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Columns: Worksite Health Promotion

The Role of a Trusted Convener in Building Corporate Engagement in Community Health Initiatives

Pronk, Nico P. Ph.D., FACSM, FAWHP

Author Information
doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000358
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“Change moves at the speed of trust.”

─Gary Gunderson

INTRODUCTION

Improving the health of large populations is increasingly being recognized as a shared responsibility. No single entity, organization, or sector in the community has complete ownership, accountability, or capacity to improve population health and well-being by themselves. Rather, it requires broad stakeholder engagement, multisector participation, and the creation of multiple social forces to generate meaningful progress toward successful outcomes.

From a business perspective, health of the population is relevant to the health of employees and their families and the health of employees is related to workplace performance and productivity as well as health care expenditures. As a result, health and well-being is a significant business interest. Furthermore, the health, well-being, and vitality of the community in which they reside impacts directly on the well-being of employees as well as the company itself. Based on these relationships, many companies are increasingly interested in the roles they may play in addressing the overall health and well-being of their employees and the communities in which their business operates. However, they are less clear about how to affect, influence, or impact on the factors that may be causally related to community’s overall well-being. For this to occur in a coordinated and effective manner, companies are recognizing the important role a convener of such efforts plays.

WHAT IS MEANT BY A CONVENER?

A convener, or sometimes referred to as an integrator, is a person, company, or entity that commands mutual respect, has established a substantial level of trust, and is able to bring stakeholders from multiple sectors together by creating shared stakeholder values.

These factors are required for successful integration of services and convening of a broad group of stakeholders across the community. Conveners are paramount to organizing meetings, coordinating efforts, sharing data, bridging gaps, finding common ground, communicating perspectives, facilitating dialogue, managing disputes, and sustaining engagement. In effect, they create a shared vision based on shared values and long-term commitment (1–3).

A convener, or sometimes referred to as an integrator, is a person, company, or entity that commands mutual respect, has established a substantial level of trust, and is able to bring stakeholders from multiple sectors together by creating shared stakeholder values.

Convener Role

The role a convener plays in business-community health improvement efforts has recently been discussed as a result of insights gathered from a large dialogue session with corporate, nongovernmental, federal, and academic leaders (1). Companies decide to invest in community health improvement efforts based on various inputs; however, they basically stem from three sources: 1) regulatory or legal reasons (e.g., hospitals engaging in community health efforts as part of the community mandate as outlined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), 2) financial or corporate priorities (e.g., because a company wants its brand to be recognized as a strong community advocate), or 3) moral or ethical considerations (e.g., because a corporation’s board of directors considers community connections are “the right thing to do”) (4). In addition, they need to have sufficient information to overcome barriers or concerns related to measurement challenges, reasons why action is needed, approaches to taking action, and insights regarding who else is involved. Conveners support efforts to address all of these issues by playing a critical role in creating shared values among the stakeholders, building a shared vision of what the initiative’s success will look like, and ensuring that the stakeholders will commit for a duration sufficient to ensure positive impact.

Convener Functions

To fulfill its role, a trusted and respected convener provides a variety of functions to the initiative. These functions have been outlined previously (5) and discussed in the context of addressing obesity prevention and treatment (2). They include the following:

  • Serve as a trusted and accountable leader.
  • Engage partners from multiple sectors.
  • Facilitate agreement among multisector stakeholders on shared goals and metrics.
  • Assess community resources, including workforce capabilities, and work with partners to make appropriate adjustments.
  • Work at the systems level to make policy and practice changes in public and private sectors.
  • Convey what works at the policy/systems practice levels to reach sufficient scale.
  • Sustain change by impacting policies and practices in collaboration with institutions and community partners at the local, community, and state levels.
  • Pursue financial sustainability including opportunities to use multiple funding streams.
  • Gather, analyze, monitor, integrate, learn, and share data at the individual and population levels.
  • Identify and connect with system navigators who help individuals coordinate, access, and manage multiple services and supports.
  • Develop a system of ongoing and intentional communication with affected sectors, systems, and communities.

