Open Access Research article

Design of an online health-promoting community: negotiating user community needs with public health goals and service capabilities

Joakim Ekberg1*, Toomas Timpka12, Marianne Angbratt2, Linda Frank3, Anna-Maria Norén4, Lena Hedin3, Emelie Andersen3, Elin A Gursky5 and Boel Andersson Gäre67

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Linköping University, SE-581 83, Linköping, Sweden

2 Centre for Public Health Sciences, Östergötland County Council, Linköping, Sweden

3 Department of Health, Jönköping County Council, Jönköping, Sweden

4 Centre for Public Health, Kalmar County Council, Oskarshamn, Sweden

5 Analytic Services Inc, Arlington, VA, USA

6 Futurum, Jönköping County Council, Jönköping, Sweden

7 Jönköpings Academy for Improvement of Health and Welfare, Jönköping University, Jönköping, Sweden

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:258  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-258

Published: 4 July 2013



An online health-promoting community (OHPC) has the potential to promote health and advance new means of dialogue between public health representatives and the general public. The aim of this study was to examine what aspects of an OHPC that are critical for satisfying the needs of the user community and public health goals and service capabilities.


Community-based participatory research methods were used for data collection and analysis, and participatory design principles to develop a case study OHPC for adolescents. Qualitative data from adolescents on health appraisals and perspectives on health information were collected in a Swedish health service region and classified into categories of user health information exchange needs. A composite design rationale for the OHPC was completed by linking the identified user needs, user-derived requirements, and technical and organizational systems solutions. Conflicts between end-user requirements and organizational goals and resources were identified.


The most prominent health information needs were associated to food, exercise, and well-being. The assessment of the design rationale document and prototype in light of the regional public health goals and service capabilities showed that compromises were needed to resolve conflicts involving the management of organizational resources and responsibilities. The users wanted to discuss health issues with health experts having little time to set aside to the OHPC and it was unclear who should set the norms for the online discussions.


OHPCs can be designed to satisfy both the needs of user communities and public health goals and service capabilities. Compromises are needed to resolve conflicts between users’ needs to discuss health issues with domain experts and the management of resources and responsibilities in public health organizations.

Community-based participatory research; Health promotion; Adolescents; Health service