Assessing opinions in community leadership networks to address health inequalities: a case study from Project IMPACT

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This study demonstrates a novel approach that those engaged in promoting social change in health can use to analyze community power, mobilize it and enhance community capacity to reduce health inequalities. We used community reconnaissance methods to select and interview 33 participants from six leadership sectors in ‘Milltown’, the New England city where the study was conducted. We used UCINET network analysis software to assess the structure of local leadership and NVivo qualitative software to analyze leaders’ views on public health and health inequalities. Our main analyses showed that community power is distributed unequally in Milltown, with our network of 33 divided into an older, largely male and more powerful group, and a younger, largely female group with many ‘grassroots’ sector leaders who focus on reducing health inequalities. Ancillary network analyses showed that grassroots leaders comprise a self-referential cluster that could benefit from greater affiliation with leaders from other sectors and identified leaders who may serve as leverage points in our overall program of public agenda change to address health inequalities. Our innovative approach provides public health practitioners with a method for assessing community leaders’ views, understanding subgroup divides and mobilizing leaders who may be helpful in reducing health inequalities.

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