Roadmaps to Health Community Grants: Creating Policy and Systems Change to Improve Community Health

Dec 20, 2012, 1:39 PM

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has announced a second round of grant winners for the Roadmaps to Health Community Grants. The grants support two-year state and local collaborative efforts among policymakers, business, education, health care, public health and community organizations, and are managed by Community Catalyst, a national consumer health advocacy organization. The goal of the grants is to create positive policy or systems changes that address the social and economic factors that impact the health of people in their community.

The grants build on the model of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, which highlights the critical role that factors such as education, jobs, income and the environment play in influencing how healthy people are and how long they live. County Health Rankings & Roadmaps is a collaboration of RWJF and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Four of the new grants have been awarded to projects spearheaded by United Way organizations in several states.

The Roadmaps to Health Community Grants are:

  • Demonstrating how a range of partners from multiple sectors in a community can work together to take actionable data such as the County Health Rankings and begin addressing the multiple social or economic determinants of health in a community.
  • Focusing on collaboration and action at the policy or system-change level.
  • Getting grant partners in fields such as education, employment or community safety to think of themselves as part of the work of the public health community.

“We’re looking for longer-term, sustainable change,” says Phillip Gonzalez, project director for the Roadmaps to Health Community Grants at Community Catalyst. Gonzalez says that by funding the grantees and putting a lens on their work, “we get them talking about their work from a public health perspective and hopefully expand who thinks of themselves as being part of public health.”

"Winners can talk about what it took to make a change, where there were challenges, what were the opportunities, who got involved, and really share that with other communities across the country so that they can figure out ways that make sense for other communities to take action as well,” says Gonzalez.

Grant winners are required to secure local cash-matches and in-kind support. Gonzalez says that is designed to make sure that there is strong local support and engagement around the issues. “The Foundation is happy to be able to invest in local community action, but they also want to know that there would be support in the future for this type of work that would last well beyond the grant life at the local level.”

Of eighteen new grantees, eleven are focused on education, including the four United Way grantees. Examples of grantees’ work in the most recent round:

  • An education-related collaboration in Baltimore seeks to help increase and transform the way the city invests in the school infrastructure and rehabs old schools or builds new schools. Improved school environments are known to be likely to increase both educational outcomes and educational attainment among students, says Gonzalez.
  • In Texas, faith-based partners are working on reforms around payday lending. They are trying to change the atmosphere in which vulnerable communities are financing their day-to-day expenses and managing their assets so that they can better maintain income streams, get better control over their assets and start removing some of the excessive debt often created through payday lending.
  • In Louisiana, the United Way member is looking at seeking licensure for family childcare centers. Currently, Louisiana is one of only three states that doesn’t require licensure of home-based childcare settings. Kitty Dana, vice president of health for United Way Worldwide, says United Way recognizes the importance of “ratcheting up standards and making sure that there are safe environments with nutritious food and educational opportunities for the children that are enrolled there.” In addition, according to Dana, they also understand that by doing this they will create economic incentives for the providers that are actually running the childcare facilities, because there are a series of credits and other incentives that are available through the state already if folks are running a licensed facility.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.