Key Takeaways from the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge Institute

Tags: Health

Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge Finalists from across the nation gathered in Davidson County, Tenn., this past July to discuss sustainability strategies for their community health initiatives.

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On Monday, July 16th the Aetna Foundation’s Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge (HCCC) Finalists, a cohort of 50 communities from across the nation that are a part of a $1.5 million prize competition to improve measurable health outcomes, gathered at the 2018 NACo Annual Conference and Exposition in Davidson County, Tenn., for a day long institute. 

The Institute was hosted by NACo in collaboration with the American Public Health Association and the Aetna Foundation. The Institute’s primary objective was recognizing and celebrating HCCC communities for their accomplishments and contribution for the 18-month duration of the Challenge, and its goal was to broadening their understanding of sustainability and provide strategies to achieve it. The communities had a chance to network, learn from one another, get practical take ways, and generate fresh wind as they move into these final stages of the Challenge.

As the day progressed, Finalists provided insight on the many ways in which they all have worked collaboratively in their communities to address a myriad of health issues, which include physical activity, smoking cessation, environmental health and health equity, while taking in key strategies for continuing their work from themes that emerged from the day’s sessions. A few of these themes are highlighted below.

Not everything goes according to plan, but using the right tools will keep your project focused and produce measurable outcomes. In the first session of the day, “Using Data to Refine and Sustain Your Initiative,” RAND researchers gave an overview of how data and other information collected as a part of the Challenge can help support sustainability and inform and refine future efforts. The session was framed by RAND Senior Policy Analyst Francesca Pillemer, who emphasized balancing expectations and reality. Not everything goes according to plan, but using the right tools will keep you on track to producing measurable outcomes. RAND encourages the use of logic models, needs assessments, stakeholder engagement and other data tools such as outcome evaluations and baseline surveys, to provide valuable insight into the progress of your initiative and its value to the community.

A number of these tools, and specific examples of how counties have used them, can be found in the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge Toolkit, an online resource designed to help cities and counties build healthier communities.

When it comes to communications, the messenger is just as important as the message. Deciding on a communication approach that will help to move the goals of an initiative forward is a key strategy in creating significant, lasting change. In a panel entitled “Communications Strategies: Beyond the Brochure,” Challenge Finalists engaged in a discussion about choosing the right strategy and framing your message with 3 marketing and communication leaders. Important themes emerged from the discussion around making sure that the message is coming from a familiar community voice, the importance of using plain language, and positive story telling.

Grants aren’t always the answer- relationships and assets are. Closing out the discussion on sustainability, panelists and seasoned grant makers as well as local change agents in the “Leveraging Assets and Sustaining Your Work” session shared their perspectives on how communities can make the case for funding. Allen Smart, Philanthropy Advisor at PhilanthropyRx, shared insights on a current trend in philanthropy: relationship building. He noted that funders give to projects with whom they have strong relationships. Toks Omishakin, Deputy Commissioner and Chief at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Planning, echoed this statement by underscoring the importance of building good relationships with local elected officials, who not only can serve as a bridge to funding streams, but as champions of work being done in community.


For more information on the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge projects, visit the Challenge website at

About Blaire Bryant (Full Bio)

Health Program Manager

Blaire Bryant is the Program Manager for Health at the National Association of Counties. In this capacity, she manages programs that provide information, training and assistance to county officials to help meet the emerging challenges they face in their communities.

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