Advocacy organizations have made great strides in assembling residents to address health policy issues with state and local decision makers, but limited resources and other constraints often require them to focus on the issue or crisis of the moment.

The Community Voices for Health approach is focused on creating infrastructure that enables sustainable, relationship-centered systems of communication between policymakers and community residents to ensure that health policy decisions are driven by community goals and needs.

This section provides resources for sharing information and building communication systems, plus examples of sustainable community engagement efforts.

Sharing Information and Building Communication Systems

Once community priorities surface through community engagement and community-engaged research efforts, the next step for advocacy organizations is to collaborate with state and local officials (among other key decision makers) to identify and support evidence-based solutions.

As part of Community Voices for Health, Altarum created a suite of resources to guide effective communication with policymakers. The approach is grounded in proven strategies for effective communication, including building relationships, planning events, identifying opportunities to engage in the policymaking process, and crafting a compelling argument to advocate for a position. Advocacy groups can use these strategies independently or together, depending on specific context and goals. Altarum’s resources include state-specific policy scans, custom policy explainers, and glossaries of important terms, all of which can be used as tools to support communication strategies. Find examples of resources to guide effective communication with policymakers:

After the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many others reignited the Black Lives Matter movement, and after the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted stark racial inequities, national dialogue on systemic racism exploded, generating unprecedented momentum toward race-conscious policy change. Still, advocates, community organizers, and others report difficulty in communicating with a primarily white body of policymakers about health equity and race in a way that is productive, given many white policymakers’ discomfort with discussing these issues. “How to Talk with White Policymakers about Health Equity and Race” was created to translate the valuable information in lengthier reports into an easily digestible format so that groups with limited time and resources can learn to effectively communicate with white policymakers about health equity and race.

Sharing a personal story is one of the most effective ways to influence decision makers and shape public policy. Collecting stories to bring about social change is called “storybanking.” Stories can be used to raise awareness of an issue, reduce support for potentially harmful policies, and/or make the case for a desired policy change. Stories matter because they:

  • help decision makers understand the impact of a policy on people’s daily lives
  • depoliticize issues by drawing attention to the people the policy has or will affect
  • create an emotional response that decision makers will remember and that may motivate them to act
  • open the door for dialogue about a particular issue

The Community Voices for Health Georgia team leveraged partnerships with the Georgia Community Health Worker Advocacy Coalition and other groups to provide Community Health Workers (CHWs) with resources to mobilize marginalized communities around policy issues. CHWs are members of the community who work either for pay or as volunteers in association with the local health-care system in urban and rural environments. They often share the lived experience of the communities they serve. For CHWs in Georgia, the partners created a workshop titled “Storytelling and Testimony: Being an Ambassador in Your Community” as a tool for grasping the power of storytelling in inspiring policy change.

 Examples of Sustainable Community Engagement Efforts

The following examples of systemic efforts to engage community residents in policy making act as frameworks for innovating and planning within healthy communities:

Formalize engagement in government decision-making

Health in All Policies is a nationally implemented approach for promoting health, wellness, equity, and sustainability. The framework is grounded in holistic understanding of the ways that social, economic, and other policies contribute to individual and community health.

In decision-making processes, local governments adopting the approach consider each policy’s health impact, as well as its fiscal, environmental, and other impacts, equally. Health-related agencies and departments  sync their shared goals and incorporate feedback from residents, community-based organizations, and experts into decision-making to make it responsive to local needs. Learn more about the Health in All Policies approach and the Health Lens Analysis Tool.

Build coalitions around intersecting goals and interests

King County in Washington State provides a great example of the power of multisector collaboration in advancing shared goals for equitable health and well-being. A new accountable community for health (ACH) effort for the county—part of a statewide Medicaid reform—quickly recognized the broader ecosystem of individuals and organizations contributing to community health. That recognition led to the development of a comprehensive regional strategy for equitable health and well-being.

Informed by public dialogues and structured planning to consider resource allocations to address pressing needs, a sustained initiative called You Belong Here is dedicated to forging connections among residents and leaders in community, government, philanthropy, business, and other areas. To learn more about the coalition-building process, explore ReThink Health’s Negotiating a Well-Being Portfolio, a planning exercise that was used in the development of King County’s coalition.

Provide structure to support and align grassroots efforts

The Empowerment Congress (Los Angeles, CA) was formed in the wake of the civil unrest following the Rodney King verdict in 1992. It formally incorporated budding community improvement conversations and efforts that addressed the needs of primarily black residents in Los Angeles. Founded in partnership with City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Empowerment Congress organizes residents through citywide neighborhood development councils comprising block clubs, faith-based organizations, businesses, residents, and commercial-property owners. It runs the Leadership Institute, which is dedicated to improving community and public-policy outcomes. 

Partner with policymakers to strengthen community engagement

Portsmouth Listens (Portsmouth, NH), a model of deliberation, provides facilitated study circles in which residents can ponder solutions to local issues. City officials help to frame the issues by steering committees and offering background presentations for dialogue groups. In some cases, city decision makers also participate in the study circles. Portsmouth Listens trains neutral facilitators and develops study guides for leading the deliberation.