Many community change initiatives can and should be about more than one priority. Approaching potential partners inflexibly with only one health priority is rarely an effective approach. Partners and residents often have other more urgent issues as a result of their lived experiences. It can be useful to relate healthy communities work to these concerns as much as possible.
A flexible healthy community frame can bring people together. Comprehensive approaches to healthy eating and active living initiatives can support much larger change than just one community challenge or measure. For example, in addition to addressing obesity and related diseases, healthy eating and active living initiatives can address issues such as social and health equity, educational success, economic development, air quality, safety, community revitalization, environmental justice and responses to climate change. Openness to other priorities, and framing issues with a broader health or equity lens, creates opportunities for engaging new partners, building consensus and setting common agendas. Similarly, accepting (or even adopting) the values and terminology of partners working on the same issues can build a coalition’s momentum. For example, advocates who prefer to speak of “livable,” “just,” “vibrant” or “resilient” communities, or “communities of opportunity,” can be just as effective as those who insist on speaking of “healthy” ones.
Openness to multiple frames or broader frames such as equity provides greater opportunity to focus on root causes and sustain a movement. It broadens the potential impact over time by building understanding of upstream or root causes of multiple health challenges and inequities, and helping identify solutions that solve multiple problems. The flexible partnerships formed today offer the kind of leadership and structures that can help communities address a variety of health and equity challenges in the future.
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