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Modest Investments with Impressive Impact

By Joanne Lee on May 30th, 2018

As residents build a culture of health in their communities, even modest investments can be used to strategically support their efforts.

One approach used by philanthropic organizations is to design funding that nimbly deploys resources in order to support targeted action. This funding approach goes by various names: “rapid response,” “opportunity,” “action acceleration,” and “incentive” funding. Healthy Places by Design has led the development and management of several of these rapid response funding initiatives.

We conducted a field scan and analysis from our experiences that yielded common themes about the unique value of this type of community investment.

  • A rapid response and streamlined funding process enables community leaders and partners to respond to emergent needs.
  • Cutting-edge approaches may be uncovered when communities have the support to nimbly create change.
  • A relatively modest amount of dollars can still have an impact, particularly when it supports specific strategies, activities, or capacity building that leverages other, larger investments. This type of funding has even greater impact when it recognizes the value of community and partner engagement.
  • Compared to longer-term or more traditional grantmaking processes, a rapid response and streamlined application process decreases time burdens and unfunded staff hours.
  • Organizations that manage the funding can also influence implementation and impact. To maximize the relatively small and rapid response benefits, agencies with complex administrative processes and those with high direct costs may not be best positioned to receive this type of funding.

These themes can be seen in the impact indicators and lessons learned from the 2016-2018 Roadmaps Collaborative Learning and Action Acceleration initiative. The initiative is part of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHR&R) program, a collaboration between Healthy Places by Design, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The Action Acceleration funding pathway provided $10,000 to 26 communities to support the advancement of local action within a community. The Collaborative Learning funding pathway offered $20,000 to 11 teams of communities to support mutually beneficial learning exchanges across communities that lead to local action or impact.

These awards enabled community partnerships to support the following types of activities/investments, many of which were not supported through other available funding.

  • Supplement local expertise and knowledge and bring in specific and time-bound expertise that enabled them to accelerate their efforts. Examples included hiring a consultant to support a living wage or sugar-sweetened beverage policy campaign.
  • Bolster community or youth engagement. Examples included supporting transportation and childcare costs to enable residents to participate in coalition meetings and establishing a fund to increase equitable access to afterschool activities for students.
  • Strengthen engagement of cross-sector partners in community health improvement initiatives. One example was a resources pool created to explore the development of data sharing agreements and a platform.
  • Strengthen collective and coordinated efforts around community health improvement and related issues. Examples included hosting trainings and summits focused on addressing health equity in the community.
  • Enhance partnership and/or infrastructure. Examples included engaging in strategic planning, evaluation, and communications and messaging efforts.

The impacts described by Collaborative Learning and Action Acceleration community members include:

  • Improved engagement of residents, partners, and target sectors (e.g., business, health care).
  • Greater buy-in of community partners that led to action. For example, a local call to action around health equity led to solidifying shared messaging and guiding principles to advance health equity in the community.
  • Built capacity and knowledge through targeted assessments and training activities. Examples included hosting a poverty and homeless simulation event for stakeholders and decision makers so that they could experience what it’s like to be homeless, and to influence policy and programmatic changes.
  • Improved access to services and resources for community members. One example was a  system to inventory dental, medical, mental health, and social services within a half mile of schools in the community.
  • New infrastructure to support community health such as a playground, a community garden, and community arts projects.

The Roadmaps Collaborative Learning and Action Acceleration communities also experienced an increase in collective demand for health-promoting supports and raised community pride upon receiving acknowledgement from RWJF, CHR&R, and Healthy Places by Design. In all cases, what seemed like a relatively small amount of resources contributed to significant momentum-building in communities toward a culture of health.

Joanne Lee

Senior Project Director

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