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Featured D&D Story: Putting People at the Center in Public Health

Today we are happy to feature another great example of dialogue and deliberation in action. This mini case study was submitted by NCDD student member Megan Powers of Grassroots Solutions via NCDD’s Dialogue Storytelling Tool. Do you have a dialogue story that our network could learn from? Add YOUR dialogue story today! 

ShareYourStory-sidebarimageTitle of Project:

Putting People at the Center: A Fundamental Shift in Public Health Campaigns


One of the most pivotal developments in public health practice over the past 20 years is the attention that is now being paid to the wide range of factors that influence health, such as social connectedness, the built environment, and the characteristics of the places where people live, work, and play. As a result, the public health field not only educates people about individual behavioral changes people can make to improve their health, but also works to change the policies, systems, and environments that shape our world and our ability to make healthy choices.

We’ve seen this impact firsthand. Grassroots Solutions works extensively with public health entities at the local, state, and national levels to reduce tobacco use, mitigate obesity, and address other critical public health concerns.

This work has taught us that while facts and data are, of course, powerful tools, the most successful public health campaigns put people at the center. When you combine data and facts with real people’s passion, commitment,
and involvement, communities embrace changes that have a significant impact on the health of residents.

Our whitepaper draws on our 12 years of on-the-ground experience to illustrate how putting people at the center of public health campaigns results in better and more sustainable health outcomes, and why we believe that people-centric campaigns should serve as the gold standard for population health management.

Which dialogue and deliberation approaches did you use or borrow heavily from?

  • Sustained Dialogue
  • Charrettes

What was your role in the project?

Grassroots Solutions served as the project manager and hired grassroots organizers for a variety of these projects, executing engagement tactics and in some cases, facilitating participatory dialogue.

Who were your partners in the project, if any?

Blue Cross Blue Shield Center for Prevention, Cities of Bloomington, Edina, and Richfield (for the do.town initiative), Minnesota Dept of Health (for the CDC Communities Putting Prevention to Work technical assistance project).

What issues did the project primarily address?

  • Mental or physical health

Lessons Learned

  1. An important shift is to move from a campaign that is data-centered and people-supplemented to one that is people-centered, and data-supplemented. We’ve learned that this shift enables campaigns to create space for residents to shape their own neighborhoods with health in mind, and offers the opportunity to form both an intellectual and emotional attachment to their vision for a healthier community.
  2. Putting people at the center means that everything in the campaign is done with an eye towards how residents can be involved. Whether it’s prioritizing which issues to pursue, examining how a neighborhood could be made more walkable and bikeable, or exploring how a new development can support healthy behaviors, a people-centered campaign focuses on engaging residents. Everyday people are encouraged to chime in, talk with others in the community, participate in planning sessions, and make the case for changes to their friends and neighbors.
  3. The reason it is critical to put people at the center of health campaigns is that it results in better health outcomes. Communities that are built to support health will produce better health outcomes, such as bike paths, access to healthy food, walkable neighborhoods, and safe walking and bike routes for kids to get to school. Additionally, these kinds of community features also help shape how people connect with each other and with their neighborhood, town, or city. When it comes right down to it, healthy living is about people and relationships.
  4. Putting people at the center shifts a campaign from episodic, isolated opportunities to engage, to a more relationship-driven approach. This means that residents are invited to help set the campaign’s tone and direction from the very beginning, they are offered leadership opportunities, and become a part of the campaign’s infrastructure. When the campaign’s orientation is centered on people, engagement becomes grounded in relationships with residents who get involved in different ways over time. People’s participation becomes more authentic, like an ongoing conversation, rather than just a single event or action.

Where to learn more about the project:


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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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