‘Before’ and ‘after’ versions of a sample introductory communication to initiate cross-sector collaboration.
Strategic framing can enhance the effectiveness of all forms of communication—including both written and verbal, long form and short, formal and informal. The sample correspondence below, and its reframed version, demonstrates a few key ways you can incorporate research-based framing strategies into everyday communications. Hover over the blue highlighted text to navigate through the comments.
Dear [affordable housing advocate],
I attended the city council meeting last week and learned that the city council had approved the creation of affordable housing units. This opening offers information the recipient is already likely to know and misses the opportunity to acknowledge the recipient’s expertise and knowledge. One council member specifically focused on ensuring that we were paying close attention to neighborhood safety and the health needs of the community residents. This sentence both implies that safety and health are not on the housing sector’s radar (i.e., the council member had to enforce close attention to those issues) and misses the opportunity to illustrate the author’s own understanding of the interrelatedness of housing and health.
I work in public health and am writing to see if you would like to meet to talk about these things. Avoid unspecific asks and vague language. Other sectors may be unfamiliar with the work of public health and how it is linked to their own work, so it pays to be as explanatory and concrete as space allows. As you may know, the public health field has data and tools that could help address your concerns Demonstrating a grasp of what, specifically, housing advocates are likely to be concerned about will foster the recipient’s receptivity to the idea of collaboration with the public health sector. and establish some measurable outcomes. I hope we can work together when thinking about the link between housing and community health.
Dear [affordable housing advocate],
As I’m sure you know, This opening positions the recipient as a presumed expert who is well informed. last week the city council approved the creation of affordable housing units. As a public health professional, I believe that making safe and affordable housing available to everyone represents an important investment in creating healthy communities, Appealing to Value of Investment alongside community responsibility can engage housing advocates by establishing a shared commitment between housing and public health work. so I’m heartened to see the council is taking action.
Housing advocates have been working hard to make this vision a reality, and my public health colleagues and I are eager to help. Remember not to make it all about public health’s agenda. Instead, emphasize collaboration and the supporting role public health is willing and able to play. I am writing to offer public health data expertise that may be beneficial to your efforts.
Before moving to [CITY], I participated in a tri-county coalition to launch an affordable housing initiative. We brought housing advocacy groups, city planners, and local public health professionals together to develop a plan that made new affordable housing units central to the revitalization of key areas in the region. When possible, share a success story that demonstrates the collective benefits of collaborating across sectors to achieve better results. By partnering with public health, advocates were able to use data to make the case for housing as a foundational component of community health. We demonstrated that quality housing underlies a range of measurable community outcomes, Use the Foundation of Community Health metaphor in place of the term “social determinants of health.” from reducing chronic health problems to increasing educational attainment. We also secured commitments to fund new housing units in all three counties and successfully advanced designs that emphasized healthy spaces and opportunities for social engagement. Find opportunities to highlight goals and priorities that showcase a 21st-century public health approach to promoting community health.
Are you available to meet to talk about how we might collaborate to fuel your efforts? Reinforce the idea that cross-sector collaboration with public health can empower other sectors and advance their goals. The council’s action last week could be an opportunity for us to join forces to advance our community’s well-being, and I’d be grateful to learn more about your perspective on the best ways to keep affordable housing a priority.
Dear [Hospital President and CEO],
I’ve been closely following your efforts Communicators can feel pressure to be as brief as possible, but too little information can stop the conversation before it starts. Take time to make a compelling case for partnership by establishing public health’s value and sharing more detailed explanation of what collaboration could look like. to address the social needs of your patient population, especially given some of the challenging socioeconomic demographics of our community and the changing ways in which public and private insurance are offering reimbursements for services. As you may know, we in the Public Health Department are also looking at many of these issues, but we’re going a step further to focus on the root causes of poor health outcomes in the community. Like you, we aim to identify and address key drivers that require a community-wide investment. I wonder if we could meet to discuss how we can collaborate to improve the health of the community. This timid proposal and unclear agenda do little to pinpoint what a public health approach can do. A better strategy: emphasize goals that will appeal to the health sector, for example, how using public health data can enhance the hospital’s efficiency and effectiveness.
