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Metrics to Promote RWJF’s Culture of Health
August 7, 2014

(Eliza Smith is the Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511bd210d970cWhat does being healthy mean to you? Does it mean not being sick, or does it mean you’re thriving? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, America’s leading health and health care-focused philanthropy is investigating how to promote a culture of health nationwide.  In its most recent episode of the Foundation’s Pioneering Ideas podcast, Alonzo Plough, Vice President of Research-Evaluation-Learning and Chief Science Officer at RWJF, discusses the metrics he and his team are developing to measure health on the national, community, and individual levels.

As Alonzo explains in the podcast segment, finding metrics to study and ultimately change America’s culture of health is a huge challenge. “Culture is about the deepest thing one can change in society,” he says: analyzing culture, which is inherently diverse, is a complex undertaking. But Alonzo and his team were undaunted.

He wants to shift the understanding of “being healthy” from the absence of illness to something much more holistic and positive. Being healthy is, of course, not being sick, but it’s so much more: it’s being in shape, eating well, improving family dynamics, and engaging in your community.

Plough and his team are developing thirty or forty measures, which were lumped into various “buckets,” the first being, “Valuing Health and Social Cohesion.” He wants to shift the understanding of “being healthy” from the absence of illness to something much more holistic and positive. Being healthy is, of course, not being sick, but it’s so much more: it’s being in shape, eating well, improving family dynamics, and engaging in your community. That’s where the social cohesion aspect of this measure comes in: when communities work together to promote a culture of health, they thrive. By standardizing an understanding of being healthy, from the individual to the neighborhood to the state and national level, a greater percentage of the population has the opportunity to thrive.

The second “bucket” focuses on cross-sectional partnerships to improve health. Plough wanted to look at how communities were combining their assets—schools, hospitals, libraries, etc.—to thrive. For example, schools and health care centers can work together to organize free vaccination drives for students. Again, Plough is also looking at the concept of healthfulness through a broader lens: if neighborhoods concentrate on improving their well-being by building parks and preserving open space, or even ushering in green grocers and farmers markets, they will be much better off.

After listening to the Pioneering Ideas episode, my understanding of health, both in my home and in my community at large has expanded. I recognize now that having a farmer’s market blocks away from my home, where I can interact with my neighbors and local farmers is not only a civic asset, but a health benefit, as well.

How has your foundation worked to develop metrics for complex issues?  And have you considered sharing these metrics via blog or podcast?

 

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  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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