Program Principles

Our principles come from diverse sources. Some are derived from the literature or the oral traditions of our field. Some are adapted from fields beyond public health, and others come from our own situated experience of community health education in a public university.

  • Relevance: "Starting where the people are," with felt needs and concerns, and working with both individual and community needs and assets (Nyswander, 1956), and the recognition that the change ideas and strategies most appropriate to a situation are embedded in the culture or group (Peavey, 1986).
  • Participation: Active involvement in any or all stages of a joint effort, from identifying an opportunity or problem through evaluation and sustainability. Authentic participation requires inclusion and representation, information, access, and transparent deliberation and decision-making.  
  • Illumination and liberation: The ability to see and understand the world in new ways, and to see new ways of being in it, including new insight or conceptualizations of oneself and others, and the ability to therefore act in new ways, without previous constraints (Fetterman, 1997).
  • Ethical practice: Individual and organizational behavior guided by the Code of Ethics of the Health Education Profession, which is grounded in fundamental ethical principles including promoting justice, doing good, and avoidance of harm.  
  • Lifelong learning: All purposeful learning activity, undertaken on an ongoing basis with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence ( In addition, lifelong learning involves the recognition that as individuals, organizations, and even professional disciplines, we have, "built into all of us, old blueprints of expectation and response, old structures of oppression, and that these must be altered at the same time as we alter the...conditions which are a result of those structures" (adapted from Lorde, 1988).
  • Interconnectedness: Systems thinking that allows us to see causal and connective patterns in social systems and human relations, and that encourage community understanding that our connections to each other are deep and inseparable.
  • Community capacity: Both goal and characteristics of our work together, including "active participation, leadership, rich support networks, skills and resources, critical reflection, a sense of community, an understanding of history, core values, and access to power (Goodman et al, 1999).
  • Appropriate technology: Commitment to selecting appropriate and relevant technology (best practices, tools, media, communications, and information systems) to address community concerns and advance community visions.  
  • Teachers as co-learners: Educators are often accustomed to thinking of themselves as purveyors of knowledge and, sometimes, as sources of inspiration. But in the course of true learning, students and participants also share insight and perspective that expand our collective wisdom.
  • The liveliest possibility: The point, place, or moment in which energies are aligning with the power to spark human ingenuity and artful compassion (Casey, 1998). Recognizing a lively possibility is both a science and an art, and often suggests the best (sometimes unexpected) place to invest our talents, efforts, and hope.