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How to Prepare Your Partnership for Unpredictable Times

By Danielle Sherman on November 9th, 2016

While volunteering as a poll monitor yesterday, I helped voters successfully cast their ballots and documented their experiences to improve the process for future voters. As I stood near both Democratic and Republican representatives of Wilson County, NC making their case to voters in the final hours, I was reminded of a powerful lesson: ultimately, change begins with us, not the candidates. Through our unceasing work to create healthier, more equitable communities, we are all shaping the demands, discourse, and choices that voters have on Election Day. And while we can safely assume that changes will occur, we can’t necessarily predict what those changes will be. Sometimes those changes will make your work easier. Sometimes they will add an entirely new dimension to the challenges you face. No matter what the path ahead will be, there are ways to ensure that you and your partners are better prepared to navigate it.

Preparation is at the foundation of creating policies, systems, and environmental change for community health and is not limited to the early stages of a community-change initiative. Rather, it is the ongoing and deliberate process of collecting and evaluating relevant assessment data; prioritizing and planning; building capacity; and leveraging resources.

Collecting and evaluating relevant assessment data provides a basis for decision making, identifying issues, and making improvements along the way. There are several things to consider, such as:

  • Engaging community residents, including youth, in assessment/evaluation activities as well as discussions about results. This should include collecting qualitative data that captures community perceptions, needs, and interests, thereby incorporating and honoring the needs of the community.
  • Tracking performance measures to secure long-term, diversified resources is vital—especially when funding allocations shift or as the end of a funding cycle approaches.
  • Assessing a partnership’s leadership style, effectiveness, capacities, and opportunities for new leaders to successfully sustain efforts.

An ongoing and deliberate process of collecting relevant assessment data also informs prioritizing and planning action steps, which are important for determining the direction and effectiveness of your partnerships’ efforts. Things to consider during this stage are:

  • Involving community residents in iterative priority setting and planning so that lived experiences are considered alongside data.
  • Designing a strategic communications plan that addresses why, what, how, and with whom you will communicate to increase community, political, and financial support for health goals.
  • Ensuring that diverse leadership is in place to share responsibility for prioritizing and planning along with community members. This is a key component to make sure shared goals are being addressed.

Another important component of preparing for success is building capacity.  It is a key driver of sustainability and involves:

  • Empowering residents with opportunities to learn and grow (for example, about health equity and the social determinants of health) while accounting for obstacles that may inhibit participation.
  • Encouraging emerging leaders with confidence-building experiences and new responsibilities while training existing leaders to increase effectiveness and build networks. This is especially beneficial during times of leadership change.
  • Equipping community and partnership leaders to become healthy community champions and influential members of decision-making groups.

Finally, prepare for uncertain times by leveraging resources already available to your partnership. To ensure that these are leveraged in ways that lead to sustainable success, consider:

  • The implications for health equity when making decisions about obtaining, distributing, and utilizing resources.
  • Building a “resource bank” of lessons and resources that is shared among partners to help them capitalize on existing strengths and assets.
  • Developing a strategic funding plan that includes current and future funding and commitments of in-kind and other support.

For a few examples of how communities across the country have prepared for success, check out Flint, MI, New Orleans, LA, and Rancho Cucamonga, CA.

I encourage you to prepare continuously for the transformation you want to see—and for the change that you can’t see coming.

Danielle Sherman

Project Manager

Community advocate, planning superstar, and work-life balancer.