“Community development and health are working side by side in the same neighborhoods and often with the same residents but often don’t know each other or coordinate efforts,” says David Williams, Harvard School of Public Health and the director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America. The Build Healthy Places Network, a network dedicated to catalyzing and supporting collaboration across the health and community development sectors, notes that many of the root causes of poverty and poor health are the same. By joining forces, community development and health leaders can have a greater impact in low-income neighborhoods and on the lives of people living in them.1
The County Health Rankings model illustrates that everyone has a role to play in improving the health of communities. The Rankings model shows that neighborhood conditions – things like housing, community safety, quality education, employment opportunities, and access to healthy foods – play a critical role in the health of a community. The Community Development field provides a pathway and means to finance the neighborhood changes required to achieve health goals.1 You may already be playing the role of "community quarterback" – bringing people together from multiple sectors to address community issues such as public safety or academic achievement. (This role is similar to what the Collective Impact framework describes as the backbone organization.) Public health and healthcare partners often have data that can help drive decisions about where efforts will have the greatest impact. Likewise, your experience and skill in engaging neighborhood residents to identify and create solutions to the issues your community faces is valuable to other leaders who are interested in improving health.
The following resources provide more information about opportunities for community development and health to work together:
- Place Matters: Bringing Community Development and Health Leaders Together (from RWJF) is an interview with David Williams.
- RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America Place Matters slide presentation (from RWJF) is a summary of the evidence presented to the Commission in 2013.
- How the health and community development sectors are combining forces to improve health and well-being (Health Affairs) describes the partnership between the Federal Reserve System and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to link community development and health.
- Investing in What Works (Federal Reserve and the Low Income Investment Fund), examines what we can learn from the history of community development and provides dozens of innovative ideas for working with new partners, creating new financing tools, and leveraging new technologies to bring opportunities to America’s struggling communities.
- Community Benefit in Context: Origins & Evolution (from the Hilltop Institute) describes requirements for nonprofit hospitals to conduct community health needs assessments to drive the distribution of community benefit funds. Hospitals working with public health and community members is one component of this requirement.
Working together across sectors can be challenging work that often requires shifting relationships among partners from competitive or co-existing to one of collaboration. As you work toward collaboration, trust increases and turf issues decline.2 If partnerships are newly emerging or perhaps deepening, take care to consider how you will ensure trust among partners. Manage boundaries in the Work Together guide provides guidance and tools to help diverse stakeholders to effectively cross boundaries and work together.
The Work Together guide as a whole includes tips and tools for setting up partnerships.
1. Elias RR. Community Development Moves the Needle On Health Equity. In: Build Healthy Places Network Blog; Aug. 14, 2015.
2. Weaver L. Accelerating Community Change through Collective Impact. In. Madison, WI 2014.