Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention
Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention
- Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, Morrilton, AR
- Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Little Rock, AR
- American Associatio of Retired People-Arkansas Chapter, Little Rock, AR
- Arkansas Department of Health, Little Rock, AR
- Blue and You Foundation for a Healtheir Arkansas, Little Rock, AR
Please note that all data below was derived from the collaboration's nomination for the Collaboration Prize. None of the submitted data were independently verified for accuracy.
The collaboration came about through a shared problem-rising burden of obesity in the state. Many agencies addressed various components of the risks associated with obesity or they addressed elements to combat the problem but no one entity coordinated efforts or shared best practices. Because the problem was seen as immediate and growing, the coalition did not suffer from turf issues rather, the strengths of the multiple partners were appreciated and allowed to expand. There were approximately a dozen people from Arkansas at a Southern Obesity Summit who were challenged to bring stakeholders together to discuss the issue of the rising obesity rates. The Arkansas participants met and agreed to do this. We all sent e-mails and made phone calls and brought about 60 people representing 30-40 organizations to the table for a discussion on how to best coordinate efforts and collaborate on utilizing resources. The Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention for formed and then about a year later, Growing Healthy Communities was developed through the collaborative which was then later funded.
There is a great deal of trust within the coalition. Early on, the entire group was involved in decision making and determing the structure of the coalition. We eventually developed a more formal management structure and the coaliton has given the Executive Team the decision making authority. The ET makes day to day decisions but the coalition weighs in and helps make decisions on project development and/or changes. This system allows us to act swiftly when necessary yet on larger issues that will require input and buy-in from the broader group, we are able to address this during regular meetings. The ET meets every month and the full coalition meets during odd months. Teams meet as needed called by team leaders.
We have actually had very few challenges. The common need and the shared commitment to addressing the issue statewide have done a lot to decrease problems coalitions often face. One challenge came about as non-traditional partners came to the table such as public health entities, city planners, and transportation departments. They do not speak the same language. Rather than becomming a barrier, it became a joke! Each group helped the other learn their language. As we expanded our workplans to meet the needs of local communities we faced the challenge of time investments--both from the coalition members and the local volunteers. The local arm of this endeavor is often carried out by volunteers--not by people for whom this is their primary job. Their time is valuable and stretched thin. We worked to solve these problems by assigning local groups a mentor from the coalition and resources that they did not have to seek out. Future plans include a part-time project manager to work with the Growing Healthy Communities.
The first couple of years we used process outcomes to evaluate the development of the collaboration. We developed workplans utilizing recommended strategies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National League of Cities. We looked at our own indivudual workplans that paralled the goals and objectives of the coalition. We wanted to find ways to implement these workplans at a local level and not have those plans just sit on a shelf. Our members, of course, needed to meet their own goals. We worked diligently to incorporate all these things into a statewide workplan. We responded to a grant opportunity and directly funded 5 communities who became our Growing Healthy Communities sites who were tasked to develop their own strategies to meet the goals of the coalition. We gave the communities additional dollars to hold summits to share their successes, expand their volunteer base, and teach other communities how to duplicte their efforts. The evaluation of the communities has also been mainly process outcomes but they have also implemented some policy level changes that will change community norms. We have learned through this process that the creativity of the whole is so much greater when there is flexibility. While it was important that the coalition's goals be addressed, also important was giving the local entity the freedom on HOW those goals would be met from their perspective. We required the involvment of high level decision makers (mayors, city directors, etc). This involvement helped change to occur much more quickly.
Our moto seems to be we don't care who gets the credit as long as the goal is being met. This is vitally important. Providing local communities a small stipend and content specific training has empowered the obesity movement. We have been asked to expand this project to new sites across the state. Current sites are applying for their own funding to expand and have put actions in place that make them sustaninable without further funding from our coaliton. One example is the development of local farmer's markets that support themselves. They are now in a place to mentor and train new communities! The leadership has been strong and open throughout the entire process. This has generated trust and inspired commitment. The Coalition recieved the Public Health Hero Award from the Arkansas Public Health Association for their efforts in combating obesity and for spreading resources and empowering other communities to take up the fight.
The larger coalition is currently aligning workplans with Healthy People 2020 objectives. This will give us national standards and benchmarks with which to mark progress. This alignment will allow the coalition to apply the same benchmarks to the strategies adopted by the Growing Healthy Community sites. Therefore, as we evaluate at the state level, we will have local data to help back it up. The coalition has been able to barter resources in some cases which we believe makes a stronger partnership and has shown potential funders our commitment. Example: Metroplan of Little Rock has a very detailed walkability assessment they conduct with cities. AARP (Association of Retired Persons) has a very volunteer driven walkability assessment. Both groups combined components of their assessments and helped Growing Healthy Community sites conduct assessments. It cost Metroplan staff time only once to work with AARP and the Coalition to develop a modified assessment. AARP conducts the assessment, GHC sites recruit volunteers (adding to their volunteer base) and the coalition gets a walkability plan for that community that cost the community only their time. The Coalition has the same time of relationship with the AR Hunger Relief Alliance. They attempt to raise awareness about food insecurity. The Coalition wants to raise awareness about the lack of access to healthy and affordable foods. The two groups combined efforts and worked with the GHC sites to perform food assessments. The result is a plan to increase access to healthy and affordable foods. When people are aware, we can increase farmer’s markets, and WIC and SNAP benefit participation.
We collaborated because alone, we could not do it but by combining our knowledge, expertise, and resources we could. Again, AARP, Metroplan, AR Hunger Relief Alliance and others recognized their limitation in certain areas. The best way for us to make progress in this area was to collaborate. At the time of collaboration, the Coalition did not yet have any funding. The collaboration was actually easy, keeping up with the amount of work that has been generated has not! We still struggle with who has the time to provide TA in certain areas and how to meet the needs of the TA requests. AARP, Metroplan, AR Hunger Relief Alliance has been able to increase their territory and expand their volunteer base becasue of the collaboration and the Coalition has greatly increased our knowledge and skills set. Another benefit is that the Coalition is now seen as a strong resource and a group that MUST be at the planning table for developing better community wellness plans. An example of this strength was evident when the AR Municipal League asked the Coalition to work with them to help cities make the connection between wellness, quality of place and economics. We have been able to add 5 more GHC sites to our list since we first made this application and all our partners have agreed to offer continued TA to the new sites.