Lindsey Alexander

Senior Project Consultant

Scary.

Intimidating.

Daunting.

These are just a few of the descriptive words my colleagues and I at ReThink Health hear when we ask people how they feel about sustainably financing their population health work. We know—from our work in the field, our PulseCheck survey, and other means—that long-term, sustainable financing is a major challenge for those of you working with multisector partnerships and the organizations aligned with them in regions across the country. Many of you depend overwhelmingly on short-term sources of funding—namely, grants. But the time has come to explore new financing frontiers! That’s because today ReThink Health is releasing Beyond the Grant: A Sustainable Financing Workbook.

Beyond the Grant takes you through several modules, each focused around a key financing question. In fact, catalytic questions are at the heart of the workbook, which was built around the notion that sustainable financing does not happen with a leap into some magical land where money is yours for the taking. With the right questions, your sustainable financing efforts can move forward, answer by answer, in ways that add up to real progress over time. By tackling the catalytic questions that open dialogue, test assumptions, and connect key concepts, you’ll find the right answers for your organization—and your financing work will advance with each conversation. (That being said, a widely available, sustainable financing source sure would be helpful—see our recent paper published by the National Academy of Medicine for some work we’ve been doing on that topic.)

Asking questions is an essential skill of highly successful groups

In The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, author Daniel Coyle suggests that including someone who is really good at asking questions is key to a group’s success. In making his case, Coyle profiles Bell Labs, which, sometime around the mid-point of its golden age, decided to investigate why a handful of its scientists were uber-creative, high-achievers, filing dozens upon dozens of patents over the course of their careers. Bell Labs discovered that these high-performers had one habit in common: they regularly ate lunch with a man named Harry Nyquist. Nyquist, as you might guess, was very good at asking questions. Nyquist’s questions led his lunchmates to think differently about their work and enabled new discoveries; the kind so good they needed patents. (If you’re interested in this idea, check out this short video where Steven Johnson, a popular science author and media theorist, describes where good ideas come from.)

Coyle also profiles Roshi Givechi, a designer with IDEO, who has had tremendous success asking questions as a “roving catalyst” across IDEO’s project teams. Describing her work, Givechi said, “I’m the person on the side [of the room] listening and asking questions. They’re usually questions that might seem obvious or simple or unnecessary. But I love asking them because I’m trying to understand what’s really going on . . . It’s not about decisiveness, it’s about discovery. For me, that has to do with asking the right questions the right way.”

The right questions asked the right way are key to financing population health efforts

We like to think of Beyond the Grant as the equivalent to a Nyquist or Givechi for you and your collaborators. Here’s a preview:

For example, at one of our testing workshops, representatives from a regional multisector partnership explored the value sequence found in Beyond the Grant’s Module 5. When answering questions around what value they create through their work, they were amazed to see that not only were they creating a lot of value, but there was an incredible amount of data out there that they could use to make their case to a potential funder or partner. In another testing session, participants stepped through an exercise from Module 1 where they had to identify a time when money was rerouted across sectors or organizations to support population health. The exercise prompted them to answer a few questions about what enabled that redirection of resources, and one small group came up with a plan for how they might recreate those conditions to find new money.

These participants learned that the practice of financing is not all about numbers and spreadsheets. Instead, it’s about creating the conditions for new conversations that spark ideas and connections that will eventually give rise to those numbers and spreadsheets. When the ideas and enthusiasm are there, the nuts and bolts work that follows is actually quite the opposite of scary, intimidating, or daunting. You’ll usually find you have all you need to do that work well; you just need to get the ideas down on paper, talk them through with your colleagues, and chart a course. And it all starts with a few, catalytic questions.

We’re so proud to share Beyond the Grant with you. We hope it helps you get started on your journey to sustainable financing. As you step through the workbook’s content, we’d love to hear your stories. If you are a part of a multisector partnership or organization seeking to finance your population health efforts, or if you are supporting such efforts in some way, how do the questions in the workbook help you in your process? What discoveries do they enable? What new questions do the workbook modules surface for you?

Share your answers with us in the comments below, via the hashtag #ThinkWithUs on social media, or via email at ThinkWithUs@rethinkhealth.org

The personal views and opinions expressed in this blog (and in any comments) are those of the original authors only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Rippel Foundation or ReThink Health. Neither The Rippel Foundation nor ReThink Health is responsible for the accuracy or validity of any of the information contained in the blog or any comments. All information is provided on an “as-is” basis.

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