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Co-creating a Theory of Change to advance COVID-19 testing and vaccine uptake in underserved communities.



To describe the use of a Theory of Change to meaningfully engage community members from or support underserved communities in two National Institutes of Health-funded implementation science projects aimed at promoting equitable access to COVID-19 testing and vaccination for underserved communities.

Study setting

Both projects focused on Latino, Black, and immigrant and refugee communities in South/Central San Diego and/or individuals accessing care at a federally qualified health center near the US/Mexico border during December 2020-April 2021.

Study design

By using a participatory action research design, Community Advisory Boards (CABs) were established for each project with 11 and 22 members. CAB members included community organizers, promotores de salud (community health workers), clinic providers and administrators, and public health researchers. The CABs were guided through a seven-session Theory of Change process, focused on identifying necessary conditions that must exist to eliminate COVID-19 disparities along with specified actions to create those conditions and a blueprint for assessing the impact of those actions.

Data collection

Each session lasted 2 h hosted virtually and was augmented by interactive web-based activities. There was a live interpreter who facilitated the participation of Spanish-speaking CAB members. A Theory of Change for each project was completed in approximately 4 months.

Principal findings

Nine necessary conditions were identified related to (1) accessible and available services; (2) culturally and linguistically competent programming; (3) investment in trusted community and faith leaders; (4) social safety nets to provide ancillary services. Corresponding actions to create these conditions and measures to indicate success in creating these conditions were operationalized by the CAB.


While resource-intensive, a CAB-led Theory of Change process yielded a rich opportunity to engage diverse groups that typically are not invited to inform these processes.

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