As such, conveners are critical to successful communications among the multiple organizations and companies working collaboratively toward their shared goals. They also are important in influencing potential policy changes, the coordination and sharing of data and reports, the continuous work of ensuring sustained funding, and establishing lines of communication including those internal to the initiative as well as those with the media.

Convener Attributes

What are the desired attributes important to being perceived as a credible convener? Based on a series of interviews with corporate and community leaders, several important characteristics and traits of an effective and credible convener were identified (3). Specifically, they include the following:

  • Being a leader or leading an organization in the community.
  • Being a champion for the mission or the goal of the effort.
  • Being able to bring tools and resources to the effort.
  • Being considered a leader in health and well-being.
  • The ability to consider a broad perspective.
  • The ability to provide thought leadership.
  • The ability to focus on high impact.
  • The ability to create high levels of trust.
  • Willing to spotlight others (no need to be in the spotlight themselves).
  • Being authentic.

The requisite strength, expertise, trust, respect, behavior, and ability to mobilize resources make the convener a force for efficiency and effectiveness and a cornerstone part of a well-functioning collaborative.

The requisite strength, expertise, trust, respect, behavior, and ability to mobilize resources make the convener a force for efficiency and effectiveness and a cornerstone part of a well-functioning collaborative.

WHO CAN BE A CONVENER?

What kind of organizations can serve as a convener? Given the roles, functions, and attributes outlined previously, candidate organizations include nonprofit organizations, public trusts, public health entities, not-for-profit health systems, universities, or coalitions.

An example of a convener role is the one assumed by HealthPartners, an integrated not-for-profit member-governed health systems in the upper Midwest, related to the PowerUp program in the St. Croix Valley in Minnesota and Wisconsin (6). HealthPartners has as its mission to: “Improve health and well-being in partnership with our patients, members, and community.” In its role as convener, HealthPartners brought together a large coalition of more than 130 stakeholders from 13 different sectors to address childhood obesity in the region. Businesses, schools, health care providers, civic leaders, the faith community, public health organizations, and local leaders worked together to address the underlying drivers of obesity among children. Awareness building via a robust communication strategy (see: www.powerup4kids.org), an evaluation framework, ongoing community dialogue, and financial support in the form of a 10-year commitment sets the context for a long-term community initiative designed to improve the health and well-being of children and the larger community.

CONCLUSIONS

To facilitate a productive collaboration among many community stakeholders including employers, a convener organization plays a critical role. For any convener to be successful, they should exhibit certain functions and display specific attributes that have been outlined in this paper. Above all, a convener must be able to bring stakeholders together and, by leveraging its competencies, build a level of credibility that will allow for the facilitation of dialogue, creation of high-impact activities, and achievement of success. Such changes in community health and well-being will occur according to a timeline that reflects a pace consistent with the level of trust among the collaborating parties — giving credence to Gary Gunderson’s quote that change moves at the speed of trust.

References

1. Pronk NP, Baase C, Noyce J, Stevens DE. Corporate America and community health: exploring the business case for investment. J Occup Environ Med. 2015;57(5):493–500.
2. Dietz WH, Solomon LS, Pronk N, et al. An integrated framework for the prevention and treatment of obesity and its related chronic diseases. Health Aff (Millwood). 2015;34(9):1456–63.
3. Pronk NP, Baase C, May J, Terry P, Moseley K. Exploration into the business priorities related to corporate engagement in community health improvement partnerships. J Occup Environ Med. 2017;59(11):1041–6.
4. Miller P, Haslam C. Why employers spend money on employee health: interviews with occupational health and safety professionals from British industry. Saf Sci. 2009;47(2):163–9.
5. Nemours. Integrator role and functions in population health improvement initiatives. [cited 2017 August 10]. Available from: http://www.improvingpopulationhealth.org/Integrator%20role%20and%20functions_FINAL.pdf.
6. IOM (Institute of Medicine). Cross-Sector Responses to Obesity: Models for Change. Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): The National Academies Press; 2015. 156 p.
© 2018 American College of Sports Medicine.