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.