Clear messages on communication and information are embedded throughout Public Health England’s report Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities

PIF has collated key practice points from existing guidance on user engagement to help members while a review of our guidance is carried out.

PHE’s report applies both to COVID-19 and information on non-communicable diseases associated with inequality, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Recommendations include: 

  • Work with community and faith leaders to enhance the depth of reach into BAME communities to strengthen health promotion programmes to improve overall health and improve resilience
  • Ensure guidance and media is culturally appropriate, available in different languages, uses different approaches to mitigate fears and encourage improved uptake of prevention services
  • Develop culturally competent and health literate information to support timely access to advice and services
  • Ensure communication and marketing include culturally specific imagery and content using voices of communities with lived experience to shape future public messaging
  • Highlight and disseminate models of best and promising practice
  • Continue with community engagement through the next stage of the pandemic.

Below is a summary of some of PIF's existing advice on these areas.

Cultural diversity

It’s common to worry about ‘getting it right’ when it comes to cultural diversity, but there aren’t right or wrong answers. 

People do not fit into homogeneous groups – every individual is different. What matters is intent along with an effort to understand.

We all view the world though our own experiences, perceptions and assumptions.

Even people with similar backgrounds might see a subject very differently. Having someone to challenge your approach is one of the benefits of working in a team.

At every stage of your project, remember to check out your own perspective. It helps to write down your personal views on issues like gender, sexual orientation, race, social class, age and even politics.

Ask yourself how others’ view might differ and how this could be addressed in the work. It’s important to think broadly and do your best to ensure the information can reach a wide range of people.

If you don’t know what your audience wants, don’t be afraid to go out and ask them. 

Engaging communities

Building trust and confidence is the first step to working with community groups. Recognise that many community organisations have limited cash and capacity and may need funding to take part in engagement activity.

Good and promising practice tips include:

  • Spend time planning your engagement
  • Consider outsourcing research, engagement and user testing or work with a voluntary sector partner within the community
  • Find out where your audience is and go to them
  • Don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms
  • Work with community leaders, faith groups and influencers
  • Take time to build trust
  • Work out what’s in it for communities, their priorities may be different from your organisation’s assumptions
  • Think about activities that will build confidence for participation
  • Understand the cultural norms and language of specific groups and culturally appropriate language related to health
  • Understand the health needs of a particular group and the barriers to engagement with services
  • Involve users in the development of projects, right from the very start, and user test before launch
  • Make user testing is task-specific to ensure users have been able to understand the task, and that information provided has met its purpose
  • Develop peer-support from within the community to help develop and deliver information and support others. If the community is disparate consider online engagement.
  • Deliver messages with clarity and think whether locally created and delivered messages with have a better trust and impact.
  • Consider the appropriate method of dissemination for the target group. Working through faith groups, community groups and community leaders, using online communities, direct messaging, social media and WhatsApp have all proved successful.
  • Consider how learning can feed into information work plans for national charities, in terms of imagery and language used in materials and on websites, and how engagement in research and local volunteer groups is promoted.

Languages other than English 

Using clear, plain language is helpful when your audience does not have English as a first language. 

It also helps people with communication needs and improves understanding for everyone using your material. The Plain English Campaign offers free guides at www.plainenglish.co.uk

A growing proportion of children in the UK have a first language other than English. In 2019, this applied to nearly 17% of children in secondary schools, about 20% in primary schools and nearly 15% in special schools. 

Therefore, it’s increasingly important to ensure your information is accessible to these families.

If you are thinking about producing any translations, involve people from relevant communities early on rather than seeing this as an add-on at the end of the process.

For more information see 

PIF’s How to Guide on User Involvement

Guidance on producing Information for Children and Young People

Conference materials on working with ‘so called’ hard-to-reach groups