Health Legacy Collaborative Learning Circle

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.

In addition to these similarities, our foundations also had important and beneficial differences. HLCLC partner organizations represented various ages and stages of institutional evolution, ranging from three years (PATH Foundation) to more than 20 years (Paso del Norte Health Foundation). In addition, HLCLC partners consisted of a combination of “friends” and “strangers.” All of us had worked with at least one other member in the past, but no one had worked with everyone. This combination of known and unknown was one key to our success: enough familiarity to build trust, and enough novelty to generate new perspectives. Finally, the HLCLC representatives, who were all program staff, had similar organizational roles but varying levels of experience. This gave longstanding grantmakers an opportunity for a “refresh” while exposing newer program officers to more experienced professionals.

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, we unanimously selected Healthy Places by Design, known then as Active Living By Design. The inclusion of this kind of partner—one who was highly experienced in the field of health policy and philanthropy but not employed by a health foundation—was instrumental to our success. Healthy Places by Design could stand inside the circle with an outside perspective while keeping both the conversation and the process moving forward.

Collective work on the funding proposal, development of the RFP, and selection of the consultant gave us hands-on opportunities to develop relationships and build trust with each other early in the process. With Healthy Places by Design on board, one of our first tasks was to 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 more organically from the site visits and from our subsequent reflection.

To learn more, read our final report, Navigating Change and Accelerating Promising Practices.