Book Club Webinar 2

We had a book club webinar yesterday to talk with current MAPH students about their progress in terms of industry analysis, community need, competitors and partners, marketing, and project operations. Some of the following issues, thoughts, and suggestions were raised. Do you have any further advice for our community of practice?

Issue: When your community health assessment identifies a problem, but industry analysis reveals a barrier to meeting that problem in a sustainable way.
Example: We have developed an obesity prevention program that will be a summer camp for children. Industry analysis revealed that one success factor is being able to charge enough to pay for the health care and physical education personnel who will work for the program. Alternatively, a success factor is to have a pool of professionals available for volunteer work. We won’t be able to charge enough, so that becomes a barrier for us. We are in a rural county with low income population. We don’t have a large number of professional volunteers to call upon either.

Some ideas: 1) broaden your area of reach. Look to make it a region-wide program rather than just for your county; 2) start smaller; 3) see if insurance will pay, if children are referred by physicians; 4) partner with another group running a summer camp (YMCA?), and be part of their program; 5) charge a sliding-scale fee; 6) consider things that could be offered in-kind to support the program.

Issue: We’ve got a community health assessment telling us exactly what the public should do to be more healthy. How do we communicate with people about the need to change behavior, environment, etc. without insulting or patronizing them?
Thoughts: Public health workforce needs development in social marketing. We need to learn how to talk with people and understand their struggle. We don’t want to send the message – “your neighborhood is run-down and has bad grocery stores and no sidewalks” or, “you are overweight and need to exercise more and eat better” -- because these messages are not going to encourage change. The message of need has to first come from them, and it has to be communicated respectfully. Sometimes public health people are too focused on the big picture and all the problems that need to be solved. We need to step back and give people space, “partner with people,” listen to them and have respect for their understanding of their own community and its strengths and challenges.

Issue: We’ve brainstormed and identified partners who “have what we need,” but they aren’t interested in working with us. It may be the economic times, or it may just be the small relative scale of the project we’re planning, but we can’t make headway getting partners on board.
Suggestions: think of the partnership as more than a one-shot deal, more than just what they can give you: think of it strategically and long-term. If you can, get on their board, or on the board of some other community project they’re involved with. If you are not the appropriate person in your organization to do this, identify the colleague who is appropriate, and try to get him or her involved. This way the potential partner will see the value you bring to the table and may be more apt to consider you a potential partner. Also, try to find out why the potential partner is not interested. Is it a current circumstance, like the economic downturn, or are they truly not interested in the project? If the latter, find out what they are interested in, and come back later with a different plan, closer to their interest. Either way, if you become involved with their organization in some way, they will be able to see the value of working with you.

Issue: We have not really communicated with our superiors about our project since we first were accepted to the Management Academy. Our project has changed a lot since then.
Suggestions: The Management Academy curriculum has begun including very early discussions with business plan advisors, to troubleshoot before teams even begin so that project change may become less of an issue going forward. The risk here is that your project may have changed to the extent that you need some of your colleagues to help you in its operation. If they don’t know what you’re working on, will they be willing to be part of it when the time comes to implement? Another risk is that your boss may not give you the resources or other support you need if he or she feels you have not communicated well. Try to get a standing agenda line at your staff meetings for talking about your Management Academy progress.

Issue: We’re facing budget cuts of 23%, and have been asked to plan for an additional 15% on top of that. All we’re talking about at staff meetings is this reality.
OK, so maybe new programs are not what your staff meetings are about right now. Fair enough. Keep plugging away. Remember we’ve been through rough times before. Remember that broader support for your programs, in the form of partnerships and ample communication with political and other stakeholders, is going to carry you through.

To our readers: Please help our scholars with the issues they have raised! Have you faced similar challenges? What advice do you have? Thanks to all who participated.
-- Anne