motherdaughter_shutterstock_253732306The health sector is currently locked in an unsustainable biomedical model. We spend vast sums of money on healthcare, and costs are on a continuously rising trajectory. The functions and systems in today’s biomedical model are far from sufficient to ensure health. The future of health needs transformation beyond that system. We attended the SSIR webinar, “Organizing Communities to Create Health”, to better understand the complex needs of the communities our clients serve. Read on for more insight into what we learned about the important role health plays in creating sustainable communities.

To truly understand how the healthcare system can be improved, we must first define what health is. Most people can give a “right” answer – eating right, not smoking, and going to the doctor, etcetera. But for most people, this sense of “health” is not the end goal. It is a means to an end. So what makes us feel satisfied with our lives and feel healthy? According to SSIR, physical functioning, safety and financial security, emotional security, nourishing relationships, a sense of meaning and purpose, a sense of mastery of our own lives, and access to support in our community are all on that list.

Reforming the healthcare system requires opening up a space to do something different. It’s more than just changing health – it’s about creating health. How do we deliver interventions to create life satisfaction – health at its fullest? The simple answer is, we don’t. We don’t deliver to people, telling them what we know they need. They can create it, and we can do it with them in their communities.

When it comes to understanding how to create health with communities, there is no easy answer, because it’s not just changing what we do, it’s changing how we go through the process.  Adapting appropriately in systematic ways and dealing with uncertainty are inevitable. So is thinking outside the box of how it’s done currently, because the process is a lot less linear, and there are a multitude of factors that are not under your control. Some steps to aid you during this process are:

  1. Ask and learn. Ask people: what do you value, what do you need, what is most important to you, what do you think should be done, how could you tell if things got better?
  2. Come to agreement on what matters most. Help, select, define, deliver, and evaluate interventions that make sense in a place and to the people who are there.
  3. Share power. Share decision-making about what to do and how to allocate resources.
  4. Share in the work. Partner with communities themselves, with those who know the community well, and with those who are good at building community.

A process to agree on priorities is foundational to communities creating health. Involve communities in the design, implementation and evaluation of efforts to create health by following these principles:

Guiding Principles

  1. Acknowledge that success depends on each other
  2. Expand what counts as knowledge
  3. Embrace emergence, including unpredictability
  4. Bring more voices to the table
  5. Value what people value

Ideas for What to Do

The health sector can look for opportunities to put theory into practice. These include:

  1. Investing in community building
  2. Investing in community learning systems
  3. Building the capacity of professionals
  4. Incorporating processes for good teamwork
  5. Experimenting and being willing to try things
  6. Sharing and holding each other accountable
  7. Expanding opportunities to document knowledge
  8. Promoting the tangible impact of community
  9. Transforming what drives funding decisions

Health as a Tool for Bringing People Together

The healthcare sector needs to take community seriously. You can create a space for community voices by:

  1. Listening and seeing where they’re coming from
  2. Showing you care and creating a dynamic relationship with community
  3. Connecting through partnerships and building relationships
  4. Networking and going to events that affect you directly/indirectly
  5. Building relationships regardless of cultural difference
  6. Understanding and developing trust

Once even one of these elements has been completed, the community starts to understand why they need to start making changes. Many of the other elements follow naturally. Creating health is all about engaging communities and getting people to rally around positive changes for themselves and their families. It truly does take a village. Coming together can make a difference to create health even with just one person at a time.