Finding & Creating Health Activists

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By Mark Lundegren

Mark Lundegren

Would you like to make your community a better place in which to live and more aligned with HumanaNatura’s ideal of progressive natural health?

If so, let me say that this is an important goal and worthy ambition. But I must also add that you will need help in this work. Progressive health and vitality in a community is a long-term and ranging endeavor, one requiring action on the part of all or many people within any community. It is a task you can begin but cannot achieve on your own.

In many ways, though, starting a community’s movement toward greater health is the hardest part. With time and just a bit of visibility and success, community interest and involvement naturally increases. We often steadily and unexpectedly find the resources we need to both address pressing health issues and then to begin an ongoing and self-reinforcing process of community health promotion.

But getting started, and finding early adopters and supporters, can be daunting at first. Fortunately, lessons from community activism outside the community health field, and from international development efforts in particular, provide a useful model you can use right away to jump-start your community health promotion process.

I came across a simple community mobilization model at a recent seminar, courtesy of Rafter Ferguson of Liberation Ecology, and think it applies well to communities of all shapes and sizes – especially ones in the early stages of utilizing HumanaNatura’s Community Health Program.

Finding Likely Supporters

As summarized in the graphic below, this model for finding likely community supporters asks us to consider three factors: 1) those people who are most local, 2) those who are most impacted or affected (in this case, by health related issues), and 3) people who are most organized already.

Finding Local Activists

Community Activist Model Based On Three Complementary Factors     full-size

If people or groups in your community have all three characteristics, this represents a sweet spot in the mobilization model. It predicts that if you can find people in this category, they will be highly likely to support and become involved in your community health efforts.

So that you understand the mobilization model adequately, let me spend a moment on each of the three factors.

> Local – this factor highlights the importance of finding people who are deeply part of the community already and as it is, versus newcomers or people from outside of the community (however well-intentioned or committed to progressive action they may be). By focusing on truly localized community members, you are likely to tap into a base of support that not only can help to mobilize and sway the community more broadly, but one that can also serve as an important source of community knowledge and guidance. This includes providing information on the community’s past, its current social arrangements and stakeholder groups, and its shared hopes, goals, and assumptions.

> Impacted – it may be true that everyone in a community is objectively impacted or affected by one or more health and well-being issues or unaddressed opportunities, but until this is subjectively appreciated there is not a tangible or strong enough sense of impact to mobilize action and change. Sometime, of course, there are directly impacted groups that are aware of an impact and waiting to be activated. This might include a portion of the community with poor water quality, policing, public spaces, or any number of other community health issues (see HumanaNatura’s Community Assessment Form for a useful list of potential health issues). But other times, people must be made aware of one or more issues to be considered impacted. In any case, impacted people and groups are a natural source of support for progressive community health actions.

> Organized – the third factor in the community mobilization model is level of organization. This factor might seem a bit circular, since you are trying to organize people for health action, but it is instead intended to highlight and help you leverage the fact that most communities have existing and varying forms of organization waiting to be tapped. Examples of the more organized areas of your community might include your schools, government agencies, religious and charitable groups, sports organizations, and various clubs and interest groups. Of course, not all are waiting sources of support for community health promotion, but some may be (especially when they can be made to see health impacts). In any case, the model predicts that there will be natural advantages to probing existing organizations for interest in community health actions.

With this simple model in mind, I would encourage you to take a first or fresh look at your community. Perhaps it will allow you to see waiting sources of support for community health promotion in one or more areas. While you may not find people and groups with all three attributes, you may find ones with at least two attributes and can then cultivate the third (for example, helping local organized groups see that they are affected by community health conditions and unrealized quality of life opportunities).

Creating Community Activists

As you might have surmised already, finding local, impacted, and organized people in your community may be important for ramping up your community health efforts, but this step is only a beginning.

Just as importantly, once likely or potential supporters are identified, they must be attentively approached and mutually beneficial relationships with them must be progressively cultivated, if these high potentials are to become active allies in the work of progressive community health promotion.

This process of cultivation may include highlighting health impacts from current conditions or inaction on community development opportunities. But it may first need to begin more simply, by building trust, rapport, and a sense of shared interests and aims.

Cultivating Local Activists

Community Health Activists Are Generally Created, Rather Than Found     full-size

My second graphic highlights how this process of learning and cultivation might begin and proceed. It suggests a seven-step process beginning with awareness building and proceeding in a graduated way toward active collaboration – and then using the fact of collaboration to circularly find and foster even more activists.

The seven steps of this cultivation process are:

1. Introduction – basic information exchanges and probing of interests and capacities, a step that assumes an initial interest in learning but makes no assumptions about initial levels of trust.

2. Transparency – with introductions and initial levels of mutual trust, information sharing can continue to the point where you and potential activists become relatively well-understood to one another, at least to the point where an assessment of fit or alignment can be reasonably made.

3. Assistance – with adequate and increasing transparency, either you or potential activists can provide aid in some form to the other, with even simple acts of assistance often helping to increase transparency, rapport, and understanding of your degree of natural alignment.

4. Influence – from assistance and the relationship development it can afford, you may then have opportunities to influence the actions of your activist candidates, which can be both a sign of increasing trust and an opportunity to further increase transparency and mutually deepen the relationship.

5. Guidance – opportunities for influence can grow to ones where you can provide guidance, which again will similarly both reflect and promote improving trust and relationship quality.

6. Accountability – across all the previous steps, you will gradually begin to make small or large commitments to act in specific ways, and this naturally creates demands for or tests of your accountability or promise-keeping. Your ability to keep promises will be moments of truth in the work of cultivating allies. It will directly affect future levels of trust, and perceptions of your capacities and the quality of your ideas. Almost inevitably, accountability will be a final gateway to true, deepening, and naturally building collaboration.

7. Collaboration – an earned and mutually beneficial state where you and your activists are working together toward common ends.

Does this cultivation process seem about right, or too slow and methodical? In practice, sometimes you will reach collaboration with others quickly and seemingly effortlessly. This is especially true when your backgrounds, ideas, and interests are closely aligned.

But other times, a go-slow approach will be required – if you want to cultivate activists and collaborators, and minimize detractors, for the long-term. After all, most people and groups have commitments and agendas already, and getting them to consider yours can take time, goodwill, empathy, and patient persistence.

For this reason, it is usually best to err on the side of deliberateness. In the margin, you are more likely to turn a fast no from a group into a slow yes, while avoiding unintentionally creating opponents to your work through rashness and avoidable process and communication missteps.

Your Next Steps

If you are interested or active in community health issues already, I hope you will consider these tools for your community health efforts, and perhaps use them to find or increase support for health initiatives in your community beginning today.

On the other hand, if you are still primarily focused on personal health matters, I would encourage you to explore the many benefits of community health promotion or work at Natural Communities, the fourth technique in the HumanaNatura natural health system.

In practice, promoting greater health in your community is deeply rewarding in itself, can greatly improve the health of your immediate environment and increase your own health and well-being opportunities, and can help you to find new friends and allies in your quest for progressive quality of life in the world around you.

To begin this essential progressive health process, go to HumanaNatura’s Community Health Program, which is free for personal and non-commercial use.

Health & best wishes,


Mark Lundegren is a writer and teacher, and the founder of HumanaNatura.

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