For three days, more than 270 local collaboratives, community partners, subject matter experts, and invited guests came together to celebrate achievements and share learnings at the All In: Data for Community Health National Meeting in Denver. All In is a collaboration among four programs – the AcademyHealth Community Health Peer Learning (CHP) Program, Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH), the BUILD Health Challenge, and the Colorado Health Foundation’s Connecting Communities and Care initiative. Together, All In comprises a growing network of more than 50 community projects working locally to improve population health, which continues to identify new potential partnerships and local collaborations. This convening provided an important opportunity for network participants to discuss the collaboration and data sharing progress communities have made thus far, and to learn from others to tackle the challenges that remain.

While the community projects represented varied in size, geographic location, and programmatic aims – from new collaborations focused on community engagement and unsure of their data needs, to long-running partnerships finalizing data sharing agreements – one cross-cutting theme emerged: Multi-sector data sharing and infrastructure are critical to sustaining effective health transformation initiatives. 

The meeting kicked off with an opening plenary by Natalie Burke, President and CEO of Commonhealth ACTION, who challenged participants to think deeply about the privilege and power of their roles as researchers, community organizers, health systems, and data stewards. She emphasized the need to strive for health equity in all of the work we do, and noted that while “data is power,” it has the potential to be “a bullet in a gun of oppression.” Even as we have begun to embrace the constant culling, aggregating, scraping, and analyzing of Big Data, she cautioned all to be conscientious about prioritizing equity to achieve optimum health for all communities. 

“Use your data super powers for good, not evil.” – Natalie Burke

With that powerful exhortation, attendees set off into various breakout sessions focused on topics as diverse as navigating legal challenges to best practices for effective community engagement. Communities also had the chance to pitch new ideas or troubleshoot particularly challenging issues in one of four Dolphin Tanks (think “Shark Tank,” but friendlier - like Flipper!) on partner cultivation and collaboration; strategic marketing and communication; learning, evaluation and measurement; or community outreach and engagement. Each “tank” featured a panel of technical advisors and subject matter experts (i.e., the "dolphins") who offered feedback to community “pitchers.” Participants appreciated the opportunity to troubleshoot specific problems, and get honest feedback from funders and advisors.

In the collective report out afterwards, three key takeaways emerged across the various tanks –

  1. Communication is key

Many participants found it difficult to condense their project goals and progress down to a six-minute pitch, and were reminded of the importance of being able to clearly and succinctly tell a story about why their work matters. Language choice makes a big difference, particularly when it comes to community engagement and the capacity to explain problems and solutions in an easily understandable way is crucial. Additionally, your pitch will vary depending on both the stakeholder audience you are trying to engage, and how you hope to involve them in your solution process.

  1. Community engagement and end-user design is foundational

Make sure to listen to and include the opinions of those with whom you are working, and strive to understand the central issues from their perspective. Talk to community members, take the time to build strong relationships, and remember that you should be designing solutions with them, not on their behalf.

  1. When it comes to data, more is not always better

It is easy to get lost in the excitement of amassing huge quantities of data, but it is important to remember that data sharing is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Look at the data you already have and assess what you can do with it before investing the time and resources to augment. Think about the desired outcomes, how you will measure and evaluate progress, and design your processes to collect the data necessary to achieve focused goals.

When not engaged in breakout sessions or tanks, participants also had time to engage in networking or technical assistance (TA), either through one-on-one “speed data-ing” with matched subject matter experts, or by signing up for small group TA. There were also unstructured networking options, including topical breakfast discussions.

AcademyHealth staff, Alison Rein and Amanda Brodt, led an engaged discussion about the CHP Program’s newly released Environmental Scan, which characterizes how 17 programs representing more than 400 local collaborations are structured and facilitated to advance community health. Many of the program offices interviewed for the scan were also present in Denver, including Trinity Health, ReThink Health, CACHI, and the Health Impact Project. Attendees affirmed the scan’s findings that in-person meetings and peer-to-peer exchange are key, and expressed the need to understand where and how their organizations could fit into the larger efforts, and avoid duplication and competition for resources.

Moving Forward

The meeting was also an opportunity for grass tops (i.e., funders and program office staff) to learn from grass roots (i.e., local projects), to help improve processes and planning. All In partners have been collaboratively developing resources to help inform the field and support the capacity building work of local projects. During various breakouts, staff shared progress to date and engaged meeting participants to crowd-source new ideas and provide input on possible improvements.

Among the ideas gleaned from attendees was the importance of failure as a learning tool and the need to overcome hesitance to talk about mistakes. Some suggested compiling “spectacular failures” into a page on the All In online platform, where communities could anonymously share lessons learned while “failing forward,” without fear of disappointing funders.

Additionally, participants offered suggestions for how to sustain and leverage the All In learning collaborative, including more technical assistance opportunities, interactive webinars, a curated resource library with tools, annual in-person convenings, and a strong social media presence. Enthusiasm and support for the network activities were strong, and participants left with new connections, fresh ideas, and the knowledge that in All In there is a whole network of peers that they can turn to for support and inspiration.

For more highlights, check out a summary of the meeting from All In staff and attendees on Twitter here!

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