How Can We Develop Leadership and Support Innovation?
Develop leadership, support innovation, and reward strategic risk taking to advance equity (Read actions you can take below)
In conservative and progressive places alike, advancing health equity is difficult, as people benefitting from the status quo often hold power and do not support changes that advance equity. Health departments need leadership — at the top and throughout the organization — willing to challenge this status quo, and to talk and act more explicitly in areas that may be perceived as “controversial.”
Departments must be intentional in developing the leadership to advance health equity, support innovation at all staff levels, and reward strategic risk taking. Health departments must also encourage a culture of learning and experimentation that is more responsive to social and political contexts. Taking these steps creates the conditions for health department staff to think and work in a way that takes health equity to a deeper and more meaningful level.
Case studies that develop leadership and support innovation
Actions to Advance Equity Using This Practice
Your leadership, staff, and department can take the following actions to develop leadership and support innovation:
- Stand up for and speak out about racism, class exploitation, gender inequality, and power imbalances, as well as the effects of social exclusion to staff, other agencies, elected officials, the public, and the media
- Support the development of leaders at all levels of the organization — for example, through professional development, allocating staff resources to pilot projects, rewarding health equity work, and reducing hierarchy
- Take actions that are strategic yet initially risky to support a culture of learning, innovation, continuous improvement, and risk taking
- Develop a practice of asking questions at all levels and points in the process. Questions include: Who benefits from the effort or program? What is the health impact? Who will experience the health impacts? What and whose values, beliefs, and assumptions are respected? What is the anticipated outcome (noting outcome is different than intent)? Is there need for further study?
- Build deep and trusting relationships with community organizing groups who can challenge outside assertions that your work is too political or sensitive
- Build and work with strategic alliances, such as regional public health agency collaboratives, that are better poised to innovate and take strategic risks around controversial policy issues
- Be vocal with decision makers and other government agencies when policy proposals might exacerbate inequities, even when doing so is not the easy thing to do
- Hold intentional discussions about strategy and tactics to determine which risks are worth taking
- Proactively develop relationships across sectors, with sister agencies, and with elected officials and their offices, to assist in understanding the political landscape and establishing rapport and credibility