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Chapter 3

🧭 Before getting started

🤝 Partner with a public health-focused organization

If you are not from a public health organization, identify ones you can work with whose mission aligns with the aims of the project. They should be focused on the health topic of interest and/or serve the population of focus, and be in a position to help implement recommendations and solutions identified in the project. It’s essential to work with the community of focus from day one, and the partner organization should help facilitate this. These organizations can provide expertise, technical input, access to people and communities who might want to submit stories or analyze them, potential funding, links to networks, and can serve as a sounding board throughout the project. They are a critical component to the project because they can help bridge the gap between project outputs and community impact. Without this important step, you may be able to collect and analyze stories and develop recommendations, but they may not be informed by the realities of your health topic, and you may not have anyone who can take action on your insights, and the project becomes a report that sits on a shelf instead of improving people’s health.

ℹ Gather available data

Understand the health topic of concern and the community of focus by collecting any relevant available data. This might include public health reports on the topic, news coverage of the topic, opinion polls, routine health system data, situational reports (during emergencies), peer-reviewed articles, social media reports, or infodemic insights reports. The more specific to your community of focus the better, which means national-level data will be less useful than a report from the state where your community of interest resides. Your community of focus might not be geographically bound, so think about what organizations might collect and publish data on it. For example, if you want to focus on young people, you might want to know who collects data about young people and the chosen health topic. These data sources can help you fill in knowledge gaps and identify potential topics you might want to ask about when collecting stories. They can also help you pinpoint where to go to collect stories and who to talk to.

It is a good idea to speak to informal leaders and practice leaders in the community of focus to let them know this work is about to start. They know the community best, and you want to ask and confirm that they think it is a good idea to do this work, and to build trust and engagement. They will have ideas for you in developing your plan, which will help make your work successful. For example, they will help you identify local resources and capacities and the timing for stages of work, and more importantly, how to make sure real action follows the work.

💪 Identify resources and capacities

Map which people and organizations you might want to contact or collaborate with. Determine the time, people, and funding required to implement the project. Assess what kind of institutional support is available to you, such as free meeting space, digital tools, or funding. The more stories you want to collect, the more complex the project will become.

🖇️ Connect to expertise

Aim to involve someone who is an expert on the health topic and another person who is an expert on the community of focus, such as a community leader. Other kinds of expertise, such as behavioral science, epidemiology, communications, infodemic management, health equity, and health promotion expertise, may also be beneficial to seek out. These experts can provide technical feedback throughout your project.

🏗️ Build a team

It will take a small team of two to six people with different skill sets and roles to run this project, keeping it nimble and productive. Choose roles based on the size and scope of the project. For example, you will need people who will engage the community of focus, solicit or collect stories, manage the project, facilitate the discussions, take notes, and develop and disseminate the reports. Having familiarity with the community of focus — which may include having community ties, speaking the language, and having an understanding of the partner landscape — is critical. Develop a clear outline of team members, roles and responsibilities, and a way to coordinate and communicate, which may be a WhatsApp group, a Slack channel, or regularly scheduled in-person meetings. Your community’s preference for communication will likely influence this. Ensure there is a central file repository where all project information can be documented and archived.

👣 Follow existing guidance

Your project might require clearance or agreement from different organizations involved and adherence to organizational policies. Because this project collects data from people and uses it to inform public health efforts, it may be considered research. This means you should first seek guidance from your organization’s research ethics committee or similar body on obtaining research determination before proceeding with project planning or collecting any data. Other special policies may be in place that govern how you engage with specific people or communities, such as working with vulnerable groups (e.g., children or people with disabilities) or discussing topics that may be sensitive or stigmatizing, such as drug use or reproductive health. Double-check on existing norms and guidance on community engagement, including unwritten norms. It may be helpful to understand how previous similar projects engaged the community of focus. Make sure you document everything and check in frequently with the team, technical experts, and responsible organizations throughout the project.

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