Our Blog

Our First Year as Healthy Places by Design

By Risa Wilkerson on December 18th, 2018

In 2018, our team put everything on the table.

Internally, we reflected on conversations with funders, community leaders, and other partners about our work. We wrestled with difficult questions about how to best create health and wellbeing for all people. We re-examined our mission, our vision, our name, and our goals. We then distilled all of this thinking into a new strategic framework to boldly declare who we are and how we’re contributing to a more just and healthy nation. The framework is both a guide for our team and our promise to you.

During these conversations, we recognized gaps in our capacity to accelerate equity. So we partnered with We-Collab to conduct an internal assessment of our culture, values, team norms, communication methods, decision-making processes, organizational goals, and underlying factors of bias, privilege, and power. In 2019, we will implement key recommendations from We Collab’s final report in order to strengthen our ability to achieve equitable, healthy changes in communities.

We also renamed and rebranded our organization. For 16 years, we were known as Active Living by Design; and while active living was our founding focus, our work has included other healthy community strategies for more than a decade. Our new name, Healthy Places by Design, emphasizes our long-held belief that place impacts health more than our genes or our healthcare system.

And externally, we clarified our approach to community change initiatives. As Sarah Moore noted in People + Space = Place, “Spaces become places when people live, work, learn, and play in them. When they infuse their histories, cultures, stories, and visions of their futures into them.” We know that every place has unique assets and opportunities. And we believe in the power of people to harness those assets and reshape their communities into healthier places to live.

That belief was evident in our work this year:

We led a peer learning network connecting more than 47 communities in 18 states as part of Aetna’s Cultivating Healthy Communities initiative. We helped set the “virtual table” for lively conversations to exchange ideas, solve problems, share best practices, and allow community members to support each other. Topics included building capacity, engaging young people and adults in neighborhood-level solutions, evaluating progress, and sustaining their important work in communities.

We helped the Obici Healthcare Foundation in Suffolk, VA shift its healthy behavior grant making upstream and toward community-driven investments. We designed and facilitated focus groups throughout the region so that the voices of people working most closely to address health disparities were reflected in the foundation’s funding strategies.

We facilitated a year of peer learning for four healthcare conversion foundations located in different states. During that time, participants shared best practices and challenges related to local grant making, evaluation, succession planning, investment exit strategies and, notably, how to authentically partner with practitioners and residents to address health inequities in their communities.

Along with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, we managed the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Collaborative Learning and Action Acceleration support and funding. These targeted activities and resources reached more than 50 communities across the country, helping people leverage opportunities to address poverty, homelessness, trauma-informed care, health equity, and other social determinants of health. In many cases, these peer communities collaborated to learn and share resources.

We also developed the process for creating Quality of Life Plans in neighborhoods burdened by high health disparities within the Dan River Region of NC and VA. The Danville Regional Foundation supported our multi-strategy approach, which included paying resident leaders with grounded relationships in order to deepen engagement; iterative processes that generated new dialogue among neighbors (who drove the process and content); and conversations that enabled us to continually revisit and refine ideas with residents to make sure that their thoughts were reflected in the final plans.

With significant, internal changes in 2018 laying the foundation for impactful collaboration with our partners, we are eager to step into 2019 and continue listening, learning, and refining so that more people can create healthier places, by design.

Risa Wilkerson

Executive Director

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