Dear [Hospital President and CEO],
As a member of the public health department, I’ve been closely following your efforts to address the social needs of your patient population. Like you, our department is looking at how to mitigate the effects that socioeconomic status and insurance coverage can have on people’s health. We are keen to explore how we might work together to address the root causes of poor health outcomes in our community. Slight tweaks can have big framing impact. This opening is similar to the “before” version, but now the socioeconomic demographics and insurance industry are explicitly named as contributing factors to people’s health, not just vaguely related phenomena.
In particular, our mandate to collect population health data offers opportunities to identify and address key drivers of community health. The magnitude of data the public health field collects is a largely invisible resource to other sectors that might benefit from it, so be sure to name and explain it. We have found through other collaborations that public health data often serves a GPS-like function, helping to navigate a complex map of challenges and identify accessible roads to a needed solution. Use the GPS Navigation metaphor to help audiences visualize how public health data can improve their work and help them reach their objectives. A public health data approach can add to the effectiveness of the solutions you are putting in place. We’d appreciate the chance to meet with you to get your perspective on these issues and to discuss how partnering together could be an efficient route Increase the “stickiness” of a tested metaphor by weaving it throughout a message. “Navigate,” “identify accessible roads,” and “efficient route” are all different ways of referring back to the GPS metaphor. for solving our community’s most pressing health challenges.
Dear [head of the local Chamber of Commerce],
It’s come to my attention recently that chamber members are meeting to strategize about the difficulties associated with maintaining a workforce in these challenging economic times. Signaling sympathy for another sector’s perceived problems can backfire by feeding readers’ fatalism, making them less likely to want to engage in conversation. Keep it positive and forward-looking.
As a public health professional, I recognize how important good, sound employment is to good health. I am writing to ask if I could join your meetings to better understand what you perceive to be the key challenges to recruiting and retaining a workforce. It’s a good strategy to recognize and appreciate other sectors’ expertise, but it’s also important to demonstrate what public health can bring to the table in order to help members of other sectors see the value of including public health representatives in discussion. I would love to explore strategies for how we could work together to improve the health of our/your community.
Dear [head of the local Chamber of Commerce],
Your recent blog post about the importance of investing in and maintaining a strong workforce in our city caught my attention. Look for opportunities to reinforce other sectors’ own good framing of the issues. I work for our local public health agency and, like you, we know a strong workforce is vital to our community’s social and economic well-being and sustainable growth. Use values early and often—repetition is a framer’s best friend, so get creative in your use of synonyms and other turns of phrase that can express the concept of investing in community health.
We work on a range of issues that affect the local workforce. For example, we’re focused on reducing the high rates of chronic conditions in our community, such as asthma and diabetes, which can contribute to absenteeism for workers and their families. We also participate in public transportation policy-setting to make sure that employees in every corner of the city can get to their jobs safely and efficiently. Take the time to connect public health to other sectors through concrete examples of how public health work can affect their own goals and needs.
Of special interest to you may be the large amount of population and environmental health data we collect and analyze. Our data on trends and patterns in community health, for instance, can be used to prioritize policies and resources that will have the best value of investment when it comes to promoting a healthy workforce. The framing recommendations play well together, so combine them in ways that make communications sound natural, not stilted or canned. This sentence combines the recommended emphasis on public health’s data expertise with an appeal to the Value of Investment. For instance, a few years ago, data helped us target safe and healthy transit options as an opportunity to improve population health. I’m sure you are familiar with our Let’s Go initiative, which engaged with some of the largest employers in town. They sponsored more than 15 miles of bike paths on old railway lines to connect underserved communities to downtown, vocally supported the creation of express bus lanes on major commuter routes to reduce congestion and improve air quality, and then signed on to a citywide campaign to promote the new transit options. Evaluative data we collected has now led to an expansion of the initiative over the next three years to serve even more neighborhoods. Make space for success stories that show how partnerships with public health can lead to collective benefits. Note that this example highlights some ways the business sector can wield influence and garner community goodwill through public health collaborations that carry benefits for everyone, including employers.
