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Building a Culture of Health through Collaborative Learning

By Joanne Lee on July 26th, 2017

It is impossible to achieve and sustain a Culture of Health without practicing a Culture of Learning. The complexities of the community transformation process require us to be curious and proactively seek new knowledge and fresh perspectives. Of various learning definitions, styles, and approaches, Active Living By Design (ALBD) views collaborative learning as a key focus and service area.

Effective collaborative learning approaches are multi-component, offering a menu of options that appeal to people with various learning styles, including visual, aural, verbal, and physical. This approach supports learners by translating knowledge and attitudes into behavior and practice changes. It focuses on mutual teaching and learning among participants. It is distinct from training and mentoring, which primarily transfers knowledge and information. And it acknowledges that gaining a different experience or perspective carries just as much, if not more, value than education and receiving new information.

We’ve seen diverse examples of how collaborative learning activities help community partnerships. These include site visits and other community-based experiential learning with peer communities, virtual series that spark brainstorming around specific strategies and issues, and in-person convenings for learning and strategizing. Successful collaborative learning generates mutual benefit and positive impact between people and communities.

One example is the Healthy Neighborhoods Learning Collaborative, which supports nine New York partnerships funded by the New York State Health Foundation and New York Community Trust. ALBD designed the collaborative learning model and leads in-person convenings, virtual learning sessions, and web-based resource sharing.

The convenings include experiential tours of the grantee communities, as well as presentations and lively discussion sessions about urgent and relevant healthy community issues like community engagement, resident and youth leadership, and community safety. The convenings also create space for grantees to connect with each other and to organizations that can serve as resources and partners in their healthy community efforts

The virtual learning sessions provide additional (and less time- and resource-intensive) connections across communities. They enable grantees and their partners to engage in focused learning and networking. In addition, ALBD curates and disseminates a Healthy Neighborhoods Roundup e-letter with learning and funding opportunities, tools, community success stories, and other resources to all grantees and key stakeholders. ALBD also maintains the Healthy Neighborhoods Learning Collaborative webpage where grantees and partners can access resources from past convenings and virtual sessions.

ALBD is also managing the Roadmaps Collaborative Learning initiative in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Through this initiative, community partnerships within the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps network receive funding and support to engage in collaborative learning to accelerate or advance health improvement within and across their communities.

For example, partners in Orange, New Jersey, and Niagara Falls, New York are combining community organizing and resident leadership approaches that have been successful in each of the communities. Their collaboration will lead to the design and implementation of one curriculum that is applicable to their own and other communities. The project will culminate in resident-designed and -produced projects in Orange and Niagara Falls.

And a newly created Tennessee Walkability Collaborative Learning Community composed of walkability leaders from Cleveland, Knoxville, Nashville, and the state will engage in shared learning through conferences, trainings, and collaborative planning and implementation of local policy change through in-person, web-based, and telephone exchanges. Lessons learned will also inform a state-level advisory team on walkability policy.

Engage with us in our practice of sustaining a thriving Culture of Learning by exploring the collaborative learning and networking tag on our blog!

Joanne Lee

Senior Project Director

Adventurous strategist, cross-cultural explorer, and human and animal welfare champion.