By Tim Schwantes on July 8, 2015
LiveWell Greenville is an example of a successful collaborative effort to improve the overall health of its region in South Carolina.
In the Indian folk tale “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” each man touches a different part of an elephant and confidently tries to convince the other men that they know what they have touched: a rope, a tree, a wall, etc. Only when they stop arguing and start listening to one another do they “see” the whole picture and realize that they are all describing an elephant. In much the same way, relying on only a few perspectives about healthy community change can result in a limited understanding of the work. While collaborative approaches are gaining traction, beliefs still persist that collaboration is too time-consuming, too costly, too complicated and that it’s unnecessary to look beyond the expertise within one’s own organization.
Here are a few exemplary tools and models of collaboration that challenge those beliefs:
The California Endowment: Building Healthy Communities and W.K. Kellogg Foundation: Community and Civic Engagement: Many foundations are focusing their investments in areas that require approaches based on inclusivity, equity, teamwork and partnership. The California Endowment and the Kellogg Foundation intentionally include such criteria and recognize that the process is as important as the outcome. These resources show that involving diverse partners in decision making is critical for improved organizational sustainability, capacity and idea generation.
Collective Impact: The collective impact approach uses a formal, multisector collaborative structure that focuses on a common agenda in order to tackle large-scale social problems. This approach is ideal for issues that are considered bigger than any one organization can tackle alone. The Stanford Social Innovation Review and others continually share collective impact examples and lessons learned from a variety of sectors.
Collaboration Multiplier: The Collaboration Multiplier tool, created by Prevention Institute, helps identify specific strengths and tasks for who is and should be collaborating to achieve change. It helps individuals working in partnerships—both formal and informal—to better understand and clarify potential roles, motivations and desired outcomes. It also helps organizations identify and engage new collaborators.
Developing Multisector Collaborations and Pulling Together: The Community Toolbox, from the University of Kansas, is full of free tools for those interested in changing community health. As part of a much larger document, Implementing Promising Community Interventions, the section on collaboration outlines when to consider partnering and shares a how-to checklist and the “Four Rules for Successful Collaboration.” Pulling Together, developed by NACCHO, shares benefits, challenges and lessons learned that inform collaborative health efforts. These tools are most appropriate for evolving coalitions and groups that are interested in building a formal collaborative effort.
LiveWell Greenville, LiveWell Colorado and LiveWell Omaha: These three “LiveWell” coalitions serve as examples of successful collaborative efforts to improve the overall health of their regions. In each case, the coalitions recognized that staff time and resources within any one organization would be insufficient to achieved large scale change. Therefore, they engaged partnerships that included representatives working in the fields of planning, public works, neighborhoods, community development, public office, education, evaluation and communications and marketing.
While the field of public health has been working at the forefront of promoting healthy communities, the greatest accomplishments have been made when those advocates reach beyond traditional partners to engage other professionals, residents and those that may not initially be seen (or see themselves) as aligned with the healthy communities movement. Collaboration that crosses into different sectors creates unexpected relationships and can outlast individual initiatives and funding cycles. In taking the long view, leaders can mobilize and unify efforts to create a stronger, more resilient, and healthier community.