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Keeping It Real

How are you doing right now? Really, how are you doing? More often than not these days, that question is answered with a “hanging in there” or “I’m doing just okay” kind of tone.  We are barely crawling out of a rough two years with our communities experiencing multiple dramatic new realities connected to the COVID pandemic, wildfire smoke, and climate change. And you –our Public Health and nonprofit clients—have been on the front lines, working tirelessly.

In this blog post, we discuss emerging public health issues and how we’re assisting our clients with developing updated strategic plans that reflect their new working environments and shifting priorities. We also speak about our approach to strategic planning as a process that can tap collective wisdom and relationships (see our blog posts on Strategic Planning in a Rapidly Changing Environment).  Finally, we share our reasons for encouraging a return to in-person stakeholder engagement.

At the start of the pandemic, many of our clients had to put their strategic planning efforts on hold for their COVID response and recovery efforts.  As we have recently reconnected with health departments to reflect on and update their strategic plans, we hear our colleagues talking about health issues that are becoming more prevalent with the challenging social, emotional, and environmental realities in our communities. Our communities are experiencing more anxiety (especially among youth), domestic abuse and child maltreatment, food insecurity, opioid use, and lack of housing connected to wildfires and our aging population.

In response to the emerging community health issues, we’ve developed some new workshop methods to use data to assess what needs to be updated. In some cases, doing a complete Environmental Scan (see our blog on this method) isn’t feasible in the context of a strategic plan update. So instead, we have incorporated a Force Field Analysis into our one-day stakeholder workshops as part of making sense of the data that is available to our clients. This also gives our colleagues the opportunity to hear from folks representing the diversity of the community what they see as the most pressing needs and how they interpret the data available to us, given that some, if not most of that data is outdated.

We’ve found that organizations are hungry for connection, and we are acutely aware of the need for trauma-informed approaches to working with our clients. Relationship building has always been at the heart of our strategic planning processes. By using participatory and cooperative approaches to planning (check out one example of this in our Dance of Consensus: A Demo), we hope to create and strengthen relationships to build a positive organizational culture, which is the backbone of a healthy and trauma-informed workplace.

Considering the need to support relationships within public health and nonprofit organizations, we are now encouraging a return to in-person workshops. Several organizations began their inquiry into working with us wondering if we should conduct our planning sessions virtually. This is always an option and we’ve developed some effective virtual engagement methods. However, over the last six months, even with the uncertainty of new COVID variants, the need and desire for more in-person collaboration has prompted our clients to reconvene their stakeholders in person, with precautions, to revisit their priorities to update their long-term plans. For example, for a workshop we recently conducted to develop a strategic plan around aging and disability collaborative efforts, we asked that participants test for COVID prior to attendance, and our client was able to supply tests in advance of the workshop for those who needed them, and masks were available for those who wanted them.

Here’s why we are now encouraging engaging stakeholders in-person:

  • We have noticed that people are just as passionate and committed as ever to improving the quality of life in their community, and they are grateful to get out of silos that have gotten even more isolated with people working at home or hybrid.
  • Collective action works so much better when people have physical connections. Workshops that employ a lot of interaction and facilitated conversations significantly deepen those connections.
  • When more of our senses are involved, we make better collective decisions. In-person collaboration allows exchange of ideas and methods like the sticky wall that engage our brains to hold a more strategic view of what needs to be done.
  • We’ve seen virtual platforms work remarkably well when Zoom is paired with secondary apps such as Mural or Miro. However, for some, the added complexity creates more tech anxiety for participants and many people (tech savvy or not) are reporting significant burnout from so many Zoom meetings, no matter how creatively we use those tools.
[For more information on trauma-informed public health systems, see Implementing a Trauma-Informed Public Health System in San Francisco, California.]