I’m in the final stretch of completing a Health Impact Assessment, and I’m struck by how many different skills are needed to do it right. Our model at Human Impact Partners – combining rigorous research, evidence-based analysis, community participation and a strong focus on equity – requires HIA practitioners to master an array of roles:
- Project manager. Every successful project has a strong manager. A typical HIA must be coordinated with a variety of stakeholders, cover a range of topics, and be done on time (often more quickly than you’d ideally like). As project manager, you outline the tasks, who’s responsible for them, and how long each task should take to stay on time and budget. You coordinate with all team members and partners so everyone is clear about the plan. Throw in a changing timeline and super-busy community partners, and your management skills are really tested.
- Technical expert. HIA is inherently multidisciplinary, so you’ll need to learn about the subject of your study. You may be unfamiliar with your target, available policy options, your partners’ positions, or the broader political context. You may need to explore a social determinant of health you’ve never researched before, such as critical race theory, cross-race understanding, or parental deportation. By the end, after doing a literature review, sourcing and analyzing the data, and communicating to partners about what you found, you’ll be an expert in something new.
- Meeting facilitator/public speaker. These skills come into play as you uphold the values of democracy and equity. Stakeholder engagement is critically important; to do this, you’ll need to communicate about your HIA, get people engaged in the process, and facilitate input from stakeholders in a public forum. You’ll need input and agreement on your scope, the impacts you’re predicting and the recommendations you are making. It helps if you’re comfortable in front of a group and have creative ways to keep people engaged.
- Diplomat. One of the most difficult tasks is prioritizing and limiting your research while still responding to stakeholder and partner concerns. For many HIAs, you can’t examine everything, and to attempt too much means compromising depth for breadth. It takes diplomacy to be strategic with the most compelling findings and recommendations while striking a balance between what your partner wants and what the budget allows.
- Research designer and analyst. To recognize and analyze the pathways through which your proposal may impact health requires an understanding both of how individuals respond to changes in their environment and how on a larger scale those changes influence an entire population’s behaviors, outcomes and inequities. You start by conceiving the impact pathways. Then you must identify indicators and measures of behavioral, social, and environmental factors. After you and others on the team collect and analyze the data, you still must visualize how you’re going to present it.
- Communications expert. Communications are the icing on the cake. The final report is a record of all your efforts, presented for the affected populations, collaborators, decision-makers, journalists and the public to see. As editor of the report you must be strategic about what you include, exclude, and highlight and how you disseminate the results so your HIA has an impact.
You may not be an expert in each of these skills, but being an HIA coordinator does require familiarity and some level of proficiency in all of them. This incredible variety is one of the reasons I love my job. It is never routine, you’re always learning, and you bring people together through the very important shared value of health.