Why is community feedback an important piece of PSE change?

Why is community feedback an important piece of PSE change?

Change can be difficult for many people to accept, especially when they are unaware of the plans to create change or have not been asked for their input. By not involving the people impacted by the change, you risk alienating community members, losing support for future projects, and having less impactful project outcomes.

Community engagement, also referred to as feedback, input, involvement, or participation, means including community members in the decision-making, planning, and evaluation of projects. To ensure that projects and policies are relevant, successful, and long-term solutions, it is important to get the community’s opinions and active participation in the process. Community engagement is essential for policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) changes to effectively improve community health. 

The level of community involvement can have a big impact on the success of your PSE project. The table below illustrates the range of community engagement. In the end, it is up to you or your coalition to decide how much community involvement you require or desire, as well as who to ask to participate. Wholespire suggests the following actions:

The benefits of community engagement

  • Identifies community needs.
  • Reinforces that a need exists.
  • Identifies community leaders who can help overcome cultural and social barriers.
  • Gathers community feedback from groups or individuals who are often overlooked.
  • Increases the value of the PSE project.
  • Drives equitable access to healthy eating and active living resources.
  • Increases sense of community, empowerment, and inclusion.
  • Creates the opportunity and openness for change and growth.
  • Improves overall health outcomes
    1. Choose Consult, Involve, or Collaborate. These levels ensure community participation, drive equitable access, and make health outcomes more likely.
    2. Involve people who are often overlooked. It’s easy and convenient to invite the usual people you identify with. Be more inclusive by inviting community members from diverse backgrounds, especially those who will be impacted by the project.
    3. Listen to and incorporate the feedback. Listening to community members is great, but using their feedback is imperative. This step improves trust and morale and encourages future engagement and interest in community health improvement.

Most community health coalitions conduct community health needs assessments to determine what’s important to community members and what they need most to lead a healthy lifestyle. Oftentimes, your local health department or hospital may have administered a community needs assessment that you can request. If, however, a needs assessment is not available to rely on for direction, there are other ways to evaluate the community’s opinions and needs. Online surveys and community meetings are easy and low-cost alternatives.

Everyone plays a role in the health of their community. Get your community members involved in planning and implementing PSE change projects. They will point out obstacles and solutions that might not have been brought up before. And don’t overlook the younger generation. Who better to assist in making decisions about changes that affect them?

Chart from PDF clickable link
PSE Simplified: Determining if your project is a PSE change or program

PSE Simplified: Determining if your project is a PSE change or program

Wholespire provides grant opportunities to communities across South Carolina for implementing a policy, system or environmental (PSE) change project. It’s a concept that can be challenging to explain and understand. To prepare you for any upcoming grant opportunities from Wholespire, we want to help you determine if your project is a PSE change or a program. We also want to help you save time before applying for a grant that will not get funded because it is considered to be a program.

What is a Program?

Programs typically occur over a short period of time and only focus on individual behavior change. They are often considered health education rather than community health improvement. Hospitals and health centers often provide programs that teach people living with chronic diseases how to manage their condition through diet and exercise.

What is PSE Change?

Policy, systems and environmental change make healthier choices more practical and readily available to all members of a community and influence community health and well-being. They are often part of an ongoing project or plan. PSE change reaches more people and leads to more impactful, long-term changes in community health.

Characteristics of PSE and Programs

PSE Change + Programs = Greater Success

Wholespire focuses on whole community health through PSE change, while other organizations focus on individual behavior change through programs. We support the use of programs to reach individuals because programs and PSE change complement each other and can lead to even greater success than a stand-alone program.

Scenario 1: One-time Event

A municipality receives a Wholespire mini-grant to create a paved walking trail in a local park. They host a ribbon-cutting ceremony on opening day that features exhibitors offering health education information and giveaways for community members. The one-time event is a tactic to get community members to the new trail.

Scenario 2: Traditional Program

A community health needs assessment shows eating fruits and vegetables is important to community members, and they don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables because they don’t know how to prepare and cook with them. The local health coalition chooses to host a free Cooking Matters program to teach individuals how to cook with fresh produce. To supplement the classes, the coalition partners with the local community garden. Garden organizers donate produce from the garden for the cooking demonstrations and give free produce boxes to participants.

