The Evidence Portal

Community Strengthening Evidence Review

  • Strong community wellbeing is critically important for helping children, young people and families thrive, especially when they are experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, vulnerability.
  • The Centre for Social Impact at the University of NSW conducted an evidence review on: What community engagement or community development theories, practices, and activities have been found to contribute to community wellbeing for vulnerable children, young people and families?
  • The review identified five critical elements that are common across the evidence:
    • Inclusive and genuine co-design and partnership: Building authentic partnerships with community that work towards community ownership while also ensuring that the diverse voices of that community are represented.
    • Leveraging strengths and building capacity: Initiatives that are both strengths-based and actively building community capacity.
    • Creating safe and effective spaces: Spaces that are safe and accessible to everyone to allow for the effective engagement of diverse community members.
    • Intersectional and safe approaches: Incorporating an understanding of how the different aspects of a person's identity (e.g. gender, ethnicity, disability) can expose them to overlapping and intersecting forms of discrimination and marginalisation to allow for the delivery of a more integrated, safe and holistic suite of services.
    • A whole system approach: Interventions that are part of a whole system approach that inter-connects multiple community cohorts and agencies.
  • See the Evidence to Action Note (PDF, 716.1 KB) and the full report (PDF, 1.4 MB) for more information about the evidence review.


  • The concepts of “community wellbeing”, “community development” and “community engagement” are variously defined and measured in the literature. This review uses definitions that closely align with these concepts in the context of children, young people and families.
  • Community strengthening practices are often characterised by non-standardised interventions of a qualitative nature which may limit the ability to make authoritative claims about the success of such practices. The review also incorporated practice-based knowledge identified through stakeholder submissions.  However, the purpose was to ensure a broad, inclusive strength-based approach to the study designs captured as part of the review.
  • Whilst the thematic analysis of extracted data involved a subjective element from the research team, the critical elements distilled from the findings are rich and insightful and are common across the evidence.
  • It is probable that there may be additional effective interventions that operate to improve community wellbeing for vulnerable children, families and communities but which have not yet been evaluated or identified through this evidence review.
  • The evidence review draws on the best available research evidence that was available within these parameters as a starting point.  However, as noted in the conclusion to the report, additional work is needed to expand on this, including further evaluating the quality of the evidence and identifying what further evaluations need to take place.  
Last updated:

10 Feb 2023

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