Olivia Biermann et al at PLOS Blog Speaking of Medicine: “Citizen engagement is important to make health and social policies more inclusive and equitable, and to contribute to learning and responsive health and social systems. It is also valuable in understanding the complexities of the social structure and how to adequately respond to them with policies. By engaging citizens, we ensure that their tacit knowledge feeds into the policy-making process. What citizens know can be valuable in identifying feasible policy options, understanding contextual factors, and putting policies into practice. In addition, the benefit of citizen engagement extends much beyond improving health policy-making processes by making them more participatory and inclusive; being engaged in policy-making processes can build patients’ capacity and empower them to speak up for their own and their families’ health and social needs, and to hold policy-makers accountable. Moreover, apart from being involved in their own care, citizen-patients can contribute to quality improvement, research and education.
Most studies on citizen engagement to date originate from high-income countries. The engagement methods used are not necessarily applicable in low- and middle-income countries, and even the political support, the culture of engagement and established citizen engagement processes might be different. Still, published processes of engaging citizens can be helpful in identifying key components across different settings, e.g. in terms of levels of engagement, communication channels and methods of recruitment. Contextualizing the modes of engagement between and within countries is a must.
Examples of citizen engagement
There are many examples of ad hoc citizen engagement initiatives at local, national and international levels. Participedia, a repository of public participation initiatives around the globe, showcases that the field of citizen engagement is extremely vibrant. In the United Kingdom, the Citizens’ Council of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) provides NICE with a public perspective on overarching moral and ethical issues that NICE has to take into account when producing guidance. In the United States of America, the National Issues Forum supports the implementation of deliberative forums on pressing national policy issues. Yet, there are few examples that have long-standing programs of engagement and that engage citizens in evidence-informed policymaking.
A pioneer in engaging citizens in health policy-making processes is the McMaster Health Forum in Hamilton, Canada. The citizens who are invited to engage in a “citizen panel” first receive a pre-circulated, plain-language briefing document to spark deliberation about a pressing health and social-system issue. During the panels, citizens then discuss the problem and its causes, options to address it and implementation considerations. The values that they believe should underpin action to address the issue are captured in a panel summary which is used to inform a policy dialogue on the same topic, also organized by the McMaster Health Forum….(More)”.