Monday saw the launch of a new podcast series on community power that I’ve been putting together with Ratio, a research and design company exploring how social connection shapes health and development. The first episode is a conversation between me and the host of the podcast, Michael Little, who’s also one of Ratio’s co-founders.
One of the challenges for me was trying to explain how I, as a doctor interested in medical innovation, have come to the importance of community power. That journey has been long and meandering, with more than a few mistakes, but these days I’m clear that community power is fundamental to health improvement and health equity – and want others to see the link too.
It’s with that in mind that I have worked hard with Ratio to bring you a series of conversations with many of the leading researchers and practitioners in the field.
Already ‘in the can’ are conversations with:
- Jonathan Heller, co-founder of the ground-breaking company, Human Impact Partners
- Paul Speer, a former community organiser now a leading researcher on the processes and mechanisms in organising
- Jennie Popay, a distinguished professor of sociology and public health who’s clear-eyed about how community power has been – and is being – used and abused
- Martha Mackenzie, the recently appointed Executive Director of the Civic Power Fund, a new UK-based fund for grassroots community organising
- Tony Iton, Senior Vice President of Programs & Partnerships of the California Endowment, the foundation supporting people power to achieve health equity
Each of those conversations will be an episode and the episodes will come out every two weeks. At the end of each episode, Michael and I will briefly reflect on the conversation, our principal aim being to highlight two or three things that advanced our understanding.
My answer is that social connection is at the heart of community power. In the field of community organising, this is called base building. For people in communities to come together, they have to have relationships with one another. These relationships might be informed by a shared identity or similar experiences. It’s only when people can relate to each other that they can develop a shared understanding of their circumstances and what they – collectively – might do about them.
We’re in the process of lining up other conversations to turn into episodes. I’ll be sending a newsletter after each episode is released, partly to reflect on the conversation and partly to announce new episodes in the pipeline. At the moment, we’re aiming for a ten-part series but, given the interest, it may well be more. We’ll see.
Each episode will also be accompanied by brief notes, including links to the key resources mentioned by the guests – as we’ve done for the first episode (Ratio/Apple). Our aim over the course of the series is to create a bibliography that can help you deepen your understanding of the field and – we hope – help you think about why and how to change your practice to embrace community power.
For now, I’ll leave you with my conversation with Michael (Ratio/Apple). It takes in S Leonard Syme’s seminal work on control and health, Margaret Whitehead’s incredibly important summary of the many theories in the field, the proper definition of the social determinants of health (including the ‘forces and systems’ that are often missed out), Jennie Popay’s contention that community power has to be about looking outwards (at said forces and systems), and the courageous work in King County, WA, where the health department is working towards making itself accountable to the communities it serves.
Let me know what you think of the first episode – and see you in two weeks.
Pritpal S Tamber