It seems we all know that if you want to get work done on big problems, it means collaborating. But collaboration itself takes some work. In this episode I share 4 hints I’ve given my clients about smoothing out the collaboration process.
Working toward health equity means working together. Collaboration can bring its own set of challenges. In today’s episode, I’ll tell you some of what I’ve shared with my clients about smoothing out the collaboration process so we can get down to work.
Hi everybody. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. This is 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners, an independent health-equity focused education and communication consultancy. If your organization needs expert help on any topic in this series, visit healthcommunicationpartners.com.
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Now it is really exciting to see and hear so much activity, so many large-scale actions, with health equity. These haven’t– we’re hearing conversations that haven’t always happened so openly and certainly not at the federal level. But it’s the it’s the less visible but essential person-to-person level work that I want to talk about today. It’s not news that difficult and deep-seated social challenges benefit from collaboration. We all know if you want to get work done on big problems, it means talking to people outside our usual hallways.
Working toward health equity is no different. It takes collaboration and different kinds of expertise. These days, professionals who have not traditionally worked together are finding themselves around the same metaphoric or virtual table. We’re seeing, for instance, cross-sectional partnerships popping up all over the place. And improving health policies as I’ve written and spoken about before.
A 2017 discussion paper from the National Academy of Medicine reminds us how much advancing equity has to do with collaboration:
[E]fforts to improve health and eliminate disparities require professionals to understand audiences, share across knowledge arenas, provide culturally appropriate and accessible health information resources, and innovate strategies…”
Over the years, I’ve helped many clients, and been involved in many projects with groups and organizations of different sizes, around equity and health equity. And there are many challenges to collaboration. But getting over these challenges is important because you know we’ve got work to do. So I’m going to talk about 4 challenges that you might face when it comes to collaborating. And, of course, what you can do to smooth the process out.
So you won’t be surprised if you’ve heard this show before: I’m gonna start with words. Terminology. What are the key terms you’re using? For example: Health disparities, Health Equity, Health Injustice, Healthcare disparities. All these terms sometimes get used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. They’re all separate concepts. Yes, they intersect. They all have their own histories, as well as upstream causes and downstream impacts.
So, know what terms you mean and what your working definitions are. This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times it just kind of gets assumed that we all mean the same thing by a term. Or that everyone just knows what it means. I’ll invite you to consider what key turns you’re using and then, what do these terms mean to you? How do you understand them? Not too long ago, I did an episode about the different meanings of the term health equity. So if you need a place to start, I’ll go ahead and drop that show in the notes.
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It’s important to remember too that across different organizations terminology’s gonna be different. And in my experience it’s almost worse when we all thought we had been comparing apples to apples, and then somewhere down the line we found out that that wasn’t the case.
I also want to add here that you might be in a situation in your collaboration where everyone needs to have the same definition that you do, you need to be on the same sheet of music about this term. Then again, you might not. You might be in the situation where having multiple understandings of a term is helpful, or it will enrich the work to have different perspectives. So again, terminology, essential starting place and it often gets overlooked.
Second one is kind of related to the first one: what’s the problem in the world that you’re working on? Knowing really what your project is, and being able to articulate it, is another important step to help collaboration happen and happen easily, and happen more often. So take some time to think about: what inequality are you focused on? Think carefully about how you’d describe the problem or project that you’re working with. The problem you’re trying to address, or solve, if you’re working on something that’s solvable. How would you articulate this to someone outside your usual group?
When you’re collaborating, you’re talking with, writing to, working alongside, advocating for, and otherwise interacting with people who have different positions, communities, commitments, and backgrounds than you and the other people in your organization. It can be easy to forget this. One medical educator told me that it was only in hindsight she saw how many times in her collaborations she probably should have articulated her position. She said, “I assume people understand the prospective I come from the lens I’m using in my role.”
So I’m inviting you to reflect on kind of what’s obvious to you. The taken-for-granteds of the people who know what you know and do what you do, and how these might come into play during collaboration. You want to make it easy for people to understand where you’re coming from, what you need, what you’re offering, and what it would involve to say yes to collaborating with you.
Thirdly: in some ways what we’re going through is new. In many ways, not so much. It’s amazing to think that these conversations are happening at this large level. All of the awareness, all of the energy. And yet, you’re aware that none of these injustices are new–and neither is the work on them.
People and organizations have been addressing racism, and discrimination, and inequities on individual and systems levels for generations. And this work, in turn, has been built on years of sustained efforts–often by marginalized people from different social groups–who have been focusing National and international attention on issues of Injustice for many decades.
Yes, there is pressure for innovation, new product development, bringing new ideas to market, being the first. But remember: people have been working on these issues for a very long time. What I advocate to my clients is to start looking for who knows about this already. Who’s been in the trenches? Who’s been doing the work? On the path since way back? Find them! They’re in your community. Even start locally, local community-based organizations. Look and see what’s right in your town. Because I promise you, no matter where you are when you’re listening to this, there are folks in your community who have been addressing Injustice for a very long time. Find them. Listen to them. Learn from them. Uplift them.
And finally, let’s talk structurally. When it comes to thinking structurally about collaboration I’m going to invite you to acknowledge some of the often-invisible structures in your organization. They’re all around. They hide in plain sight. Meetings for instance, are powerful organizational and social structures. Even video meetings, we know that right! Standard operating procedures right, the way we’ve always done it, very powerful set of structures.
So I encourage you to think about existing and possible structures wherever you are. Consider what structures are in place, or needed, for ongoing collaboration and support of everyone involved. How might current arrangements where you are challenge collaboration? How might current arrangements invite and sustain collaboration? What’s already existing, institutionally, that could support the kinds of collaboration being called for? For example, are there already existing collaborations that you can piggyback on? Maybe holding meetings at common times, or one after the other. Talk with colleagues, and don’t forget to look around your professional networks to get a sense of existing opportunities that you could leverage. It’s always easier than building it from scratch.
I’ve helped organizations move from recognition of these issues, to working on these issues! If your organization needs this kind of help, contact me. Visit health communication partners.com click on contact. Find me on social media. This has been 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners. Audio engineering and music by Joe Liebel. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel.