Next steps in the movement towards better health

This blog is part of a GO! Austin/VAMOS! Austin (GAVA) series that focuses on the longevity and sustainability of the initiative. You can find more information on GAVA here

Since the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and our partners launched GO! Austin/VAMOS! Austin (GAVA) in 2012, we’ve seen incredible changes in two communities. Our goal was to engage a cross-section of the community in coordinated childhood obesity prevention, and to find the sweet spot where local engagement meets evidence-based best practice. Well, we’re getting there.

As the work progresses in both communities, this is a pivotal time.  The evaluation team will graduate from looking at measures that suggest we’re moving in the right direction to looking at whether the team has been successful in affecting downstream outcomes data in Dove Springs.  Through the GAVA initiative, teams have been built; leaders have been identified, strengthened, and proliferated; changes in the access to and quality of healthy food and physical activity opportunities have occurred; and partners have been inspired to co-fund and participate in its efforts.  The community’s awareness of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle has become more widespread.

Now it’s time to increase demand for healthy eating and physical activity.  The expected end result when greater access meets higher demand?  More healthy eating and physical activity on the part of residents, a neighborhood more supportive and promoting of healthier behaviors, and better health for communities.  Everything we know about GAVA’s impact so far has been a series of leading indicators saying the team is headed in the right direction.  Now we’ll start to look at whether we can reach our destination using this collaborative, resident driven approach to evidence based strategies.

Everything we know about GAVA’s impact so far has been a series of leading indicators saying the team is headed in the right direction.

How do we get there?

To accomplish these lofty goals, two community directors lead the charge. They each possess a very special combination of skills to work in partnership with community residents and align potential organizational partners.

We have also armed ourselves with great data – maps that show which barriers to healthy eating and physical activity are prevalent in any school attendance zone; where there is a critical mass of high level resident leaders and where new leaders should be recruited; information about which site based teams are taking on which types of strategies and whether that combination of strategies is likely to be successful; and where progress is being made.  Or not – so we can figure out why.

What’s next?

GAVA has graduated to greater community ownership, with a 2015 application for Michael & Susan Dell Foundation funding that was written in partnership by the funded organizations and residents.  The approved grant, multi-year for the first time since GAVA’s inception, outlined each entity’s role in joint goals and their accountability for the timely accomplishment of those goals.  The GAVA structure has been reorganized, to put a greater emphasis and support around community organizing – to lift up, develop, and support leaders throughout the two communities, with an eye toward sustainability and capacity building.  Its community directors have been given greater latitude to lead from the ground, driving the results and the methodologies most likely to garner long-term, sustained energy and leadership from neighborhood residents and organizations.

It has also graduated in responsibility – with the foundation supporting less of its budget over time, forcing the uncomfortable, but necessary diversification of funding we’d require of any other grantee partner.

It is a scary time for all of us.  For those of us relinquishing control, taking control, pledging accountability, and seeking new partners and supporters.  It is scary to see if the numbers will continue to bear out impact, even as we become more demanding about the impact we expect and how long it will last.  And it is also an exciting time – it’s a time when we make good on our commitment to our community partners to step back and follow their lead.  And when we make good on our commitment to our foundation partners to be rigorous in our approach, informed in our implementation, dogged in our pursuit of impact, and inspiring in our ability to find others who see the value of the people, the place, and the model that is GAVA.

Stay tuned for blogs from GAVA community directors who will share stories of what’s happening day to day on the ground in both communities.  Their voices will bring to life the complexity of the work, how far we’ve come and where we’re headed.