In late 2016, four health legacy foundations partnered in response to a national funding opportunity from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program. The vision was to create opportunities for learning across similar organizations around the country in order to 1) test and expand assumptions about promising approaches for addressing common population health challenges; 2) explore organizational best practices related to programming and operations; and 3) understand the roles and impacts that health legacy foundations have in their communities.
The PATH Foundation, based in Warrenton, VA, led the development of an initial concept plan for funding. Danville Regional Foundation in Danville, VA; Interact for Health in Cincinnati, OH; and Paso del Norte Health Foundation in El Paso, TX joined the PATH Foundation in its application. The PATH Foundation recruited these peer organizations based on comparable size, desire to learn from and with each other, and orientation toward community action and multisector collaboration.
An important early turning point was the decision to seek and retain a consulting partner to act as a recorder, thought partner, facilitator, and co-author of site visit case studies and other dissemination products. After reviewing multiple proposals, Healthy Places by Design was unanimously selected. Our organization could provide strategic guidance from within while maintaining an outside perspective, which kept both the conversation and the process moving forward.
Once on board, Healthy Places by Design helped the partners identify a set of learning questions. We initially developed the questions to help focus site visit agendas and reflection discussions. In time, we became less concerned with answering the learning questions and more interested in exploring the themes and new questions that emerged organically from the site visits and from our subsequent reflections.
To learn more, read the final report, Navigating Change and Accelerating Promising Practices.
As a consultant, I facilitated a collaborative learning journey that included site visits to HLCLC partners’ communities and regular reflection sessions among the participants. The site visits helped partners refine their thinking about successful approaches to community health initiatives. In some cases, they also shattered myths and misconceptions about the nature of health improvement efforts in rural counties, border towns, and inner cities.
It’s rare that nonprofit staff have an opportunity to experience the inner workings of a healthcare foundation, let alone four of them. So when I was chosen last year to staff and serve as the eyes and ears, scribe and shepherd for a one-year peer learning journey, I knew I was in for a treat.
While change takes time and the impact of HLCLC may not be realized for years to come, improvements are already taking root in HLCLC partner communities. One foundation is exploring how to engage grantees more collaboratively in evaluation. Another is introducing new strategies for addressing children’s health in under-resourced areas through school-based health clinics. And nearly all are more immersed in health equity work like exploring how institutional racism plays out in their own organizations.