As is often the case in partnerships, the one you hear from least is the one with the most to share. The Co-Founders of Bridging Health & Community are no exception. While I have been absent-mindedly blogging for the past four years, my Co-Founder, Bridget B Kelly, takes a more considered approach to communication. In what’s likely to be a rare break of form, Bridget has allowed me to interview her.
[Pritpal S Tamber] Hi Bridget. Before we get into what you’re doing now, tell us what you did at the Institute of Medicine.
[Bridget B Kelly] I led studies in which committees of experts from multiple disciplines came up with advice on important issues in policy and practice. I worked on a range of topics – from chronic diseases to workforce needs for early care and education, from advancing evaluation science for complex initiatives to improving the use of economic evidence. My biggest project was an evaluation of the US government’s response to global HIV.
[PST] Oh. So, the small stuff…
[BBK] Right. Nothing complicated. By the way the Institute of Medicine is now called the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Or HMD for short.
[PST] Thank God for the short name. I know you care passionately about the work of the Academies. What is one reflection you have on how it can be more influential and relevant?
[BBK] Do I only get one?
[PST] Yes, so make it a good one…
[BBK] I think its studies are most credible and most useful when they combine the lens of experts who step back and analyze the ‘big picture’ with the lens of those whose expertise comes from being most affected by the issue in question, including those who will be responsible for implementing the eventual recommendations. I actually think a study isn’t truly rigorous without this. I was proudest of my work when we pulled that off, even when it meant I had to pave the way internally for new ways of doing things.
[PST] Interesting reflection on what true rigor is. You’ve been a member of the Creating Health Collaborative from its very first meeting, and you and I have been working together for a few years now. First there was the August 2014 meeting, Designing Evaluations for What Communities Value, then the September 2015 eBook, Communities Creating Health, and then the November 2015 webinar, Organizing Communities to Create Health; what’s convinced you to co-found Bridging Health & Community with me?
[BBK] I had left the Academies and was taking a hiatus. As I contemplated my path back into professional life, I was looking for how I could make what I care about most the whole of what I do, not a complement or add-on to other priorities. All the groundwork you’ve been doing through the Collaborative has opened up the space for me to do just that.
[PST] You’re welcome.
[BBK] Ha! Well, as you know, you couldn’t have done it without me!
[PST] True. And the rest of the Board. But what is it you care about most?
[BBK] It goes back to what I was most proud of at the Academies – finding ways to make expert analysis of a challenge include the expertise that comes from living the realities of that challenge. I care about changing the conversation about evidence and knowledge, to shift how credibility and rigor are understood. There’s also a convergence between what we hope to do through Bridging Health & Community and my life in the arts. That’s largely been about creating a space to foster artists in following their own vision by creating a caring and constructive community of support. That’s similar to the kind of work we’ll do to build the field that bridges health and communities.
[PST] Nice. I did not know of the arts connection. We’ve agreed an unusual job title for you, Chief Delivery Officer. Do you want to explain it?
[BBK] Yeah, we struggled with this. Some of my role is about running our organization, akin to a Chief Operating Officer. The rest is developing field-building activities and delivering services to clients. We toyed with Chief Implementation Officer but one thing we’ve agreed is that we don’t want to ‘helicopter in’ with some pre-prepared formula for people to implement. We want to deliver assistance – to build an understanding of the need for a different way of working and to help local groups work out what it means for them to implement that in their context.
[PST] Subtle but important. One of the things you insisted on when incorporating Bridging Health & Community was the idea of the Board making decisions by consensus rather than a majority vote; why?
[BBK] Wait, did I insist? That doesn’t sound very consensus-like!
[PST] Yes, you insisted on consensus…
[BBK] I think I advocated for it. Anyway, the trouble with majority vote is the behavior it can create. People tend to state what they want and then look for who might make up a majority with them. That doesn’t always lead to real openness. Consensus means committing to finding what advances the group – which means members have to listen to what matters to others while also explaining what matters to them. Reaching consensus makes it more likely that everyone’s perspectives can shape the ideas on the table. I think part of how to bridge the health sector and communities has to be creating space for real openness in discussions about priorities, actions and whether something ‘works’ – so it makes sense that our organization operates in a way that promotes that.
[PST] I don’t have any direct experience of consensus but I always thought it meant the endless pursuit of unanimity such that nothing ever gets decided.
[BBK] That’s a common misconception.
[BBK] I have a long history with consensus, from years with a consensus-based collective of choreographers to directing consensus studies at the Academies. If it works for both grassroots artists and academics, there must be something to it.
[PST] Does that mean as the CEO I don’t get to boss you about?!
[BBK] You definitely do not get to boss me about.
[PST] I hate this job already. What final thought do you have for our readers?
[BBK] Find a way to join us on the journey to better connect the health sector and communities. Come to the symposium in May to explore this with us, tell us what you’re trying and what you’ve learned, ask us how we might be able to help you, and encourage your colleagues to sign up to receive these updates.
[PST] Thanks, Bridget.
[BBK] Can I go now?
[PST] Yes, Bridget, yes you can.
Bridget is right. The Collaborative would not have survived as long, or achieved as much, without her (or without the other members of the Board). While I’m sure our interview format was a little too contrived, I hope you got a sense of why I’m so pleased that someone with Bridget’s breadth of experience has agreed to co-found the organization – even if getting her to blog is nigh on impossible.