Decoding Jargon: 6 essential Wholespire terms to know

Decoding Jargon: 6 essential Wholespire terms to know

Have you ever left a meeting thinking, ‘I have no idea what they said’? Maybe you started working on your grant final report and don’t understand what’s being asked. That’s probably because of jargon—language used by people within a particular profession, culture, or social group.

When we work in complex fields, we revert to jargon because that’s what we know. We’ve trained our brains to use words associated with our work. At Wholespire, we understand that the people we are in contact with come from different backgrounds. We are continuously attempting to change the language we use. We want to explain some of them because, in addition to jargon, some of our words mean something different in other environments.

1. Technical Assistance

When the average person hears this word, they might think computer help, but that’s far from what we mean. Technical assistance (TA) is a non-financial form of help like connecting coalitions to funding sources, sharing information, providing training, consulting on projects and leadership coaching. Read more about technical assistance on our blog.

2. Community

We use this word in its traditional sense. A community is a group of people with a shared geographic location. It also means a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. When Wholespire talks about community, we often mean the town, city or county as a whole, but there are times when we are addressing other types of communities, like:

  • Schools,
  • Religious centers,
  • People with disabilities,
  • Early child care centers, and
  • Worksites.

3. Community Engagement, Youth Engagement

Community and youth engagement means involving community members and youth in the decision-making, planning, and evaluation of projects. It’s getting their input, perspectives and active participation to make sure that projects and policies are relevant, effective, and have long-term solutions. It often leads to an increased sense of community, empowerment, and inclusion.

4. Sustainable, Sustainability

When we provide technical assistance or open a grant application, we often ask if the project or idea is sustainable. We ask this because we want to invest in policy, systems and environmental change projects that are continual over a long time. It’s important to think about how the completed project will be maintained and who will be responsible for keeping it in safe, working order. Here are three examples of sustainability:

  • For a community garden, sustainability means creating a plan for who will pull weeds, harvest vegetables and prepare the beds for the next season.
  • For a park, sustainability could be what organization is responsible for keeping the grass mowed and the equipment safe to use.
  • For a trail, sustainability includes a plan for keeping the trail cleared of brush, fallen limbs and litter.

5. Leverage, Leveraging

Here’s another jargony word that can leave you guessing: leverage. In finance, it means something completely different. At Wholespire, leverage means using something you already have to achieve something new or better. On our grant final report, we ask, “How did you leverage this grant?” We want to know how you were able to make the project happen after you received funds from Wholespire.

We also ask this question to find out if the mini-grant had an impact that was above and beyond the initial project. Did a recipient of a grant, for instance, use donations to expand from one garden to three? Alternatively, it’s possible that the city noticed a park improvement and offered to update another park. There are many ways you can leverage your project:

  • In-kind donations are contributions of goods or services, other than money. This can be volunteers, employers lending employees on the clock, heavy equipment use, or dirt. Yes, dirt!  
  • Funding from other sources is a great way to supplement your budget. Apply for other grants, conduct a fundraiser, ask for donations or host a silent auction.
  • Leverage your existing partnerships. Leaning on partners is a great way to share information, learn from each other and accomplish goals together. Plus, partnerships can lead to additional funding opportunities.
  • Social media marketing can help raise awareness about your project, get the community involved, and collect donations. Social media also contributes to community or youth engagement because you’re reaching parts of the population that you may not have touched in newsletters and other forms of communication.

6. Implement, Implementation

Implementation is more than just completing the physical work of making your project happen. It’s the process of turning your project plan into a reality by following the action plan and making sure it’s successfully completed. Key components of implementation include:

  • Making sure the funding, personnel, equipment and materials are available,
  • Coordinating and organizing volunteers,
  • Monitoring and tracking progress,
  • Making adjustments to keep the project on schedule,
  • Communicating progress and challenges with the funder and partners,
  • Reviewing the process to identify lessons learned for future projects , and
  • Promoting the completed project to the community.

Leveraging the community for 20 tons of dirt

In 2021, Wholespire funded GoForth Recovery in Spartanburg for a basketball court project. Initially, the plan called for clearing enough land for the basketball court, but the vision soon grew to clear an entire lot to make room for future additions. The mini-grant only funded about half of the total project cost, so the executive director needed to secure full funding. News of the project reached various community members, businesses, partners, and associates. As the challenge was being faced, the old courthouse in Spartanburg was being demolished. Upon hearing about the need, officials donated the extra dirt. Project organizers estimated that 30 truckloads were delivered at no cost to them.

