To do this effectively, leaders must apply the same rigor to community partnerships as other types of affiliation agreements. This includes identifying champions, setting expectations around commitment of resources, and defining metrics to track and measure partnerships success.
Measuring progress is the most critical and often the most challenging, so drawing on interviews with participants in the first cohort of the BUILD Health Challenge and with other member institutions, we identified three tips for getting it right.
1. Define key terms upfront
A common challenge when working across organizations is managing cultural differences. Each stakeholder group—whether that's a hospital, public health department, or community-based organization—has a very distinct culture, language, and set of processes for managing projects, data, money, and communication. That will necessitate give and take.
Start by coming to a common understanding of basic terms. "Community" may seem like a straightforward term on the surface, but there are likely multiple concepts even within a single institution (e.g., metro region, adjacent neighborhoods, specific zip codes). Clarity in definitions ensures that measures can be calculated in a way that everyone can understand.
2. Balance accessibility with meaningfulness of data.
Once terms are defined, leaders must consider the accessibility of data and the time necessary to properly carry out collection and reporting. Avoid getting bogged down waiting for perfect information and instead aim for "good enough." There are no perfect metrics or perfect methods for isolating impact in interventions with multiple partners and confounding factors.
While hospitals have robust clinical data, other partners have ready access to other helpful data points such as information on a patient's home environment. Once stakeholders involved in the partnership are identified, discuss available data sets to determine what information is both meaningful and simple to draw from.
3. Include a mix of process and outcome metrics.
Demonstrating outcomes can be slow given the pace of work and long-tail of certain interventions, so ensure metrics provide helpful guideposts for progress in the interim. For example, changes in obesity prevalence may take years to observe, so to earn "credit" for the work building toward that goal, consider measuring things like the number of new users on a walking path or the percentage of individuals successfully completing a weight loss or nutritional counseling program.
Additionally, ensure that metrics that capture both community conditions, such as whether housing is affordable and healthy food options are available; as well as institutional effort, such as dollars spent and staff hired. Meaningful data facilitates ROI calculations, transparency, and accountability.