The power of positive stressors

Jul 12, 2018

The launch of coalitions often have a similar story. Key partners come together, form a collaboration, and move forward in a collective manner—all with the best intentions and similar goals in mind. Unfortunately, what happens next is all too frequent. A competition begins—be it for resources, ownership, or a host of another needs.

Over the course of my four years with Central Iowa ACEs 360, I have been pleased at the collaborative manner with which our coalition has moved the ACEs movement forward. We have incredible leaders who think systemically and with the whole community in mind. When partners come to the table, it has been with the focus of “how do WE advance the movement,” rather than a sole focus on how it benefits a single entity. That being said, as resources have become scarcer and external stress from political and social environments has created additional pressures, I have constantly considered my role in fostering that continued collaboration amid competition.

One of the most valuable benefits of the HealthConnect Fellowship is the opportunity to have dialogue with leaders with a vast array of experience. In February, Ralph Smith joined the fellows for a discussion, and provided thought leadership on a variety of topics. As a leader who has had significant experience in coalitions, I asked Ralph how to foster collaboration in times of scarcity and competition. Ralph shared that his perspective has been to view disagreement and different approaches to work as “positive stressors.” He shared that the perspective of “positive stressors” provides an opportunity to review the direction of coalitions and/or their goals to determine if work is moving in the right direction.

With this in mind, I have actively worked over the past few months to reframe coalition challenges as “positive stressors” that provide the opportunity to reflect on our collective work. Here are two ways efforts have shifted as a result.

Positive Stressor: What impact is your coalition actually making?

Reducing trauma requires commitment and systems change over the course of generations. Beyond outputs from trainings and reports, Central Iowa ACEs 360 has not focused on documenting the incremental successes and promising practices in our work over time. The documentation of our work needed to be higher on the priority list. The shift? We have recently dedicated time and resources to concretely document the history of our coalition though video interviews, conduct qualitative analysis of our technical assistance efforts, and proactively increase our presence at conferences and workshops.

Positive Stressor: There is more to trauma and toxic stress than just ACEs.

Historical trauma, epigenetics, and social determinants of health are critical factors that are interwoven with ACEs science. While attending any committee meeting or training for Central Iowa ACEs 360, we have highlighted this. However, we have not been proactive in interweaving these factors with our messaging and strategic planning. This can alienate potential partners and systems. Our message has often been received as solely focused on parents and disregarding community stressors. The shift? Conversations of equity and historical trauma will be foundational in every strategy we will now move forward. Policy messaging and communications materials are receiving critical review to ensure our language affirming the movement, not alienating allies.

These are just two ways I have reframed work recently. I frequently look at challenges in meetings and say “this is a positive stressor.” Competition and defensiveness will not move our work forward. Opportunities for reflection and, if needed, course correction will advance the movement.

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