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By Risa Wilkerson on January 28th, 2015

It is 2015. “Back to the Future II” predicts we’ll have flying cars, self-lacing shoes and hoverboards by the end of the year. Flying cars and hoverboards do have working prototypes, but they won’t be impacting healthy communities work any time soon, and it doesn’t take a futurist to predict what local leaders should anticipate in 2015. I’m talking about the “inevitables:” processes that communities go through every year. If aware of these early, nonprofits, businesses, faith-based organizations, civic groups and government sectors are better equipped to ensure that community residents have ample opportunities to improve their quality of life.

These recurring events still often take us by surprise as we work through the day-to-day process of healthy community change. The following three inevitables, and the questions that accompany them, are meant to help you plan for and respond to these events as they happen.

In 2015, advocacy groups will take shape and new champions will emerge:

Whether through formal channels (e.g., governmental advisory boards, neighborhood associations or committees) or informally, communities are optimistic about using their voice for change. This year, many groups will not wait for funding, ask for permission or check with the appropriate gatekeepers before promoting healthy community changes that impact them directly.

  • What role(s) do you see for yourself in advocacy groups? Do you get involved even if the work is not directly related to yours, or you are not funded to do it?
  • Are you leaving room for necessary resources and capacity to react opportunistically to these leaders?
  • What experiences can you provide to coach or guide the advocacy efforts?
  • What risks are involved if you or your organization participate?

In 2015, healthy policy opportunities will unfold:

At Active Living By Design, we talk about “little p” policies (like those within organizations) and “big P” policies (like governmental and systems-level decisions). Influencing outcomes and impacting communities happen through both types of policy work. Decision makers at all levels will be introduced to, talk about and vote on policies that will impact community members’ health.

  • Do you know the key decision makers and influencers? If so, what’s the quality of your relationship with them?
  • Are you a credible source for talking about a policy’s impact on health? Who else is needed in your corner and how quickly can they be mobilized?

In 2015, conversations about America’s changing demographics will go deeper:

Nationwide population trends show that the face of America is changing; the former president of the American Planning Association, Mitchell Silver, describes it as the “graying and browning of America.” I am hopeful that the continued interaction between people of different races, ages and life experiences is the path toward healing and further connecting with our neighbors. Systems large and small (e.g., health, education, justice, housing) within the US—which is to say, within local communities—are in need of reconfiguration and updating to accommodate our changing culture—instead of the other way around.

  • Who are the champions that lead those conversations in your community? How can you partner with them, or be that champion yourself?
  • What are the local tensions around race, age and culture? Do you or your organization work to address those tensions?
  • Are the conversations intended to lead to action, and if so, when is the right time to act?

Whether you’re a healthy communities veteran or are just getting started, these questions are worth (re)visiting and wrestling with as you make intentional decisions about trade-offs. What will you do differently in 2015 to advance healthy change in your own community?


Risa Wilkerson

Executive Director

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