Our Interconnected Health: Part 2

Building Effective Multi-Sector Community Health Partnerships

Given the connections between health and other sectors outlined in Part 1, multi-sector community partnerships and cross-sector policy efforts are key – both to addressing the spread of COVID-19 and its far-reaching consequences, as well as to improving the health of individuals and communities more broadly. 

Luckily, many people and organizations were working on just this even before the coronavirus pandemic hit. And we can learn a lot from their work. 

Based on insights shared by the teams at ReThink Health, The BUILD Health Challenge and others who are learning directly from on-the-ground, multi-sector community health partnerships, key recommendations include:   

  • Deepen community ownership. Provide residents with professional development, incorporate community leaders into decision-making and convene, facilitate and elevate resident voices. 
  • Balance the need for backbone support with the need for broad stewardship. Many have argued that a dedicated backbone entity performing core functions to support the cross-sector partnership is essential. At the same time, leadership distributed across a wide range of actors – rather than owned by a single entity or partnership – can often be most effective and sustainable. Stakeholders involved in health transformation efforts should be conscious and strategic about where on this spectrum they wish to place their community based on who is involved, what resources are available and what they aim to accomplish. 
  • Invest in partnership development, implementation and maintenance. The significant staff and resources necessary for effective communication and collaboration in a multi-sector partnership comes with a price tag. Funds must be set aside not only for the health improvement activities of a partnership but for the partnership itself – and governments, foundations and other funders need to enable such investment. 
  • Embrace a common vision for community health. Although seemingly obvious, a shared vision is critical to creating a sense of ownership, managing input and focusing participants toward collective action. 
  • Develop sound strategy. An approach focused on incremental but long-term system transformation and rooted in a deep understanding of the community’s health ecosystem is key. Systems changes include transforming norms and ways of working, organizational practices and regulations and policies. 
  • Seek and advocate for payment and financing that incentivize and enable multi-sector efforts. Adequately financing multi-sector partnerships over the long-term requires bringing together a diverse range of funding streams. To effectively do so, flexibility and coordination in the form of braiding and blending (as some federal, state and local entities have begun doing), as well as a designated financial intermediary equipped to play this role, are key. 
  • Build and support infrastructure and policies that enable data sharing. Leveraging existing resources to facilitate information exchange and committing to technology integration for better coordination of services and data about services are key elements of this work. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list of recommendations or resources, and much can be learned from the work of Anchor Collaboratives, Accountable Communities for Health and other community partnerships, as well as resources like The Practical Playbook II: Building Multisector Partnerships That Work and publications from the Roundtable on Population Health Improvement, among others. 

Ultimately, applying these lessons and expanding on effective approaches to build and sustain robust community partnerships across sectors is essential – both to finding our way out of this crisis and to effectively tackling the upstream root drivers of any aspect of our health and well-being. 

Vinu Ilakkuvan is passionate about supporting and strengthening multi-sector community efforts to address the upstream, root drivers of health. Through her consulting practice, PoP Health, LLC, Vinu provides a range of consulting services (including in the areas of community collaboration, research, and communication) in this space. Vinu holds a DrPH in Health Behavior and a MS in Health Communications, and teaches and advises thesis students at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. 

Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

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