Community Mapping

In the COVID-19 response, health departments across the country are challenged with knowing how to reach refugee, immigrant, and migrant (RIM) communities and assess their specific needs. There may be difficulty in beginning to build relationships with a community. Health departments must build trust with RIM communities to ensure useful work can be accomplished. Identifying community partners is the first step to establish connections and create rapport within the RIM community. In identifying trusted organizations to collaborate with, public health departments can implement collaborations on concrete COVID-19 initiatives such as mobile testing and vaccination efforts.

Community Mapping to Identify and Reach Communities

Community mapping is a powerful tool to identify and reach RIM communities. Community mapping is a virtual mapping method created through community engagement that elicits local community members and their networks. This method is important to ensuring that critical health messages and resources are allocated equitably. Here are some steps to engage in a community mapping exercise:

  • The first step in community mapping is to “map” the RIM communities the health department hopes to reach, including identifying key subgroups within those communities (e.g., single moms, disabled persons, elderly refugees, etc.). 
  • Next, identify the existing immigrant serving organizations, resettlement agencies, and ethnic-based community organizations (ECBOs) in your area. 
  • After identifying your community-based organizations (CBOs) and networks, reach out to these organizations  to find out more information about what they do and which populations they serve. 
  • Likewise, connect with RIM community leaders to determine the needs of their specific  communities including misperceptions, worries, concerns, or barriers related to COVID-19 guidelines, testing, contact tracing and case investigation (CICT) and vaccination. 
  • Solicit advice from CBOs to see how they recommend reaching RIM communities with COVID-19 mitigation and prevention efforts. 
  • Consider contacting your State Refugee Health Coordinator to include them in mapping and ask for their advice on how to connect with communities. The collaborations should be visibly co-branded, so RIM community members can see a brand that they’re familiar with and know.

Example of Community Mapping in Boise

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) Boise Office serves refugees from Afghanistan, Burma, Bhutan, Iraq, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo, Liberia, and Uzbekistan. As part of COVID-19 response, IRC Boise and three key partners, Central District Health (CDH)Idaho Office for Refugees (IOR)Neighbors United, organized a virtual mapping exercise where participants identified potential community partners in their network to assist with COVID-19 mitigation and prevention efforts-both formal and informal. Using a strengths-based approach, the group also explored which influential subgroups within RIM communities they may have been overlooking. For example, they realized they had many male leaders on their list and intentionally identified single moms as powerful women with lots of connections within the community who could also help record and deliver messages.

After determining these subgroups, they mapped each way the group potentially could or already has, received information regarding COVID-19 messaging including medical clinics, faith and community leaders, and service organizations. IRC Boise then went on to utilize these different information channels to craft and deliver appropriate messaging. Through the usage of community mapping, organizing and engagement principles, public health departments can evolve to meet RIM communities’ COVID-19 needs while establishing a foundation for further improved engagement and public health efforts in a post COVID-19 world.

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