10 Learnings from the Public Health Innovation Summit

On September 28th and 29th, 2021, the Public Health National Center for Innovations, a division of the Public Health Accreditation Board, brought together over 100 public health innovators for the virtual Public Health Innovation Summit & Showcase. Throughout the Summit, attendees heard from an array of speakers and engaged in conversations on local and community innovations, challenges and opportunities with public health workforce, resilience and equity, and the future of public health.  

We ended the Innovation Summit feeling inspired and excited about the future of public health. Speakers and attendees made it clear that public health innovation is crucial in imagining the future of public health and addressing the challenges of today and tomorrow. We hope you’ll be inspired by the list of learnings from the Summit below and apply these to innovation in your own community. The list below is a derived from conversations between speakers and attendees:

  1. Leadership must cultivate a culture of innovation. This includes fostering an environment of failing forward, harnessing creativity, and taking risks.
  2. Public health practitioners are passionate about the work they do. The workforce is largely mission driven and dedicated to the communities they serve, energized by opportunities for improvement, and is full of great ideas for the future. After 18-months of tireless COVID-19 response, they are also ready for things to change.
  3. Reimagine what public health can be. Public health must disrupt current ways of thinking and structures and systems to change from what it has always done to meet the needs of the future.
  4. Communities need to have a better idea of what public health does. We need to better communicate about our role in non-crisis times as well as emergencies; public health is part of our infrastructure and plays a critical role.
  5. Equity must be embedded in public health work. Now is the time to truly center equity in all we do. This includes having hard conversations about public health’s role in perpetuating inequities, lifting power held in those communities historically excluded and disproportionately affected to design and implement solutions, and taking action through narrative change, programs, and policies, to ensure a more equitable future. It should permeate everything we do. It must.
  6. We are continuing to explore strategies to shift power to, or rather lift power held by, community. This means more than engagement. It is more than community advisory boards; it’s truly centering community as decision makers, as trusted messengers, and as experts on their needs.
  7. Data are more than just numbers and should include community science, narratives, and stories, and be used in collaboration with, or by, the community. Through expanding and building new partnerships, public health can play a role to ensure voice and decision-making power is held by those in the communities they serve.
  8. Financing differently and equitably is top of mind for public health. Funding streams need to allow for flexibility to create space to innovate, with the ability to support activities for trust building, community engagement, or time for the workforce to focus on being creative or taking risks. This includes a shift from funding only for specific outcomes or based on existing evidence-based practice to funding that gives room to try new things.  Intermediaries can be leveraged as partners to plan for equitable funding investments to community.  
  9. Innovations in communications are playing a role in how public health efforts are disseminated, understood, and can play a role in how our efforts are perceived. We need to implement strategic communications, incorporate the voice of the communities we serve, and build back trust with the communities we work with to be effective.
  10. Timing is everything. Now is the time to think about both short term and long-term strategies and focus on incremental and disruptive change. Public health no longer has the time to move slowly; we need to meet the needs of our changing population and respond to increased funding opportunities due to COVID-19 response.

Bonus! It was hard to summarize the entire Innovation Summit into ten key takeaways. Public health innovators encourage us all to embrace new-to-you ways of doing things – salutogenesis, multisolving, and Resilience Catalysts are a few examples of innovative models that were new to many Summit attendees that offer ways of doing things differently.

We would like to express our deep gratitude for all speakers and attendees at the Public Health Innovation Summit & Showcase for sharing with us and helping inspire the future of public health practice. A huge thank you to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for your support for the Summit.

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