Framing Public Health

Tools to help public health professionals and advocates communicate about the value of public health and collaboration

During the COVID-19 pandemic, public health communications and messaging are more important than ever. To meet their mission of ensuring the conditions in which everyone can be healthy, public health professionals must be able to forge close partnerships with professionals in other sectors. Doing so requires communicating clearly about the value of public health and the value of collaborating.

Other community leaders – who come to the table with their own missions, priorities, and areas of expertise — often have a limited understanding of the public health field, or of health as a community issue. PHRASES (Public Health Reaching Across Sectors) is a partnership between the de Beaumont Foundation and the Aspen Institute’s Health, Medicine and Society program to create tools to bridge these gaps. On behalf of PHRASES, the FrameWorks Institute conducted extensive research to identify gaps in understanding and test framing strategies. The full PHRASES communications toolkit will be released this summer; this site offers select tools that can be applied immediately.

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Three Proven Ways to Talk about Public Health

Public health can be difficult to define and describe. The following framing elements were tested in multiple setting and shown to be extremely effective in closing gaps in understanding between public health experts and professionals in other sectors. They describe public health and explain its value in a way people can quickly understand.

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Foundation of Community Health

A metaphor for explaining how the health of a community is supported by the work of professionals in many different sectors. The health of a community is like a building—it depends on a strong and stable foundation. Positive health outcomes rely on things like quality education, safe and affordable housing, access to healthcare, and employment opportunities. Public health professionals work closely with other sectors to build a solid foundation that supports good health for all.

Value of Investment

A guiding principle that shows community leaders that public health shares their shared commitment to using monetary and other resources effectively, with an eye toward long-term benefits. Successful organizations manage their resources carefully to align short- and long-term goals. Public health professionals work with other sectors to save money in the short term whenever possible, and make wise long-term investments to support community health, increase efficiency, and reduce unnecessary costs.

GPS Navigation

A metaphor for explaining how the field of public health uses data to support the work of other sectors in innovative and forward-thinking ways. Just as GPS helps people visualize and navigate complex terrain, public health professionals draw on a wealth of data to chart out routes for where their community wants to be. Most of all, they put data expertise to work to drive solutions and positive outcomes.

Answers to Tough Questions

We asked public health professionals to tell us the toughest questions they get about public health and their work — and many are even more urgent today. These reframed answers suggest a more effective way to communicate, based on research conducted with community leaders.

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Map the Gap Report

To identify gaps in understanding between public health professionals and leaders in other sectors, the FrameWorks Institute conducted extensive research with leaders in healthcare, education, business, and housing. The Map the Gaps report demonstrates the ways these sector leaders think about health, public health, and the value of collaboration. The Gaps at a Glance provides a short summary of the perceptions of experts in public health and leaders in other sectors about the health, public health, and cross-sector collaboration.

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How a Framing Strategy Makes Effective Communication Easier

When we can anticipate how our communications are likely to be received, we can adjust. Better yet, we can apply tested and proven strategies to frame communications and engage intended audiences. Read about the tested frames in the Strategic Framing Brief, which lays out 10 framing recommendations. For a quick preview, see the tips below.

Access the Strategic Framing Brief

Avoid Advance Relying primarily on the phrase “social determinants of health” to do your explaining

A positive, proactive, and detailed vision for how various sectors can contribute to building a strong foundation for community health (See recommendations #2 and #10)

Generalizing about, or messaging to, an entire sector without acknowledging intra-sector variability

Evidence of existing relationships with sub-sector groups, familiarity with their priorities, and knowledge of their resource constraints (See recommendations #1, #4 and #6)

Talking in vague or abstract terms about the importance of working together, or describing collaboration as beneficial without naming the specific benefits

Current, concrete examples of collaboration that highlight recent successes, especially in the areas of health promotion, health innovation, and addressing health inequities (See recommendations #3, #6 and #7)

Focusing on health-related challenges that professionals in other sectors face

An understanding of how public health’s expertise—particularly with data—can be harnessed to fuel other sectors’ important and ongoing work (See recommendations #5, #8 and #9)


Forward-thinking public health professionals are reaching across sectors to build healthier communities. Recognizing that effective collaboration advances everyone’s mission, Public Health Reaching Across Sectors (PHRASES) supports an “all-hands-on-deck” approach with tools to build communication skills and strategies designed for success.

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