The National Communication Association’s Outstanding Health Communication Scholar Award is given out to the best health communication researcher, recognizing the lasting contributions made to health communication. The Outstanding Health Communication Scholar Award recognizes a significant and original contribution, in the form of a monograph, book, and/or program of research, to the study and application of the field of Health Communication. There are five nomination criteria. The scholar’s work must have:
- a significant and long-lasting effect on the field of Health Communication;
- strong heuristic value;
- influence over others’ work;
- originality regarding theory, research, and/or practice; and
- contributed to the development of Health Communication as a distinct field of study.
The award recognizes Professor Mohan J Dutta’s development of the meta-theoretical framework of the culture-centered approach (CCA), for theorizing, empirically examining, and implementing community-driven participatory health communication interventions for addressing health disparities. The conceptual framework of the CCA explores the ways in which:
- social structures constrain and enable the health experiences of individuals, groups and communities,
- cultural meanings provide interpretive frames for engaging the social structures within which health meanings are negotiated, and
- agency is enacted in the day-to-day communicative practices of individuals, groups and communities that negotiate with the social structures and simultaneously seek to transform them.
The impetus of this research program is on explaining the cultural determinants of health inequalities and the constitutive role of communicative tools of dialogue, participation, and voice in transforming these inequalities. Theoretically, this line of work engage with cultural voices in building health interventions that seek to transform unhealthy social structures, and identify positive cultural resources that promote health and well-being. In attending the role of communication as voice, the CCA changes the paradigm of how health communication interventions are conceptualized, implemented, and evaluated. Specifically, the CCA has been utilized to understand the:
- roles of health information as resources for individuals, groups and communities,
- relationship between community and health as an entry point for community participation,
- roles of local, national and global health policies in creating health experiences at the margins of social systems, and
- agency of the underserved segments of the population in addressing unhealthy social structures.
The key concepts outlined of the CCA are mapped out in the book, Communicating health: A culture-centered approach published by Polity Press in 2007, along with over 82 publications in the 2012-2017 period in the form of book chapters and journal articles, including articles in top tier journals such as Communication Theory, Health Communication, Journal of Health Communication, Journal of Communication, and Qualitative Health Research. The CCA has served as the basis for health communication intervention research carried out at the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) at the National University of Singapore.
At NUS, CARE has run over thirty culture-centered interventions, producing policy briefs, white papers, media advocacy campaigns, documentary films, photo exhibitions, and 360 degree media interventions, reaching over 3 million audiences spread across 7 countries (including India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Singapore and the United States), and generating a variety of outcomes from design maps for community hospital infrastructures, community forestry projects, irrigation projects, cultural resource centers, solutions to food insecurity, community food gardens, indigenous-owned seed banks, health promotion interventions. In recognition of this work, he currently serves on the World Health Organization (WHO), Europe’s Expert Advisory Council (EAC) on the “Cultural Contexts of Health and Wellbeing” group, and has served as an expert for UNICEF, UNESCO, US National Library of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences. Some recent projects that have been completed engage:
- African American communities in inner city Indiana to develop culturally-based grassroots health advocacy and health activism resources directed at improving heart health;
- Communities of women who have had a heart attack or stroke in Singapore to develop a culturally-based heart health intervention;
- Malay community members who experience risks of heart disease to develop a culture-centered health promotion intervention; and
- Community members in the Queenstown area to develop a community-driven, culturally situated health services design plan to guide the Alexandra Hospital planning team.
Similar culture-centered projects carried out with sex workers and transgender populations in India have developed community-based health resources, communication advocacy interventions, and peer leader toolkits. In recognition of the impact of the CCA, the WHO-Europe report on “Cultural Contexts of Health” adopts the CCA as a framework for communicating health. The CCA has been adopted as a framework in over 55 doctoral dissertations. Other teams of scholars have utilized the CCA for intervention development in Israel, United States, Nepal, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Ghana, China, Hong Kong, and Nigeria. Finally, the entry of the CCA in Encyclopedia and Handbook Chapters on health communication attest to the lasting impact that the framework has made on the field.