Whether considered as a value or formulated as a principle to guide actions, reciprocity is commonly appealed to in public health to help ensure that certain obligations due to others – or to be expected from others – may be taken into account and acted upon by public authorities or by individuals. It is one of the values commonly considered when applying an ethical lens to decisions and actions linked to public health or healthy public policies. Despite its common use, it is not always clear how reciprocity is to be understood in one or another setting. It is our goal to render the notion of reciprocity more accessible so that it can be put to use to inform thinking and influence policies and actions. For this reason, we have focused on both theory and practice in this paper, which unfolds as follows:

  • Part 1 – What is reciprocity?
  • Part 2 – How has the principle of reciprocity been used in public health?
  • Part 3 – The dimensions of reciprocity
  • Part 4 – Reciprocity and cooperation, justice, social capital and the moral economy
  • Part 5 – Putting ideas about reciprocity into practice: cases, questions, application.

The Principle of Reciprocity: How Can it Inform Public Health and Healthy Public Policies?
16 pages

A two-page summary version, which captures some of the main dimensions of reciprocity and offers some questions for reflection to help bring the concept into practice, is available here.