Well-Ahead Communities

Healthy Communities in Louisiana

A Well-Ahead community is one that has created an environment that makes it easy for residents to live a healthy lifestyle. Leaders in a Well-Ahead community work together to create conditions that allow for easy access to things like safe neighborhoods, a quality education, good jobs, healthy foods and healthcare resources.

Did you know your zip code directly impacts your health?

Growing evidence shows that in the U.S., the greatest predictor of one’s life expectancy might be your zip code—the community in which you live, work, learn, pray and play. Take a look at this map of New Orleans, Louisiana to see how life expectancy can vary by up 20 years in neighborhoods right next to each other!

Where you live directly impacts your health, with the lowest life expectancy being in communities with lowest levels of income and education. These are also predominantly minority neighborhoods where the links between race, poverty and health have been reinforced for decades. These communities often lack access to resources that create the opportunity to live well.

You can take the lead to build a Well-Ahead community!

If community leaders, residents and organizations work together, you can create a culture of health where everyone has access to the resources that make living well possible. Building a culture of health means creating a community where all individuals have an equal opportunity to live the healthiest life they can—despite ethnic, geographic, racial, socioeconomic or physical circumstances.

Since health is about much more than not being sick, it’s important to consider the complex factors contributing to the overall wellbeing of the residents in your community. To implement effective health interventions, establish a diverse representation of community residents and organizations to partner together and intentionally plan and implement evidence-based practices. These multi-sectoral partnerships expand resources, knowledge, expertise and support available to address key factors that influence health.

And Well-Ahead is here to help you address poor health outcomes to build a healthy community! You can get started by completing this form to be connected to a Healthy Community Coach.

Well-Ahead Communities Roadmap

Using the Well-Ahead Communities Roadmap, any community can work together to make healthy living possible for their residents.

Get started by building a coordinated network of community members and community organizations representing diverse sectors to mobilize action for building your Well-Ahead community. We call these networks healthy community coalitions.

Healthy community coalitions enable community members to work together in a way that is supported by evidence and best practices to create policy, systems and environmental changes that reduce barriers to health and ensure all residents have an opportunity to thrive.

The Roadmap to Well-Ahead Communities is not one-size-fits all. It is designed to allow any community to pick it up and customize the process to meet their unique needs. The most important part of the roadmap is for communities to be met with support where they are in the process of improving health outcomes. The roadmap is designed to build partner organizations’ and community members’ readiness and capacity to execute this work. It builds sustainability in the partnership and works in the best interest of the community.

The roadmap works with communities on:

  • Multi-sectoral coalition development
  • Engaging elected officials, stakeholders and the community
  • Assessing their needs and resources
  • Developing strategic plans for effective work
  • Utilizing available data for coalition priorities for policy, system and environmental changes
  • Selecting evidence-based initiatives to address coalition priorities
  • Connecting to resources for implementation of healthy community activities
  • Evaluating coalition activities and partnerships
  • Creating a sustainability plan for communities

Step 1: Build a Team

Establishing an organizational structure for multi-sector partnership development lays the foundation for sustainable and innovative solutions to meet the community’s needs to improve health outcomes. It is important to identify lead organizations in the community that want to support this work, as well as key stakeholders that can move the needle forward. Building a team allows for strong partnerships to lead the way and ensure the coalition and community work stays aligned with the goals and objectives that will be determined.

To build your team, focus on the following:

  • Identify your lead organizations
  • Choose an organizational structure
  • Form a Leadership Committee
  • Engage influencers
  • Establish a Parish or Mayor’s Wellness Council
  • Engage community members to expand to a Community Coalition

Utilize the resources below to gain a deeper understanding of effective team building.

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Step 2: Assess Needs and Resources

Building an effective coalition begins by assessing community needs to improve health outcomes, lower chronic disease and improve the quality of life for all residents. Assessing your community’s strengths, weaknesses, resources and needs provide the coalition with data and input to make informed decisions about priorities. Knowing where your community stands will assist in planning the desired outcomes. 

Community Data

Data for your community can be found in numerous resources. Below are examples of where data can be obtained as well as data collection strategies. 

