As we’ve evolved from quirky blog to holding our first symposium, we’ve been asking ourselves what we’re seeking to do. We’re now clear that we want to grow the field of practice that fosters the agency of communities as a way to improve health.
We used to say that we wanted to build the field of practice but we’ve realized that the field already exists, even if it’s not very evenly distributed. We’ve also realized that those that seek to foster the agency of communities often struggle to engage the health system, while the health system often fails to understand the importance of community agency to health.
So, we’re seeking to bridge health and community.
The next question is how. Our view is that the key requirement is around learning. Followers need to learn from the first movers, of course, but both groups need to keep learning and sharing their knowledge as a way to help each other improve and grow.
It’s with this deep emphasis on learning that we’re pleased to announce the recruitment of our Chief Learning Officer, Maggie Hawthorne. Maggie is the former Director of Strategy and Innovation of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers.
Pritpal S Tamber: Hi Maggie. Let’s start with your former role at the Camden Coalition.
Maggie Hawthorne: Hi Pritpal. I served as the Director of Strategy and Innovation at the Coalition. I believe strategy and innovation live within the individuals in an organization and those that they serve. Much of my job was about creating the space for people to listen for needs and find solutions: asking questions; identifying patterns and themes; and synthesizing insights from a variety of sources to gain clarity, alignment and commitment around emergent strategies. I combined qualitative research and organizational learning, two disciplines that I love. I now consultant to the organization.
Pritpal: Remind us what the Camden Coalition does.
Maggie: The Coalition is in Camden, NJ, and a citywide coalition of hospitals, primary care providers, and community representatives working together to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals with complex health and social needs. It does this by prototyping new models of health care delivery.
Pritpal: You presented at the Creating Health Collaborative‘s 2016 meeting; tell the readers about that.
Maggie: I presented on the ‘threshold space’ that the Coalition often found itself operating in; essentially the space between the current system of health care delivery and a not-yet-realized transformed future system of delivery. Although the space is filled with energy and inspiration that comes from reaching beyond the constraints of the current system, it is also filled with the anxiety and ambiguity that comes from stepping outside the status quo.
Pritpal: How does the Coalition step outside of the status quo?
Maggie: By operating in a manner that creates a space free of agendas and engaging in deep listening to understand the emerging needs of, and potential solutions for, the population being served. It requires being flexible and adaptive. Organizations operating this way will find themselves grappling with how to balance a series of tensions including innovation with prioritization, accountability with autonomy, inclusion with decision-making, holding the whole while moving forward the parts, and aligning individual and collective intent.
Pritpal: You mentioned synthesizing insights; tell us more about that.
Maggie: We harnessed insights from three places: those we looked to serve; the context we operated in; and through an ongoing practice of honest self-examination. The last bit was often the hardest. The structures we have in organizations are often not conducive. Also, the practice is uncomfortable – it’s hard work to examine, unpack and dismantle the structures of our organizations that made sense once but have since become obsolete and no longer serve good purpose.
Pritpal: So, how do you assist with that?
Maggie: I do this by helping foster a series of key practices, including:
- Holding relationship building as part of ‘the work’ so teams deepen their ability to listen and engage with each other in an authentic manner through integration of retreats, one to one conversations, or opportunities for individuals to share parts of their true selves
- Gathering, synthesizing, and providing qualitative and quantitative data that prompts identification and assessment of blind spots and underlying paradigms of thought
- Creating and facilitating spaces, and a routine of strategic reflection and dialogue, for people to make sense of themselves and the situations they face
- Facilitating processes to clarify and align teams and action around a common intent emerging from the data and reflection
Pritpal: And how do you see yourself applying your skills and experience to the organizations that are reaching out to us for help in their community health strategies?
Maggie: All such organizations are going to find themselves in the ‘threshold space’. They’ll need help navigating the anxiety and ambiguity but, as I said, I believe the necessary knowledge sits within an organization. It’s not something that outside consultants can provide, but we can provide the mechanisms by which that knowledge is harnessed and then turned into strategy.
Pritpal: I completely agree, of course. It’s an honor that you’ve agreed to join us. I look forward to working with you.
Maggie: Thanks, Pritpal. I look forward to working with you and others to grow this field of practice that fosters the agency of communities to improve health.
With Maggie in place, we’ll be looking to establish up to five sites to apply the 12 principles into their community health work.
More on that soon.