Listening to our community


“I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.” 
~Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Throughout our 15-year history, Health Forward has always offered opportunities designed to invite community input and to listen openly to the perspectives of those we seek to call our partners.

With that commitment and tradition in mind, last summer we invited a broad range of community stakeholders to respond to a survey where they could share anonymously their perspective about Health Forward’s goals, strategy, policy work and communications. We were especially grateful that so many local leaders took the time to share their views with us during this extraordinary year.

Responses to the survey helped us learn more about what Health Forward is doing well and how we can improve. Here’s an overview of what we heard.

What’s going well?

We were gratified that most who responded to the survey have a favorable impression of Health Forward’s leadership. Community partners see us as an organization that understands the key issues that influence health, and that advances a broader understanding of those factors.

Since we strive to be a community-focused organization, we were also glad to hear that survey respondents perceive Health Forward as an organization that understands the local communities it serves and makes an impact on those communities. 

The survey data told us that Health Forward’s role in supporting health reform and influencing policy is viewed as a strength. Moreover, stakeholders see growing that role as an opportunity that dovetails with Health Forward’s mission and capabilities.

Stakeholders who have known us the longest and interacted with Health Forward the most frequently are more likely to report positive perceptions of our work and our team. We look forward to the opportunity to sustain those relationships, and to expand that reputation by reaching out to engage a growing network of community partners.

How can we do better?

We heard recommendations to be more visible in the community. Specifically one respondent suggested Health Forward “come to the community more often,” a suggestion that resonates with our commitment to deepening our understanding of local perspectives.

Focusing on changing policies and systems is an area where Health Forward can expand. Partners suggest that we deepen our activity in the legislative arena and “sharpen leadership on policy matters” as a complement to supporting access to care.

Finally, when we look at who responded to the survey, it suggests that  Health Forward has the opportunity to grow and broaden our network of stakeholders. We look forward to working to forge new partnerships across previously untapped sectors to advance health in our region.

The importance of addressing influencers of health

Health Forward Foundation has long known and advocated that to improve health effectively, we must look to the social and economic factors that impede health for those most in need. When the survey asked for community input on the social factors that influence health, results showed that leaders across the region know that too. 

When asked to list issues affecting health in the Greater Kansas City region, survey respondents named access to limited resources to meet daily needs such as housing, food, and transportation. They also named access to opportunity – including educational, economic, and employment opportunities. 

And when invited to identify priority topics for advocacy, racial equity, racial disparities in health and a broader focus on the social determinants of health all emerged.

Survey responses inform Health Forward’s future

Health Forward will spend the next year on an internal process of purpose alignment that will explore various strategic paths at the nexus of health, economic well-being, and race equity. We expect our grantmaking to evolve, our partnerships to diversify, and our advocacy footprint to broaden. 

Our partners will have a voice in and be able to inform our purpose alignment process. There is no doubt that the information community partners shared with us through this survey will be one of the valuable sources of data and insight that informs that work.

As we continue to assess and refine our purpose, we will listen with humility and thoughtfully consider all input to ensure our strategies reflect community priorities and address the root causes of health injustice. 

The work before us will not be easy. But it will result in more meaningful connections with our partners and a thriving region where health is achievable for all.

Editor’s note: a summary of the survey results can be found here.