating all those in the community and shouldering responsibility together. Interdisciplinary work implies cooperation between different agents, combining efforts towards a common goal and establishing synergies and talent-sharing.

Post written by Dolors Rodríguez Arjona, sociologist specializing in qualitative health research.

COMSalut (Community and Health: Primary and Community Care)

19 Nov

Andreu SeguraAndreu Segura, Secretary of Catalan Public Health Interdepartmental Plan

Soon we will celebrate thirty years from the first international conference on health promotion held in Ottawa. Some of its most popular recommendations are the appeal of reorienting health services and the need for individuals and communities to take control of their own health determinants -they have taken responsibility.

Both proposals are at the root of the COMSalut project and its most direct antecedents, such as the Interdepartmental Plan of Public Health (Pla Interdepartamental de Salut Pública – PINSAP), one of the innovations of Catalonia Public Health law of 2009, which emphasized the impact that various sectors of society and public administration have on health and, consequently, recognized them as key elements of health policies and, therefore, the health plan. A health plan that, with respect to the health system, promotes the development of organizational formulas and the funding of the services most consistent with the community dimension and the cooperation between providers, such as territorial pacts for managed care groups (MCG) from CatSalut. Continue reading