May 2 2013

Grassroots Public Health: Q&A with Shannon Frattaroli

Shannon Frattaroli, PhD, Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Injury Research and Policy

NewPublicHealth is partnering with Grassroots Change: Connecting for Better Health to share interviews, tools, and other resources on grassroots public health. The project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Group supports grassroots leaders as they build and sustain public health movements at the local, state and national levels.

In this Q&A, conducted by Grassroots Change, Shannon Frattaroli, PhD, Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Injury Research and Policy, shares her perspective on grassroots power and the future of public health. Her research helps answer two critical questions: Why are grassroots movements so important; and what is a public health movement, anyway?

>> Frattaroli’s interview has been edited for NewPublicHealth. View the full interview at

Grassroots Change: What do you see as the role of grassroots movements in public health?

Shannon Frattaroli: There’s tremendous potential. Public health at its core is about the public. The public should have a voice in public health, and grassroots movements are one way for that to happen. The public has been very engaged in policy issues or problems throughout the history of public health. When people get engaged and are strategic with regard to policy change, things can happen quickly. And change can happen in a way that feels more legitimate. I think it’s where we should be moving in the future.

GC: What does “grassroots movement” mean? How are grassroots health movements different from other types of advocacy?

Frattaroli: The defining feature is that grassroots movements have a wide popular base. It’s one of the purest forms of democracy in our country. It represents opportunities for people who care about their communities, who care about how our country works. Grassroots movements provide an opportunity for everyone to have a voice in what our society looks like — it’s at the core of what a democracy can and should be.

The distinguishing feature is the public involvement and invitation to people at the community level to participate, particularly in policy change.

GC: How can the public health community know if a grassroots movement is effective?

Frattaroli: By making sure a grassroots movement has goals they’ve identified for themselves, that can be measured, and are being measured. We can encourage people who are doing grassroots work to identify measurable objectives and to be realistic about those objectives.

We also have to look not just at tangible progress along those lines, but also think about broader effects of the grassroots. What does it mean to bring together a group of people to get active on a public health issue? What benefits can come from that? I think that there are a lot of benefits that we can hope to see on the policy end, that we can hope to see in how the media is talking about an issue, and how institutions within communities are talking about an issue.

GC: What’s the take-away message about the role of movement building in public health?

Frattaroli: In public health we really need to embrace movement building and we need to embrace the grassroots. We started off by talking about the “public” in “public health,” and ultimately one of the best ways to embrace and engage the public in public health is by engaging people through movement building.

It’s an incredibly exciting facet of our field. We can look back on the history of public health and see how we’ve won tremendous victories through grassroots movement building, and as we look ahead to what public health will look like in the future, movement building and the grassroots has to be a part of that if we’re going to be effective.

Tags: Community Benefit, Community Health, Community-based care, Grassroots Public Health, Public health, Q&A