  • Local non-profit hospitals’ Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA) or Implementation Plans (IP)
  • Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) County Health Rankings (CHR)
  • Asset Mapping or Resource Inventory
  • Louisiana State Health Assessment (SHA) or Improvement Plan (SHIP)
  • Community Forum
  • America’s Health Rankings
  • Louisiana Health Report Card

Felt Needs

While assessing your community’s needs and resources, it is important to ensure community members feel heard. Data plays a major role in identifying the health needs of the community; however, felt needs are just as important. Felt needs are what the community members see and feel are the main priorities. This work can only be successful by aligning the data with the felt needs of the community.

Community Resources

In addition to identifying community needs, identifying community resources is also important. Resources within the community have a direct impact on health outcomes. It is imperative that community members have access to quality resources within their community. A community member should not have to travel outside of their community for quality healthcare, transportation, or services. Assessing the community needs will help them see what resources exist within their community and what resources are still needed.

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Step 3: Determine Priority Areas

Determining priority areas includes analyzing the gathered data from multiple community, regional, state and national resources for the purpose of choosing three to five areas to focus partnership efforts. While determining where efforts should be focused, take into consideration the community’s social determinants of health, health equity and the incorporation of the residents’ felt needs. It is important to align the priority areas with those of key stakeholders and partners in the community. Bringing those partners to the table will provide knowledge of specific resources to utilize, barriers to overcome and in turn you will receive buy-in from those leaders.

Here are a few examples of priority areas:

  • Healthy Eating
  • Childhood Obesity
  • Behavioral and Mental Health
  • Homelessness
  • Tobacco Prevention and Cessation

Social Determinants of Health

The CDC defines social determinants of health as the “conditions in the places where people live, learn, work and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.”  Below are a few examples of social determinates of health.

  • Access to social and economic opportunities
  • Access to affordable housing and healthy food
  • Access to quality healthcare
  • The resources and support available in our neighborhoods and communities
  • The safety of our neighborhoods
  • The quality of our education
  • The cleanliness of our water, food and air

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Step 4: Form Focus Groups

Focus groups consist of coalition members and community leaders who are collaboratively working to implement specific evidence-based initiatives focused within the priority areas to improve health outcomes. Passionate champions or organizations are identified to lead each focus group.

Leaders can be recruited from an organization who has ongoing efforts in this area or can be a community champion who is passionate about a specific area and is willing to commit time and energy to the group. Coordinating with existing work often empowers these efforts along with broadening the coalition’s reach. Leaders oversee the direction of projects, provide guidance to project leaders and ensure the group’s annual action plan aligns with the strategic plan of the coalition.

To form a focus group, here are the key steps to include:

  • Identify at least one champion to lead each group
  • Encourage key organizations to join a focus group
  • Identify roles and responsibilities for leaders and members
  • Roll existing coalition members into groups of their choice
  • Ensure community members are participating in groups

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Step 5: Develop a Strategic Plan

Strategic planning is crucial in building healthy communities. Intentional strategic planning can help the coalition reach its priority goals and objectives by moving from assessment to action.

Multi-Year Strategic Plan

A strategic plan is used to evaluate long term goals and the reach the coalition’s initiatives have in the community. These plans are overarching, three- to five-year plans.

To create an effective long term strategic plan, you need:

  • Determined priority areas
  • Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) objectives
  • Vision for each focus group
  • Focus group leaders
  • Impact tracker for each year

Annual Action Plan

The annual action plan allows focus groups to plan specific initiatives to reach the goals for the strategic plan. Annual action planning allows the coalition and focus groups to evaluate on an annual basis and determine what projects they want to initiate in the community. Strategic planning will keep the coalition accountable and successful.

To create an effective annual action plan, you need:

  • Policy, Systems and Environmental change strategies
  • Objective leads
  • SMART project objectives
  • Action items
  • Person(s) responsible
  • Progress notes
  • Evaluation method for each year

For more detailed information, please review the key definitions and resources.

