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Housing Affordability

Alison McCarthyOur Social Innovators Breakfast Series summer focus, Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems Change, continued in June with a panel discussion on housing affordability.

We are grateful to our three panelists for representing a range of perspectives and experiences, and for sharing their expertise and lessons learned:

When asked about how involving people who are most impacted by housing affordability (or lack thereof) in their work has made a difference, panelists pointed to the phenomenon of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” All three panelists talked about understanding the gaps between what exists and what a community needs: One talked about shifting focus to a specific population what was otherwise not part of the work (seniors on fixed income at risk of losing housing); another about integrating social equity into developments; and the third panelist talked of engaging community members in the design process of an affordable housing building so it is a trauma-informed space that can best meet the needs of the people it intends to serve.

One key point made during the discussion was about the range of ways people can experience homelessness. “We really need to keep in mind this affordability crisis, often, is invisible” and can weigh heavily on those living paycheck-to-paycheck because of the rent burden, those who are living doubled-up with relatives or couch surfing, or those staying in domestic violence situations for fear of being homeless if they leave. “We really need to keep in mind all of these invisible people who are holding it together, but they’re doing it at a real cost to themselves and their kids.” Nodding heads around the room suggested the panelists’ words rang true for many audience members.

Panelists discussed some of the most pressing issues regarding the current landscape of housing affordability, including the impact of interconnected systems that go along with housing (access to and affordability of healthy food, transit, the built environment) as well as policies that can impede or alleviate finding and keeping safe, affordable, stable housing. All three panelists explained how the social determinants of health play into housing insecurity, and how addressing upstream factors is important if we want to move beyond band-aid solutions to the housing crisis.

The interconnected nature of systems can make an issue like housing affordability feel even more complex and difficult to address. However, as panelists reminded the audience, interconnectivity also means multiple points of access into the issue, and multiple opportunities to affect change. “I urge you to think about how you can enter this sphere,” one panelist said in closing, as another added, “We need to address those other systems that accompany homelessness.”

You can view a recording of the panel discussion here.

We will continue to explore the interconnectivity of systems with the rest of our Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems change series. These include:

• July 31: Colorado’s Economic Growth
• August 29: Addressing Food Insecurity

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Moving from Equality to Equity

Alison McCarthyIn May 2018, our Social Innovators Breakfast Series launched a special summer focus: Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems Change. Though we anticipate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) will be an important component for all events in the series, we decided to kick things off with a DEI-specific topic: Navigating the Unintended Consequences of moving from Equality to Equity.

We are grateful to our three panelists for representing a range of perspectives and experiences, and for sharing their expertise and lessons learned:

  • Heather Chikoore, Policy & Equity Specialist with the Colorado Education Initiative;
  • Tara Manthey, Vice President of Advocacy and Communications with the Colorado Children’s Campaign; and
  • Nancy Csuti, Vice President of Research, Evaluation & Strategic Learning with the Colorado Trust.

Panelists discussed both internal and external shifts driven by an organizational focus on equity. Internal work includes making structural changes such as hiring, performance management, and evaluation practices as well as staff training and education. External work includes dedicating time and resources to foster a genuine relationship with diverse partners, supporting grantees to advance equity, and working with marginalized populations to elevate their key concerns and progress.

“It’s been life-changing for me,” one of the panelists reflected when asked about personal growth on the journey to furthering equity, recognizing privilege, dismantling systems of oppression, etc. “I just wish I’d learned this years ago… the fact that I am White has made all the difference and that recognition has been pretty eye-opening.” In fact, one of the lessons panelists shared was the realization of how they may have unknowingly perpetuated inequities by hiring based on existing relationships by not asking candidates about their experience tackling inequities, thinking this work exists within the 9am-5pm window as opposed to a constant effort, unwittingly asking staff of color to do the emotional labor of educating White staff, etc.

Audience members also contributed to the dialogue by posing thoughtful questions to our panelists, illuminating their own struggles, lessons, and hopes for championing equity in Colorado. We hope this event prompted important reflections and provided concrete ideas for advancing equity – and we hope it is one of many ways funders, advocates, and other professionals can leverage each others’ knowledge and shared values to continue this important work.

Other events as part of our Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems Change series include:

• July 31: Colorado’s Economic Growth
• August 29: Addressing Food Insecurity

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – Moving Principles into Practice

Alison McCarthyWe’ve been busy this Spring! As promised, we want to be transparent in sharing our journey to incorporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) principles here at Spark. This blog post describes our DEI updates since May.

