Background: Engaging the community in decisions-making is recognised as important for improving public health, and is recommended in global alcohol strategies, and in national policies on controlling alcohol availability. Yet there is little understanding of how to engage communities to influence decision-making to help reduce alcohol-related harms. We sought to identify and understand mechanisms of community engagement in decision-making concerning the local alcohol environment in England. Methods: We conducted case studies in three local government areas in England in 2018, purposively selected for examples of community engagement in decisions affecting the local alcohol environment. We conducted 20 semi-structured interviews with residents, workers, local politicians and local government practitioners, and analysed documents linked to engagement and alcohol decision-making. Results: Four rationales for engaging the community in decision-making affecting the alcohol environment were identified: i) as part of statutory decision-making processes; ii) to develop new policies; iii) as representation on committees; and iv) occurring through relationship building. Many of the examples related to alcohol licensing processes, but also local economy and community safety decision-making. The impact of community inputs on decisions was often not clear, but there were a few instances of engagement influencing the process and outcome of decision-making relating to the alcohol environment. Conclusions: While influencing statutory licensing decision-making is challenging, community experiences of alcohol-related harms can be valuable ‘evidence’ to support new licensing policies. Informal relationship-building between communities and local government is also beneficial for sharing information about alcohol-related harms and to facilitate future engagement. However, care must be taken to balance the different interests among diverse community actors relating to the local alcohol environment, and extra support is needed for those with least capacity to engage but who face more burden of alcohol-related harms, to avoid compounding existing inequalities.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) (no grant number). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of all those who attended the workshops and participated in the research.
- Community engagement
- Local government