Dillon Youth asks City Council to improve Harmon Field

Dillon Youth asks City Council to improve Harmon Field

The Dillon County HYPE Team
The HYPE Team on the steps of City Hall after they advocated to City Council for park improvement

A group of young changemakers at the Dillon County Girls and Boys Youth Center in the City of Dillon have sparked significant improvements in a local park and influenced elected officials to address other outdoor community amenities. Through the Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) Project, youth learned how to assess their community, advocate for change and make Harmon Field a destination for everyone.

In 1924, Harmon Field was given to the City of Dillon and “dedicated forever to the plays of children, the development of youth, and the recreation of all.” The dedication plaque speaks volumes about the intentions of the HYPE team’s civic action project – reinvigorate Harmon Field for everyone.

“We had been taking the kids to a park, not far from us, and the park had to have had the same equipment as I had when I was a child,” says Annie Smith, Dillon County Girls and Boys Youth Center and HYPE Advisor. “The only people that would use the park were our kids (Youth Center) and maybe a few more kids you might see, but everything was dilapidated. It was just terrible.”

As a HYPE advisor, Smith’s responsibility is to lead the youth through the HYPE curriculum and help them learn the process of choosing and implementing a civic action project focused on healthy eating or active living. Once the HYPE team understood what they were doing, they quickly knew they wanted to make Harmon Field a more comfortable and safer place to spend time outdoors.

They used their HYPE grant funds to paint benches, but they had their site set on something bigger, something huge, something that required a lot of courage and determination. They wanted the City Council to devote some of its budget to improvements that would help get Harmon Field back on a path to greatness.

girl using water fountain
A HYPE team member demonstrates the new working water fountain at Harmon Field.

Speaking on behalf of the HYPE team, Smith says, “Our main concern was water. There was no water fountain for the kids. There was no water fountain for anyone. There’s a walking trail there, so you know people will get thirsty while walking. And there is no bathroom.”

Backing Up Their Big Idea

Although the youth knew what they wanted to do, they still needed to collect data and information supporting the need for improvements. They had to assess the park to determine exactly what was missing. Then, they had to get the community’s opinion on the park. While some HYPE teams may choose to conduct a survey, this HYPE team was confident that the community would support their desires. So, they petitioned as many people as they could.

“The kids went to the park on a daily or weekly basis to get signatures from anyone there. They could’ve been students, their parents, their grandparents, anybody in the neighborhood, and visitors,” says Smith. “We have people that visit from out of town. Roland (NC) is right across the border, and I have seen people having a cookout a couple of times. And still, there was no water and no bathroom.”

After collecting around 250 signatures, the HYPE team was ready to approach the City Council. When advocating for something we want, many of us know that we have to be prepared before approaching leaders with a request. Elected officials and decision-makers at all levels want information about the issue, proposed solutions and community support before making any decision. For youth, it took courage to overcome such an intimidating task, to find their voice and speak to elected officials in a public setting.

Advocating to City Council

When advocating for something we want, many of us know that we have to be prepared before approaching leaders with a request. Elected officials and decision-makers at all levels want information about the issue, proposed solutions and community support before making any decision. For youth, it took courage to overcome such an intimidating task, to find their voice and speak to elected officials in a public setting.

new play equipment
The new playground equipment exceeded the team’s expectations.

Smith said about 15 youths attended the council meeting and showed solidarity wearing their HYPE t-shirts. It was their first time attending a City Council meeting for all of them. The HYPE advisors identified one youth who was outspoken and very active on the team to address the City Council.

“We made a folder and passed it out to everybody on the City Council so they would follow along with us as we talked. We showed them pictures of what the park looked like. And at the end, we showed them a convenient bathroom that wasn’t that expensive that they could actually put out there, and the bathroom had a place to put a water fountain in front of it”, says Smith. “We talked about statistics. It was all written down, and they had it so they could see it, visualize it, and see where we were coming from.”

Council members were surprised to hear from youth, a group of citizens who usually don’t speak at meetings or talk about issues or business that may affect them. Several residents complained about the lack of running water at the existing water fountain, but no action was taken. Perhaps that’s why the City Council agreed to fulfill most of the HYPE team’s requests.  

