The Benefits of Community Advisory Boards

COVID-19 continues to have a disproportionate impact on refugee, immigrant, and migrant (RIM) communities. While health providers may be keen to develop initiatives to reach these communities, doing so without engagement of the communities may result in efforts that are ineffective or even harmful. One-off attempts at community engagement (e.g. focus groups and surveys) may cause damage, resulting in historically marginalized communities feeling exploited, believing that they are not integral to decision-making. 

Community Advisory Boards

Community advisory boards (CABs) are comprised of community members of who serve as equal partners to those in the healthcare or public health system. CAB members bridge cultural differences and increase trust by:

  • assisting with project planning, prioritizing, and implementing activities;
  • vetting educational or other resources; and 
  • communicating with community members.

As there are many things to take into consideration when creating a CAB (e.g. appropriate community member representation, setting of priorities, establishment of ground rules, and processes for decision-making and conflict resolution), NRC-RIM has created this step-by-step guide. It is best to engage with the community from the very beginning by actively seeking their perspective on a vision for the board. Thoughtfully established CABs can address inequities through intentional, sustained involvement of historically marginalized communities, and by supporting strong, community-driven responses to COVID-19.

Congolese Health Partnership in Johnson County, Iowa

The Congolese Health Partnership (CHP) was established in 2017 to address obstacles to quality perinatal healthcare in the Congolese community. A collaboration of the University of Iowa College of Public Health, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), and leaders in the Congolese community in Johnson County, Iowa, the CHP is a CAB that connects Congolese families and healthcare providers through mutual education, culturally and linguistically appropriate services, and an expansion of resources for families and providers. It is comprised of seven Congolese community members and seven health care partners, and co-chaired by one community member and one physician. To support Congolese members of the community and other RIM communities in understanding COVID-19, CHP developed videos in seven different languages on the organization’s YouTube channel. The first video series, “Protecting Our Community”, conveyed basic knowledge about COVID-19 early in the pandemic. The second video series sought to dispel misinformation about COVID-19, addressing frequently asked questions from the Congolese community. The CHP also hosted a Facebook live session featuring a community member, physician, and representative of the local health department. In addition to conceiving of the video series and Facebook live session, Congolese members of the advisory board supported script development, catching potentially problematic language; provided interpretation and translation as appropriate; and assisted with distribution, using previously established WhatsApp groups and Facebook to get the word out. Through this and other work, CHP has learned that what works best are ideas that come from the community.

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