As health departments embark on a transformation journey, impacting health equity is an area of increasing focus. Many definitions of health equity exist and common to them is the notion that every person has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible; and to do so, we must remove obstacles to health. As health departments increasingly recognize the importance of focusing on health equity as part of their mission, they often struggle with how to get started and make an impact on both an individual level and systems level. They ponder questions such as: What is the health department’s role in addressing equity and what does an organizational journey towards equity looks like? How do they address issues from a systems perspective, and through an approach that does not reinforce oppression and exclusion? Does it include infusing equity through all of the health department’s work? Does it include a distinct organizational priority that focuses on equity? How do you start on an equity journey? These are just a few of the questions that health departments are pondering as they embark on their equity journey.
To further advance the field in these efforts, PHNCI, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health, created Moving into Equity: The Public Health Journey – a resource for health departments as they continue their journey to become an equity-focused organization, both in awareness and practice. This resource is meant to augment the variety of existing resources in the field, not replace them. Recognizing that public health departments and individuals have different starting points and destinations, this tool hopes to support movement in the following ways:
- Move people to be dissatisfied with the status quo and be willing to step into new practices and take risks.
- Be useful in both rural and urban settings, for communities that are changing rapidly and those that are not.
- Encourage respect and openness to different stories among all those involved.
- Lead to more shared power and decision making with communities.
- Encourage true transformation and honor the deep internal and personal work required.
Created with practitioners, this guide offers practical ideas and strategies from the field to move along four stages in an equity journey: 1) Content with the Status Quo; 2) Raised Awareness/Discontent; 3) Willing to Step into the Unknown; and 4) Committed, Engaged, and Activated. The guide also includes associated, existing tools/resources to support movement across the stages and takes into consideration the different layers or practices required to create change – from individual level, interpersonal, to organizational culture and practices, to community efforts and policy change, among a few to make an impact on the social and structural influencers of health. This guide further offers strategies to address common internal and external forces, and a brief discussion on developing and using principles.
Our hope is that this guide provides public health departments and practitioners with tangible strategies to advance the important equity work you all are doing in your communities.