The City Council did not agree to install a bathroom, citing concerns about misuse of the facility, such as potential crime, drug paraphernalia being left behind, lack of staff, and other deterrents.

“We’re going have to keep going back. I understand their concerns, but we’re still going to try to work on them and find a grant that would fund an employee because they desperately need a bathroom.” 

The Proof is In the Pudding

new play equpment
The HYPE Advisors were surprised by the amount of new playground equipment.

Since installing new playground equipment and a water fountain, Smith has noticed an increase in adults and children at the park. They’re staying longer, playing longer, and enjoying the great outdoors. Even teens have been spotted using the walking track.

“I am so excited to go to that park now. They have a water fountain that’s working, and the equipment is beautiful. They put new equipment everywhere. I went to the park twice last week, and there have been so many kids out there playing. It actually made kids come to the park! It’s just beautiful to be sitting in the park now. You’ve got older people coming out there walking their dogs. We’re still excited about what we started.”

The ultimate goal of this HYPE project was to increase physical activity in Harmon Field. While there is evidence of that goal being met, the HYPE team gained an experience they can be proud of. They used their influence and voice to express a desire and a need for community health improvement.

“It’s a good thing for kids to get involved,” says Smith. “It’s something they get to call their own, something they can be proud of. They get a chance to use their input, and we get a chance to listen to them.”

Ava Dean, BSN, MPH, Out the Lifeline: A Mission to Families and HYPE Advisor, added, “I was going to say the same thing, to let them have ownership of it and not to let us as adults come up with the project, but to allow them. Once you allow them to do it and see the final project, they will walk away knowing, ‘Hey, I had something to do with this,’ and they will be proud of that. They will forever have that accomplishment.”

The HYPE team in Dillon indeed started something. The City Council plans to update the playground equipment in all its parks. The City Manager approved Dean and the Tobacco-Free Health Disparities Coalition to place a “Clean Air is Fair” sign to keep the park smoke-free. Smith and Dean have also discussed possible collaboration amongst local coalitions to volunteer and remove graffiti from the park shelter.

So, while the HYPE team certainly had a successful civic action project and learned new leadership and advocacy skills, they have also influenced other groups to answer the question, “What’s next?”  

Ridge Spring Focusing on Getting Families Outside More Often

Ridge Spring Focusing on Getting Families Outside More Often

Town of Ridge Spring, SC made park improvements
New sensory equipment

Rural municipalities are relying on increased community engagement to enhance amenities and opportunities for families to explore local businesses, as well as provide inclusive play opportunities for children of all abilities. Focusing on these types of improvements means looking at the built environment, which influences healthy eating and physical activity.

The built environment includes the man-made spaces where we live. When community leaders value the surroundings and what they offer to attract residents and visitors, there is an opportunity to create more liveable, thriving spaces for recreation and transportation purposes. In Ridge Spring, SC, community leaders are investing in changes to the environment to increase walking, bicycling, outdoor playing and the local economy.

With assistance from the Upper Savannah Council on Governments, the Town of Ridge Spring applied for a Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) Mini-Grant to purchase and install bike racks and inclusive playground equipment. The small, rural Saluda County town wanted to encourage residents to become more active. They proposed installing bicycle racks at the farmers market and interactive sensory equipment at the community playground.  

Town of Ridge Spring, SC made park improvements
New and updated riders

According to their application, several public hearings related to streetscape (view of a street) projects and potential improvements related to walkability (a measure of how friendly an area is to walking) were held and residents responded. They were interested in being able to walk and bike to places more safely. There was also a desire to update the community playground. Like many rural community parks, the equipment was outdated, unsafe and unappealing.

With HEAL Mini-Grant funds, Ridge Spring installed a bike rack at the farmers market, providing opportunities for cyclists to secure their bicycles and feel comfortable while they browse and shop. At the playground, new sensory-related equipment was installed, which helps make the space more inclusive of children’s needs. Observations indicate increased usage of the playground and children are playing longer.

Through the mini-grant, the town found a new partnership with Kids in Parks, a non-profit organization focused on getting families and children to spend more time outside. The new partnership could lead to additional funding opportunities to assist with future projects. Leaders also have their eye on improving another community playground and placing more bike racks in other areas of the town.

Town of Ridge Spring, SC made park improvements
Bike rack at the farmers market