Tools for sharing and reflection

One of the early activities identified in our DEI plan was to develop a project checklist. The intent of this checklist is to ensure we consider DEI principles in all Spark projects. Not all the items on the list will apply to all projects. However, it reminds us of our values and probes us to ask questions like: “Could this element be included/considered? Why or why not?” It is meant to be a tool to help us think critically about the incorporation of DEI principles into our regular practice.

As we drafted the project checklist, we also recognized the importance of integrating DEI elements into the work before the project launch phase. We decided to develop a project proposal checklist so DEI can be integrated from the beginning of the project design process.

We adapted our checklists from work by Public Policy Associates and Equitable Evaluation. While we are still piloting them and anticipate they will be tweaked over time, we’d love to hear any thoughts or feedback you have on what we’ve come up with so far:

It’s also important to note that we understand that something as complex and crucial as DEI cannot be boiled down to a couple of checklists – we don’t see these tools as the end-all-be-all. Rather, we see them as a starting point, a way to prompt us to integrate these values into everyday practice.

DEI Awareness and Learning

In addition to our process tools, we’ve looked at other ways to elevate DEI within Spark.

As a team, we started regular DEI Discussions where we select an article, video, podcast, or other resources on a relevant DEI topic and get together to discuss it over coffee. Our first conversation was centered on a Denverite article on the gentrification of the Welton Corridor/Five Points. Since Spark is housed on Welton Street, we felt it was important to consider how we interact (or don’t) with our neighbors and the changes occurring in the neighborhood. We asked ourselves an important question: If Spark were located somewhere else, what, if anything, would change? The question spurred thoughtful reflection and rich discussion. Next month, we plan to focus on inclusion in the workplace, basing our discussion on this article from Psychology Today.

Additionally, Spark’s Social Innovators Breakfast Series launched a special summer focus: Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems Change. Though we anticipate DEI will be an important component for all events in the series, we decided to kick things off with a DEI-specific topic: Navigating the Unintended Consequences of moving from Equality to Equity. You can listen to the panel discussion on our YouTube channel. Keep an eye out for next blog post, which will be a reflection on this conversation and the lessons that emerged!

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Systems and Programs: Moving from Enemies to Friends

Too often, programs are framed as the enemy of systems change.

Over the past few years, there has been an increasing emphasis on the need for “systems change” to achieve large-scale social impact.

As someone deeply embedded in research and evaluation at the systems-level, I fundamentally believe that addressing complex problems requires system-level solutions. An increasing emphasis on systems – including a greater focus on multi-stakeholder collaboratives, discussions of leverage points, and the need to shift how organizations operate – gets me excited. I see the potential to do things like reform the justice system, shift to a more prevention-focused model of health and tackle big issues like climate change.

There is, however, one framing of how to address complex issues that dampens my excitement: systems versus programs. The discussion can become a battle between two opposing forces, including phrases like, “we don’t fund program work,” “we only focus on systems,” or “we need to move from a program focus to a systems focus.” Systems and programs are painted as victor and villain,  fundamentally at odds – and I believe this framing is not only incorrect but has the potential to hamper meaningful change.

Too often, programs are framed as the enemy of systems change.

I am in full agreement with the adage that we cannot program our way out of complex problems. Programs alone are rarely the solution. In my years as a researcher and evaluator I have learned time and again that focusing entirely on programs can prevent us from addressing structural inequities and root causes. Often, one of my first questions to an organization with a completely programmatic focus is, how does the program fit within your broader agenda to change the system?

That does not mean, however, that programs are fundamentally at odds with the system in which they are situated. It also does not mean that programs are not a critical component of addressing complex problems.

Consider a parable most of us have heard: A fisherman notices people are falling and drowning in a river; so, he goes upstream to prevent it from happening by building a bridge (a systems change). Great idea! But the problem is unlikely to be solved with construction alone. What if people don’t know how to use the bridge or do not see its value, won’t you have to educate them? Moreover, it is highly likely that no matter how beautiful the bridge, not all people will use it (maybe it is too far away), are you going to let those people who fall in drown?

Programs play a critical role in addressing complex health and social challenges. To lower teen pregnancy, we need to provide evidence-based sexuality education, alongside systems to increase access to contraception. Food banks and school meals programs are critical components of a well-functioning food system. In youth development, school-based mental health services are a key strategy to address issues such as trauma. For economic development, opportunities for meaningful employment need to be coupled with job training programs that set people up for success. The list goes on and on…

Programs contribute to sustainable systems-level change.

To me, what is needed is a balance between systems and programs: we must consider how programs fit within a systems change strategy.

In a recent study of 25 collective impact initiatives, changes to programs and services were identified as a critical component of achieving population-level outcomes.

