At our upcoming symposium, Community Agency & Health, participants will explore how they can work in ways that foster community agency to improve health. To help that happen, we’re going to spend some time on the first day getting everyone on the same page: introducing the concepts, challenges, and pathways that tell the story of why and how community agency is key to the future of health. It’s a session we’re calling ‘Setting the Stage’.
Why Community Agency?
To start things off, Pritpal S Tamber, Bridging Health & Community’s Co-Founder and CEO, will reflect on how, despite all the talk of ‘moving beyond sick care’ and ‘reducing risk factors’ we struggle to do anything about it. He will make the case that agency (the ability to make purposeful choices) is a missing link in how we think about whether people and communities are ‘healthy’, and that the way to do more than just talk about what’s needed is to adopt a way of working that is inclusive, participatory, and responsive.
We will then have a panel of thoughtful and experienced people who will take part in a dialog. Their perspectives and insights – and a trait they all share of valuing questions more than certainty – will help everyone get into a shared frame of reference for the rest of the symposium.
Phil Thompson, an Associate Professor at MIT, David Chavis, Principal Associate and CEO of Community Science, and Sue Grinnell, Director of Business Strategy and Technology at the Public Health Institute’s Population Health Innovation Lab, will discuss why progress in changing how things are done is slow despite widespread acknowledgement that the status quo is falling short. They’ll introduce three needs that are core to how this symposium was developed:
- Phil will talk about the need to create partnerships in which community members and institutions trust each other, are able to develop shared priorities and actions, and hold each other to account. He’ll do so while reminding us that part of that partnership process comes from asking ourselves why we came to care about health in the first place.
- David will remark on the need to think differently about how to assess whether something is successful and valuable. He’ll talk about how the health sector’s emphasis on individual outcomes can be balanced with a more holistic approach. He’ll share benchmarks for things like systems change, collective action, and community efficacy, and remind us that while this shift is complex and can seem daunting, we can learn from those who have done it – and be reassured that it is ‘doable’.
- Sue will describe the need to find different sources and uses of financial and other forms of capital. And she’ll reflect on whether current approaches that incentivize coordination of resources to tackle health with more than just clinical care have been able to go far enough to encourage new ways of investing and new ways of working.
The conversation among the panelists will explore the intersections among their perspectives, with an eye to identifying opportunities for new pathways to derive, implement, evaluate, and share solutions.
Risa Wilkerson of Active Living By Design (ALBD) will also help set the stage (see also Risa’s interview about ALBD’s breakout session). For this session, she will prompt participants to think about sustainability as they take in what they hear from Phil, David, and Sue. Drawing on deep experience supporting community work, ALBD has articulated a framework for understanding sustainability as more than resources, and for identifying ways to be more intentional about planning for sustainability.
The session will be followed by time for everyone, facilitated in small groups, to reflect on what they heard and add their own insights from their experience. The charge will be to think together about how the frame of reference of fostering community agency opens doors to new ways of grappling with barriers that are getting in the way of changing how we approach health.
Once the Stage is Set
This session will introduce themes that will reappear throughout the symposium: in the dialog with S Leonard Syme and Carl Baty about what we can learn from failure (see interviews with them here and here, respectively); in the in-depth exploration of two case examples from the Bronx in New York and South Kern in California; in the six breakouts showcasing resources and tools; and – we hope – in the conversations that will happen between participants in the ample time we have scheduled for participants to connect with one another (see this recent post on our view of relationship-building).