Two weeks ago I took a trip to a fun city, reconnected with old friends and made some new ones, and came back rejuvenated, inspired, and ready to get back to work. But I wasn’t on vacation. I was at a conference, and definitely not the boring, stuffy event you might think of. This year’s National HIA Meeting, Sept. 26-28 in Washington, D.C., was the second time practitioners from all over the country have gathered to discuss our work. It was my first, and to me it felt like a lovefest. Here are three reasons why:
Keynote Address by Councilman Joe Cimperman of Cleveland. Cimperman’s moving and inspiring address made me want to jump out of my seat and move to Cleveland right then and there. He discussed the importance of health and equity in his city, and the success of HIA in bringing health into decision-making and generating recommendations for improving health. He also talked about HIA as a tool for creating grassroots support and building relationships. Here is a great interview with Cimperman.
As a participant, my favorite breakout session was “Achieving Health and Equity in Education HIAs.” To my knowledge, the HIAs discussed in this panel are the only education HIAs ever completed in the US. Panelists included Phyllis Hill from ISAIAH in Minnesota, Susana Morales-Konishi and youth researcher Asha Simpson from Youth UpRising in Oakland, and Maisie Chin from CADRE in Los Angeles. These inspiring women represent community-based organizations that prioritize health and equity in their work. Community organizations are a growing group of HIA practitioners, but were under-represented at the conference, so these women brought fresh voices. Asha Simpson and her young colleagues, who were also in the room during the session, are the first youth team to conduct an HIA.
In the final minute of this session, an audience member asked a provocative question: “What about the fact that qualitative, community-generated data is not legitimate?” We didn’t have time to tackle it from the podium, but later talked privately and decided the real question should be: “Has the community legitimized your data?” Many HIAs are conducted without taking into account community knowledge and lived experience, and panelists agreed that practicing HIAs like this raises the red flag of illegitimacy more than the opposite approach. This episode and subsequent discussion really illuminated for me the value that community organizations bring, not just to an HIA but also to conferences like this one. This conversation should definitely be continued at the next national meeting.
My very favorite highlight was the people who came together from around the country and the world to make the conference happen. I never stopped running into old friends I’ve gotten to know over the last five years of doing HIAs. Just as often, I met new people and heard new stories about fascinating HIA projects and other health and equity work. (I guess you call this networking, but that word is too boring for describing the passion people brought to these conversations.)
Now I’m back home and ready to apply my renewed enthusiasm to a couple of new projects. But also excited for the next opportunity to meet with the 450-strong (and counting) national HIA community. The 3rd National HIA meeting is tentatively scheduled for Spring 2015 in Washington, DC.