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A Fresh Model for Community-Driven Change

By Risa Wilkerson on March 23rd, 2016

Active Living By Design is about to launch a fresh model for community-driven change to reflect the evolution of our field’s growth. It reminds me of how far we’ve come.

Early in my career, I was talked into wearing a Minnie Mouse costume at a health fair hosted by the local health department. My small nonprofit had a booth there and wanted to create a sense of fun. But other than showing that I was a good sport, the costume wasn’t all that useful for improving anyone’s health. This was a time when passionate health educators counseled people to “simply” choose healthy food or be more active or quit smoking. People were trying and failing to get different results for themselves and their families. Everyone (including Minnie Mouse), was frustrated by a model of change that wasn’t working.

It was such a relief then to hear, a few years later, about a new paradigm that associated our choices with how our communities are designed. I’ve heard that systems are perfectly designed to give us the results we get. If we don’t like the outcomes, then we need to change the systems producing them. This new paradigm of a place-based approach to health aligned with that philosophy. As I shared it widely in my community, the dawning of hope was evident as “aha” moments consistently lit up faces.

Back then, Active Living By Design (ALBD) was on the front line of the active living movement. As interest, research and practice evolved the field, we added healthy eating to our area of focus. Over time, we integrated social determinants of health and strengthened our work around community engagement and leadership development. And to cultivate our internal culture of learning, we still continually assess assumptions and test the need for new tools.


Early on, ALBD developed a Community Action Model and 5P Strategies (Preparation, Promotion, Programs, Policy and Physical Projects). This model was an evidence-informed framework for increasing active living and healthy eating in communities through comprehensive and integrated strategies. It served as a guide for communities and funders as they implemented bold new approaches to create healthier policies and environments.

These approaches advanced the field’s collective understanding of the complex nature of healthy community change while leaders at all levels (in communities and in philanthropic organizations) contributed their experiences to deepen the learning. In time, the field grew into exciting new territory, and the initial Community Action Model no longer adequately addressed many of the nuances being drawn out by practice. Nor did it lift up the most important elements for sustaining these efforts.


In 2015, ALBD began enriching our Community Action Model to address those gaps. Our team reflected on what we’ve learned from community leaders and funders and then dissected every component of the original model. We reconsidered the value of each element, how elements related to each other and what was missing. We developed iterative drafts and checked our assumptions with community leaders and advisors along the way. We then engaged in conversation with ALBD alumni (community leaders with whom we’ve had long-standing relationships), gathered stories about their work and connected those to themes in the updated Model. An easy-to-navigate graphic displays the model’s framework and how the elements hang together. And we’re developing content that will allow you to dive deeper into the model’s components.


The ALBD team is very excited to share this fresh Community Action Model with you in April. We’ll send announcements via our social media channels, our e-newsletter and through direct emails. We encourage lots of feedback once you see it.

What will you see?  Many of the elements in this new model underscore practices that we have always honored, like the value of community engagement, while some will be new. We highlighted the importance of a community’s context, defined six essential practices that undergird success and focused the action approach from the original 5Ps to 3Ps. We also outline expected impacts. This updated model can be useful to community coalitions and local leaders seeking a collaborative approach to creating healthier places and to funders seeking a tested approach for local investments.

We hope it serves as a hip-pocket tool for you that starts new conversations and deepens ongoing ones, and helps explain your long-term vision to partners or funders. Perhaps it will create new “aha” moments for you, your team and your community, lighting up the faces around you. We think it will.

Risa Wilkerson

Executive Director

Action-driven optimist, abundance thinker, and simplicity seeker.