Essential Practices

Healthy Places by Design believes six Essential Practices are critical for creating meaningful and sustained change in communities.

They address how a partnership can be most effective and sustain its impact and who it should involve and strive to serve. The practices are not implementation steps; rather, they are interwoven within all stages of the Community Action Model. To learn more about how they impact the community change process, explore the Essential Practice Wheels.


Health Equity Focus

An intentional focus on reducing health disparities in communities by eliminating avoidable and unjust health inequities affected by social, economic, and environmental conditions.

All people should have access to opportunities for healthy living. Policies and practices aimed at promoting health equity will not immediately eliminate all health disparities, but will provide a foundation for moving closer to the goal of allowing each person to achieve their full health potential. A health equity focus acknowledges that health inequities are avoidable and unjust, and that they must be a priority of community change strategies. To achieve health equity, we must focus on the needs of people who often experience great disparities (such as people of color, people with disabilities, people with low incomes, older adults, and others), and address the systems, power imbalances, and processes of exclusion that perpetuate these disparities.



Community Engagement

An intentional process of empowering adult and/or youth residents to authentically engage in and contribute to the planning and implementation of solutions within their own communities.

By working collaboratively with residents who share a common geography, special interest, or similar situations, community change strategies are grounded in people’s lived experiences and provide opportunities to take positive actions that are meaningful to them. Coupled with action, empowerment is an ideal outcome of true resident engagement and community organizing. It results from intentional efforts that go beyond simply informing and surveying residents to engaging them in determining, advocating for, shaping and helping to implement solutions within their own neighborhoods.



Facilitative Leadership

A capacity-building and management approach that shares power and influence among engaged partners in order to produce actions and outcomes that are generated by and best serve a group rather than one or two strong or vocal leaders.

Facilitative leadership recognizes the synergy and value of bringing together the different strengths of individuals. It inspires and creates the conditions for teams, organizations, and/or communities to effectively and creatively address shared goals and leverage opportunities for greater social impact. This includes creating opportunities for others to offer their unique perspectives and talents, speak up when they have problems or solutions, take initiative, make appropriate decisions, work with others, and share responsibility for the health of the team, coalition, or community.



Sustainable Thinking

A consideration of the social, environmental, and economic assets and opportunities that are necessary for successful and lasting community change.

Sustainability of a community-change initiative begins during the planning and early action steps and continues throughout the life of an initiative. Partnerships that think about sustaining their work long before the end of a project or grant period are more likely to see their investments of money, labor, time, and passion preserved, renewed, replicated, and continued at a larger scale. Sustainable thinking carefully considers the people and relationships necessary to continue a successful initiative by looking across sectors, disciplines, community leaders, and residents. Sustainable community change also requires strategies that focus on policies, systems, and built environments that can support health and quality of life in the long run. Finally, community-change leaders must look for ways to leverage human, in-kind, and financial resources from within and outside their community.



Culture of Learning

Ingrained, ongoing opportunities in a community to improve effectiveness and impact through partnerships, continual assessment of initiatives, and collaborative sharing and learning.

Leaders and members of community-change initiatives grow when they are continually motivated to learn. Collaborative, multidisciplinary, comprehensive approaches to community change are complex, so leaders at all levels of experience and skill may be challenged by the rigors of the work. They need opportunities to learn, build skills, develop supportive relationships, access new resources, recharge their motivation, and to simply remind themselves that they are part of something larger than their daily experience. Learning and exchange through relationships with peer communities are helpful for mutual development and problem-solving. Collaborative groups also learn from intentional group education and training opportunities, such as webinars, workshops, field trips, and conferences. Finally, community-change partnerships learn by routinely assessing the progress of their work and its impact within the neighborhoods they serve.



Strategic Communication

A goal-driven method of communication that aligns messages and tactics with communities’ priorities and audiences’ values, recalibrates based on measurable results, and strives for an evolving dialogue.

Significant, lasting community change requires much more than traditional forms of communication, such as newsletters, press releases, reports, or brochures. It requires strategic and effective communication—in other words, communication that serves the purpose for which it was planned or designed. Communication goals might be to elicit change, generate action, create understanding, inform an audience, or impart a certain idea or point of view. Meeting these challenges requires the ability to not only understand the values and worldviews of an intended audience, but also the ability to create messages that resonate with that audience. Well-planned, purposeful, and reciprocal communication can help partnerships realize their potential by building quality relationships, mutual understanding, and a shared commitment to action.