Two Essentials: Community and Communication

As part of my HIP fellowship, I get to interview leading practitioners and partners to learn more about the fascinating field of Health Impact Assessment. Two things stand out from my conversations as most important: community and communication. 

Tia Henderson, research manager at Upstream Public Health, says that the more she does HIAs, the more she is convinced that that the process must be owned by the community. Without community participation, she says, we can only speculate about health impacts, but integrating community members in the process bolsters the research and findings.

Sandra Witt, director of Healthy Communities (North Region) at the California Endowment, agreed, but added that community participation is not just about getting the best data, it’s also about equity. “The people most affected need to be present at the table,” and that people working in public health “need to be rooted in social justice.” This is especially of high importance because often times the field of public health can be disconnected from social issues that affect health.

Steve White, a project manager at the Oregon Public Health Institute, emphasized that HIAs are not only vehicles for research but for communication, so the assessment, recommendations, and reporting steps should carry substantial weight. Part of the responsibility to communicate, said Aaron Wernham, director of the Health Impact Project, includes forthrightly addressing opposing arguments because it helps build a more robust HIA. “Don’t work on an HIA where the holes are not addressed,” he said.

Everyone has provided insightful and useful recommendations. The responses are fascinating because they demonstrate the structured, yet fluid composition of HIAs. Interviewing HIA stakeholders has been especially helpful in deciphering whether I’m heading in the right direction with my own HIA project (which focuses on wage theft).

Finally, it reflects the strong interconnection that exists among various HIA organizations across the nation.

Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago
Research Associate


Fabiola Santiago first came to Human Impact Partners as the 2013-2014 Health and Equity Fellow before transitioning as a research associate. Her passion for social justice and public health was ignited through the various experiences she navigated as a formerly undocumented immigrant and as an indigenous woman from Oaxaca, Mexico. These experiences exposed her to institutionalized racism and several forms of oppression, and witnessing similar experiences in low-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized communities made it clear that in order to improve health, changes in social determinants of health must be addressed. Prior to joining HIP she was a research analyst at Special Service for Groups Research and Evaluation Unit, where she used community based participatory research approaches and empowerment evaluation to bolster community engagement and capacity building in health related projects, plans, and interventions. She firmly believes that community input is a necessary part of public policy and uses her fluent Spanish skills to ensure the highest level of engagement from Spanish speakers in projects. Fabiola received her Master’s degree in Public Health and Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from University of California, Los Angeles.