In 2019, the Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation at Community Catalyst (the Center) launched the Consumer Voices for Innovation 2.0 program to support grassroots efforts to advocate for policies and programs that expand how the health care system addresses the social and economic drivers of health (SDOH). The projects encountered incredible challenges over the course of the two-year grant period, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic crisis, a national uprising in support of Black lives and against racist police violence, and unprecedented threats to American democracy.

The Center contracted with the Institute for Community Health (ICH) to evaluate this two-year program. In the final Consumer Voices for Innovation 2.0 Evaluation Report we learn that despite the unprecedented series of national challenges over the course of the grant period, the CVI 2.0 advocates amassed an equally unprecedented 43 policy victories. The ICH report describes the pivots each of the seven projects made over the course of the grant period and how their adaptability, grit, and relentless focus on organizing enabled their success. Many of the successful strategies identified in the program’s Interim Report held true in the second year: focus on community need, let community knowledge and experience guide policy priorities, and remain flexible. New findings of particular interest in this evaluation report are the key recommendations for grant makers who wish to fund organizing projects.

Fund Organizing and Foster Relationships

In response to the pandemic, projects pivoted from broad community engagement and leadership development to focusing on deep engagement with a smaller number of community leaders. Grant makers should fund organizing projects that incorporate a wide variety of organizing tactics so projects can shift strategies, as appropriate. In addition, relationship building with other community-based organizations was a key component of successful projects. Grant makers can and should facilitate these connections.

Explicitly Name and Address Structural Racism

The events of 2020 brought structural racism to the forefront, rightfully pushing organizations to be bolder and explicitly name the underlying systemic causes of inequality. Grant makers can support community organizations by continuing to explicitly name and prioritize dismantling systemic racism through antiracist practices and policies.

Grant Flexibility

The Center adapted reporting requirements and allowed projects to adjust policy goals in the face of the pandemic so that projects could meet emerging community needs. Other grant makers can provide greater flexibility in the reporting requirements and deliverables required of grantees, as well as allowing for shifts in direction in response to current events. This allows advocates the time and flexibility to focus on organizing and addressing emerging needs.

Provide Long-term Funding

Organizing and relationship building is long-term work that does not fit neatly within funding cycles. Grant makers can help organizations foster deep community relationships by providing multi-year funding and general operating support. This allows grantees to spend less time looking for new funding sources and more time working with the community.

Looking Ahead

The last eighteen months have been incredibly challenging, but time and again the CVI 2.0 advocates and community members have proven that they are well-positioned to build power and win important victories that will improve the health system, provided they are given the money and flexibility to focus on organizing people rather than being locked into specific policy priorities.