Dear [local school system superintendent],
I was alarmed to read the story in today’s newspaper Beginning a communication with a focus on problems that require urgent attention is likely to be a turn-off for prospective partners about the rapidly rising rates of absenteeism in our public schools. I am sure you and the other members of the local school board are concerned about this troubling trend as well.
As you may already be aware, You may have an educated guess regarding what potential partners know (or don’t) about a particular health-related issue—but your message will be more positively received if it is clear that you’ve done your homework and gathered information about their current involvement and knowledge before reaching out asthma is not only a leading chronic illness among children in the United States—it is responsible for almost a third of all school absences.
I am a public health professional with many years of experience working across sectors to improve community health outcomes. Emphasizing that public health has the required experience and expertise to support the goals of other sectors is effective—but these claims fall flat without specific examples, and where possible, evidence of impact. My organization has already partnered with other school districts and health care providers in our region, and I would love to work with your administration as well to help reverse the current trend.
I would be grateful for an opportunity to meet at your convenience to discuss this idea Don’t miss an opportunity to demonstrate that public health is eager to support and empower the ongoing work of other sectors, rather than come in with its own agenda. Remind potential partners that any collaboration will be guided by their own ideas and established priorities further.
Dear [local school system superintendent],
I was inspired by your Op-Ed in yesterday’s newspaper Set a positive, problem solving tone from the start of a communication to productively engage the interest and motivation of prospective partners. on the need to tackle rising rates of absenteeism in our schools. As a public health professional, I am also working to reverse the current trend. My organization has previously partnered with several school districts to achieve this goal, and the early results of our collaborations are very promising.
The teachers, administrators, classroom aids, and school nurses we worked with were all devoted to their students—but they also had many responsibilities to juggle, with too few resources and too little time. Demonstrate that you’ve taken the time to gain knowledge of and familiarity with the sectors you wish to engage—either by referring to particular sub-sector priorities and constraints or, where possible, highlighting existing partnerships. From the outset, our collaboration was aimed at making their jobs easier and saving costs where possible. My team of public health workers offered navigation support by analyzing data to identify correlations between school and community attributes, and various health as well as education outcomes. School officials set their own destinations, and we mapped out routes for getting there. Use the GPS Navigation metaphor to explain how public health’s data expertise can be harnessed to help other sectors meet their objectives and fulfill their responsibilities more effectively. And remember to put prospective part
Recognizing that asthma was a significant contributor to the high rate of absenteeism, we worked with the schools to reach out to the local housing authority to evaluate whether the students’ housing conditions were impacting their health. We then supported the housing officials to eliminate housing-related asthma triggers, such as pests and mold. In some districts, we also teamed up with our partners in housing to advocate for things like routine inspections and home assessments by qualified community health workers. Sharing concrete success stories not only builds prospective partners’ engagement and sense of efficacy—it helps them appreciate public health’s contributions and positive real-world impact.
After just two years, the schools reported a dramatic decline in absenteeism. As one teacher said, “I wouldn’t believe the numbers if they weren’t sitting in my classroom.” Leverage current partners or other professionals with cross-sector experience as messengers. The benefits have even extended beyond the walls of the school because entire families are now able to enjoy safe and healthy housing.
I would be grateful for an opportunity to learn more from your perspective, and to explore ideas for how we might work together to strengthen the foundation that supports healthy students. Use the Foundation of Community Health metaphor to explain that cross-sector collaborations are both universally supportive and also mutually reinforcing of sector-specific goals.