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Rural Health Information Hub

Creating a Shared Vision and Definition for Health Equity

Creating a shared vision for health equity is foundational for establishing common goals and a sense of urgency for change among community partners. Developing a shared vision for health equity may also help partners begin to reflect on the structural and systemic factors that contribute to health inequities. For example, the National Collaborative for Health Equity recommends that health departments work with communities and partners to create a collective vision for advancing equity and common understanding about the root causes of inequities.

Seeking a wide range of perspectives is essential to ensuring that a shared definition of health equity will resonate with diverse community members. For example, the Oregon Health Equity Commission sought feedback from tribes, community advisory councils, community-based organizations, the Oregon Health Policy Board, and Medicaid coordinated care organizations when developing a definition of health equity. Different organizations provided different suggestions for creating a definition, including considerations for terminology, literacy, readability, and accessibility.

Some rural communities will find it imperative to acknowledge concepts like justice and racism in their definition of health equity, especially when historical discrimination continues to shape their health outcomes. In other rural communities, the phrase “health equity” may not resonate with community members. These communities may find common ground in defining health equity in terms of core values and equal opportunity. Module 1 includes additional resources for defining health equity.

Examples of Shared Visions and Definitions of Health Equity in Rural Communities

  • The Minnesota Department of Health shifted the way it described health. Instead of focusing on rates of disease and sickness, the department changed the narrative of health to include factors that contribute to well-being for all Minnesotans. Rice County Public Health uses the Minnesota Department of Health's definition of health equity in its own health equity strategic plan: “The opportunity for every person to realize their health potential — the highest level of health possible for that person — without limits imposed by structural inequities.”
  • Healthy in the Hills Network in West Virginia worked together to create the following definition of health equity: “Our efforts over the next ten years will result in improved physical environments with greater opportunities and accessible support for all. With a growing business community and increased access to broadband, we expect an increase in available job opportunities. The Network aims to address the social determinants of health and health equity barriers to ensure the changing local economy impacts the community at large.”
  • The Columbia Gorge Enhanced Incubation Plan of the Gorge Health Equity Collaborative in rural Oregon and Washington describes a comprehensive vision for health equity, including “a community where, in addition to zip code, cultural background, racial identity, sexual orientation, gender, or any other factor no longer define your access to the resources needed for a healthy, happy and productive life.”
  • The West Marion Inc. in North Carolina developed the following shared vision for health equity: “Our vision is for a healthy and equitable West Marion. A place where residents are engaged to become leaders to create change through new businesses, empowered youth, affordable housing, teaching gardens, and a community center that honors our ancestors and creates opportunities for our future.”
  • The 11 coalitions that participate in the Two Georgias Initiative were tasked with developing their own definitions of health equity. The Georgia Health Initiative (formerly the Healthcare Georgia Foundation) engaged the Partnership for Southern Equity to provide technical assistance to the coalitions as they worked together to identify a shared vision for health equity in their communities.
  • Collaborators of the Humboldt Community Health Trust in rural California sign a partnership agreement stating they will work to achieve a shared vision: “Humboldt County is a safe, healthy, and resilient community where everyone thrives.”

Questions for Consideration

  • How are collaborators and our organization defining health equity?
  • Who was involved in choosing this definition?
  • How will we operationalize this vision? (For example, how will this vision guide our organization's work?)

Program Clearinghouse Examples