Flexibility is a key success factor. Leaders’ and partners’ ability and commitment to be flexible is vitally important. A partnership that is open to an indirect or different path in response to new information or changing conditions can conserve resources, seize new opportunities, tap new energy, strengthen relationships and position itself for greater long-term success. To avoid mission drift, leaders should be flexible within a reliable framework of shared values and priorities.
People respond to what is most relevant. Being relevant sometimes involves linking to more urgent opportunities in the community than healthy eating, active living or a particular health concern. Many communities with the highest need for greater access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity have other priorities they consider even more urgent. Some of these might include crime prevention, jobs and economic development, failed or closing schools, youth development, vacant properties or pollution. A healthy communities agenda can promote positive outcomes in all of these areas. Leaders who are able to listen to community priorities, frame the work for contribution to these priorities and establish a sense of reciprocity between interest groups often gain more traction than those who rigidly pursue their issue without regard to context.
Timing is important for policy success. The context in which policy change is contemplated is constantly changing as economic conditions rise and fall, the political pendulum swings during election cycles, new voices assert themselves and community priorities respond to current events and conditions. For instance, healthy community coalitions sometimes find it necessary to delay their policy agenda during tough financial times or to accommodate the need to reframe their issue. Delays may also provide time to build additional relationships or allow the community’s attention to focus on issues that are more prominent in the short term. Conversely, sometimes advocacy efforts move faster when community events generate passion for a healthy community issue such as crime, traffic calming, failing infrastructure or a closed grocery store or school.
Both progress and setbacks invite re-examination. Major setbacks (e.g., staff or leadership turnover, loss of a key partner or funding, or unwelcome results of an election) can stimulate reflection and course correction within partnerships. Progress can do the same. Any shift within a system alters that system and can adjust perspectives about barriers and opportunities for future change. As emerging leaders taste success, additional partners become involved, projects succeed, a political constituency grows and resources increase, it becomes easier to imagine and pursue larger system changes than would have been possible before the work began. Continuous re-examination of capacity and momentum allows partnerships to see potential, think bigger and expand their ambition over time.
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