I think it is time that we, as a field, pause and ask ourselves some tough questions: How can we make sure that we are appropriately delivering and scaling programs while also working to change key parts of the system? How can we best use programs to advance a systems-change strategy, for example, training community leaders to advance system reform? In what ways can programs be integrated to better address root causes? It is time to swap the pendulum approach for one that forces us to consider how programs and systems are related. With this shift in thinking, we might then begin to see that programs and system are not enemies, rather, they are friends – maybe even best ones.

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Addressing Health Disparities Linked to Climate Issues

Jacob BornsteinIn April, I had the pleasure of facilitating the Alliance of Nurses for Health Environments (ANHE) two-day strategic planning retreat. The goal was to chart a path forward that incorporated equity into their work, and we conducted interviews with members of the nursing community who were familiar with ANHE to understand how ANHE could best do this work. I walked away so impressed with the organization and the individual participants. They are all doing such amazing work. In particular, I was struck by the role nurses and other health professionals play in addressing health disparities related to climate issues and asked that ANHE author a blog for Spark to share with our network.

Jacob Bornstein, MS
Director of Consulting

By Monica Harmon, MSN, MPH, RN1; Anabell Castro Thompson, MSN, APRN, ANP-C, FAAN2; Lillian Tom-Orme, PhD, MSPH, RN, FAAN3; and Ruth McDermott-Levy, PhD, MPH, MSN, RN4

Climate changes health. The influence of climate change on health affects nursing practice, as nurses are observing the health impacts upon the people, families, and communities in their care. The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) is addressing the impact of climate change on the health of Americans by developing tools to educate and prepare nurses to respond and advocate for climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience strategies. ANHE nurses are also researching climate-health impacts and nursing preparation related to climate change.

In March 2018, leaders within ANHE, as well as nurse leaders representing National Black Nurses Association, National League for Nursing, National Association of Hispanic Nurses, and the National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association, came together in Oracle, AZ to discuss the organization’s priorities with a focus on the specific needs of underrepresented nurses in the climate and health discussion. This meeting was particularly important because, although climate change is affecting the health of everyone, socially marginalized pockets of Black, Latino, and Native American populations have additional vulnerabilities related to the health impacts of climate change.

In the United States, people with higher poverty rates have fewer choices when it comes to housing, access to health care, employment, transportation, and food. People living in poverty also are less likely to have additional resources to mitigate effects of climate change and rebuild or relocate as needed after climate problems. Race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status are shown to be determinants of health compounding public health promotion and disease prevention activities. Due to the legacy of colonialism and structural racism, Black, Latino, and Native Americans are most frequently represented as marginalized groups living in poverty. Poverty influences a group’s ability to respond to the impacts of extreme weather events seen during climate change. During Hurricane Katrina, we saw residents of New Orleans’ 9th Ward, a low-income community, unable to evacuate as a result of limited resources. Many in the community did not have transportation to get away from the event, and they were at the epicenter of the disaster.

For Native American communities, the disruption of communities as a result of the changing climate leads to loss of culture, language, access to food sources, and health effects. Many villages in Alaska, for example, rely on subsistence food sources and with ice melts, their food from the sea is moved further out and not easily obtained. Village life disintegrates as communities are relocated, families might split up, some move to urban areas to find stability but lose access to cultural ties, language use, and support systems. Generally, Native Americans who move from rural reservation or communities find it difficult to access health care services in their new community.

These phenomena mean that marginalized populations are often disproportionally impacted by weather extremes from climate change such as flooding, extreme heat, and wildfires. Additionally, such populations have higher rates of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and asthma and COPD. For example, in 2006 severe flooding in El Paso Texas led to $200 million in damages to homes and businesses. Hispanic identity was most significant health risk after taking everything else into account. Language ability is another important factor that nurses must consider when addressing climate risk in underrepresented communities. Often the plan for what to do when a crisis happens is not provided in the language of the community most at risk or in a culturally appropriate manner. Those who are most vulnerable to climate impacts are left in a situation where they cannot move forward, get away, or have resiliency. This leads to greater health impacts including psychological problems such as PTSD following climate change events.

It is critically important that Black, Latino, and Native American nurses are included in the discussion and solutions to address climate change and health. Their perspectives inform best practices to address the unique needs of each community. ANHE will continue to make the inclusion of nurses who work in and identify with marginalized communities a priority in their work to address climate change and health in nursing research, education, advocacy, and practice.

1Chapter President, National Black Nurses Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Ph.D. candidate student at Villanova University
2President, National Association of Hispanic Nurses; Senior Vice President of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Equality Health
3Former President, National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association; Research Assistant Professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Adjunct Assistant Professor and Diversity Coordinator for the College of Nursing, University of Utah
4AHNE Education Workgroup co-chair; Associate Professor & Director, Center for Global and Public Health, M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, Villanova University