  • Key Definitions

    Policy, Systems, and Environmental (PSE) changes modify the environment to make healthy choices practical and available to all community members. By changing laws and shaping physical landscapes, a big impact can be made with little time and resources. By changing policies, systems or environments, communities can help tackle health issues like obesity, diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases.

    • Policy change interventions create or amend laws, ordinances, resolutions, mandates regulations or rules. Governmental bodies (federal, state, local levels), school districts, healthcare organizations and worksites all make policy changes.
    • Systems change interventions impact all elements of an organization, institution or system. It would result in new activities reaching large proportions of people the organization serves. Often systems change focuses on changing infrastructure within a school, park, worksite or health setting. Systems and policy change often work hand-in-hand.
    • Environmental change interventions involve physical or material changes to the economic, social or physical environment. It can be as simple as installing bicycle signage on established bike routes, or as complex as sidewalk or bike lane installation and pedestrian friendly intersections.

    SMART objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. To measure success, this method of writing objectives allows the focus group to identify exactly what will be done for their objective. It is important to have measurable objectives to show progress through the years in regards to health indicators that are being targeted through the healthy community coalition.

    • Specific: What is the specific task? Objective clearly states what will be done and who will do it.
    • Measurable: What are the standards or parameters? Objective includes how the action will be measured. Measuring your objectives helps you determine if you are making progress. It keeps you on track and on schedule.
    • Achievable: Is the task feasible? Objective should be realistic given the realities faced in the community. Setting reasonable objectives helps set the project up for success.
    • Realistic: Are sufficient resources available? A realistic objective should fit the purpose of the grant, the culture and structure of the community, and address the vision of the project.
    • Time-bound: What are the start and end dates? Every objective has a specific timeline for completion.
  • Resources

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Step 6: Take Action

At the heart of any successful healthy community movement is implementing evidence-based practices utilizing the data collected. Engaging passionate and skilled champions, community members, and prominent leaders is essential to move focus group efforts to success. Community members and organizations working together with a shared vision and commitment to improve the health of their community yields significantly more impactful results than working in silos. Aligning with local organizations’ efforts will enhance the coalition’s efforts. Community members and organizations who are directly impacted by the project objectives will provide sustainability and commitment.

Implementing Action Plans

To get the focus group projects engaged in the community:

  • Implement and carry out action plan steps
  • Document the process and assign roles
  • Evaluate the process along the way
  • Schedule regular meetings to continue moving the project steps forward
  • Continue to recruit others to join the project

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Step 7: Evaluate Actions

Evaluation is a tool for measuring a coalition’s impact and provides information on where to make improvements. Evaluation is vital to ensuring goals and objectives are achieved with results that create sustainability by linking investments to improvements in health outcomes.

Evaluating and measuring progress helps to ensure all partners are working toward common goals and are on track to meeting the set objectives. Measures for evaluation should be incorporated into each focus group’s annual action plan for collecting and analyzing data to measure accomplishments of short and long term goals, making it an integral component for success.

Data Collection Methods

These data collection methods and measurement tools can be utilized for yearly evaluations:

  • Surveys or interviews
  • Assessment community forums
  • Testimonials
  • Success stories
  • Data on number of activities, events, partners, participants

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Step 8: Sustain Momentum

Sustainability focuses on creating a lasting impact by creating and building momentum to maintain community changes that continuously improve health outcomes and reduce barriers to good health for all residents. Planning for sustainability starts in the early building phase and progressively strengthens as the coalition moves forward. Key factors to sustainability include focusing on community ownership, engaging elected officials, having a solid foundation for an organizational structure, obtaining funding opportunities and aligning partner organizations’ strategies. Sustainability planning increases long-term strategies for PSE changes making it easier for residents to make healthier choices.

Sustainability Approaches

Building sustainability will look different to each coalition. According to the CDC’s Sustainability Guide for Healthy Communities, there are core approaches and complimentary approaches to establishing sustainability for success.

  • Core Approaches
  • Coalitions and Partnerships
  • Policy for Sustainable Change in Systems and Environments
  • Complimentary Approaches
  • Establishing a Community Home
  • Building Coalition Member’s Skills
  • Social Marketing
  • Communication Strategies

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