Risk work or resilience work? A qualitative study with community health workers negotiating the tensions between biomedical and community-based forms of health promotion in the United Kingdom

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Emplaced health promotion interventions, delivered by community health workers are increasingly being used internationally. However, the application of epidemiological risk knowledge to individuals within such communities is not straightforward and creates tensions for community health workers who are part of the communities that they are serving. Situated qualitative interview data were co-produced with community health workers employed in a superdiverse, deprived, post-industrial region of the United Kingdom, using photo-voice methods, to develop an account of how they made sense of the challenges of their work. The analysis draws on and develops theories of risk work and resilience work, which draw on practice theory. The key findings were that, first, being a critical insider enabled community health workers to make sense of the diverse constraints on health and lifestyles within their community. Second, they understood their own public health role as limited by operating within this context, so they articulated their occupational identity as focused on supporting clients to make small but sustainable changes to their own and their families’ lifestyles. Third, the uncertainties of translating population based risk information to individual clients were (at least partially) resolved at an embodied level, with the community health workers identifying as accessible and trusted role models for the value of changed lifestyles. The article is important for policy and practice as it provides a critique of a rapidly evolving new mode of delivery of public health services, and insights on the development of this new public health workforce.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0220109
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2019