My name is Maria Fell. I have been involved in several ways with Healthier Together. You may have seen me taking notes in meetings, helping make surveys, attending workgroups, organizing focus groups, or emailing you about events. This past year I have been working with the data consultant groups, Action Evaluation Collaborative and Ronik-Radlauer Group, providing evaluation and data collection support.
My background and passion is social work and I hold a Masters in Social Work from the University of Michigan. My studies prepared me for many aspects of this work and I have learned a great deal about how to support the work being done in each of the communities.
I have recently moved to Minnesota and this blog marks my last days with Healthier Together and a time to reflect on the journey.
New Places, New Faces
As I look back on my initial engagement with Healthier Together, I see that I had a huge learning curve. Not only was I learning more about the collective impact model approach in tackling issues such as diabetes, behavioral health, and family caregiving, I had also just moved to Florida so I was still learning the places and organizations being discussed in meetings. If someone used an acronym for a local organization, I most likely had no idea what it meant. This sense of newness and lack of familiarity helped me be aware of the newness of this project to residents. As we conducted focus groups, I was aware of the terms we were using and sought to ensure that everyone understood what was being said.
True Collective Impact
The name collective impact implies this sense of cohesion, working together to make true and lasting impact. I have learned that true collective impact from all systems and residents is difficult to attain. The biggest question I had throughout the work was, “How do we truly include residents in the decision-making and program planning?” I believe it was a lot of trial and error, like any new way of doing something. I believe Healthier Together has been learning how to take a step back and ask, “Are we truly engaging everyone?” In order to be successful in this, we needed to constantly go back to the foundation of this work—building trust and relationships. This step in the work is never completed; you can’t cross it off the To-Do list. It is very much a vital part of the whole process. The one-on-one interviews with stakeholders (those invested in the process) helped to ensure a true sense of inclusion and cohesion. People had questions about the process, there were elements that needed further explanation, and there were concerns that needed to be discussed. These healthy and necessary dialogues were a great way of hearing from all those engaged. The focus groups and community meetings have also been great tools in bringing out resident voices.
It has been powerful seeing Healthier Together grow in diversity, whether it be who is part of the steering-committee or what groups are engaged in the process. I have enjoyed speaking with people from churches because churches bring together a diverse group of people-diverse in race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, interests and hobbies. Although diverse, all the groups that have been a part of Healthier Together have 3 things in common: behavioral health, family caregiving, and diabetes. These issues cross all sectors and affect everyone in one way or another. This common ground has led to a diverse group of people involved and passionate about making change happen in their community.