In spring 2017 we’ll be holding our first symposium. Called ‘Bridging Health and Community’, it’ll be a two-day event exploring the link between the health sector and local communities. It’ll be held in the Bay Area of California.
We’ve spent some time asking ourselves whether the world needs yet another event on health and communities; there seems to be one every week. We’ve concluded that the one thing missing from most, if not all, of the existing events is an explicit focus on community agency.
We’re aware that many health events talk about community agency, sometimes labelled as ‘people power’ or ‘community assets’. However, they do so through the lens of the ‘social determinants of health’ or ‘systems change’. What this means is that community agency is seen as one more tactic to attain pre-defined outcomes, whether they be better health or more integrated systems. Both of these outcomes matter, of course, but it’s well-documented, in the bio-medical literature and elsewhere, that having a sense of control over one’s life matters in and of itself. It’s an important part of health irrespective of whether it’s leveraged for pre-defined outcomes.
The symposium is part of the Creating Health Collaborative’s ongoing work to build a field of practice dedicated to understanding health from the perspective of people and communities, and to nurturing community agency. We see three needs:
- The need to create mutually accountable partnerships between institutions and communities
- The need for new ways of thinking about how to understand, assess, and communicate value, including what communities value and the value of health beyond biological measures
- And the need for capital – financial, political, and social – to be invested in ways designed to explore and nurture new ways of working
To help us plan the symposium we’ve recruited three organisations for a Planning Committee. MIT’s Community Innovators Lab are helping us think about how institutions and communities might work together. Community Science are helping us think about more inclusively assessing value. And the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco are helping us think about innovations in the use of capital.
Seeking Place-Specific Delegations
One over-arching need is for leaders from different sectors and among residents to better understand one another. Different sectors operate with different world views. Local residents often have multiple other world views. It’s essential for leaders in a place to develop a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives, priorities, and challenges. That’s why we’re encouraging localities to send ‘delegations’. We see these delegations consisting of about 10 people representing:
- the health sector, including health care, public health and health finance
- other sectors exploring their relationship with health, such as community development, housing, education, social welfare
- resident leaders
- leaders of community-based organizations
- evaluators working on local initiatives
- business leaders
- and government representatives
Our hope is that the members of these delegations will not only learn together but also learn from colleagues in other delegations. To potentiate that, the agenda includes ample time for people to get to know one another, there will be a plain language policy, and all participants will be addressed without titles and listed without degrees.
If you’re interested in sending a delegation, whether you’re a funder, a service provider or a resident, drop me a line.
Focussing on the Nuts and Bolts
Another observation of existing events is that all too often they showcase ‘rock star’ programmes. These programmes have often relied upon charismatic leaders, unusual policy loopholes, huge financial investments, or some combination of all three. Inspiring though they may be, the unusualness of their circumstances make them hard to follow.
Although we intend to showcase health-related programmes that have nurturing community agency at their core, some of which do have charismatic leaders and significant investment, we’ll do so with the kind of forensic cynicism that underpins the Creating Health Collaborative. We’re not interested in eye-catching headlines, glossy cover stories, or leaving ourselves with a heart-warming glow. We’re interested in the nuts and bolts that underpin the radical change that we all know is needed.
We’ll also be focussing on failure. Health is in need of radical entrepreneurialism but with that comes the high probability of failure. We’ll be looking at why we have failed – and why we continue to fail – when it comes to addressing socially complex problems. We believe that it’s by collectively examining our failures that we’ll discover – or finally take notice of – the seeds of success.
The next steps for you are to share this post with your colleagues and then get in touch if you’re interested in sending a delegation. Through a direct discussion I’ll be able to share the draft agenda and the pricing for the symposium. At some point we’ll open registration up to individuals but for now we want to recruit at least ten place-based delegations.
Finally, remember that the symposium is part of the Collaborative’s ongoing work to build a field of practice. As part of that we’ll be asking participants how the knowledge, capacity, and networks that emanate from the symposium can lead to new approaches in their communities that embrace the potential of community agency.