This article was written by Linda K. Weiss, LCSW, Director of Member Services for the National Cooperative of Health Networks Association (NCHN), for the March 2017 edition of “Networking News.” The Network Technical Assistance Project is funded by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through a contract to Rural Health Innovations, LLC, a subsidiary of the National Rural Health Resource Center
We all know that communication is one of the keys to success for many endeavors, including, but not limited to, personal and professional relationships, sports, social events, education and business. In the world of rural health, telling a network’s story and communicating the resulting benefits of its activities should be done early, often and in a variety of formats. This applies to networks of all ages, sizes, stages, compositions and locations. Communicating the impact of the network’s collaborative efforts is an ongoing task and should be a component of a written communication plan.
Different priorities for different audiences
To whom do you need to communicate the impact of your network’s activities? For starters, it’s important to include all of the following:
The network’s members are most likely going to view things from the lens we commonly refer to as, “What’s in it for me?” This does not mean that they are not committed to the network or its collaborative efforts, but that they are held accountable for business decisions and ventures by their own, separate governing body. If the return on investment (ROI) isn’t there, they are less likely to remain engaged and a part of the network.
The board, or governing body, of the network is obligated to make visionary and guiding decisions on how the network operates. In order to do that effectively, they need to rely on solid information supported by data.
All persons filling positions in the network, whether they be paid or volunteer, should also receive regular information regarding the fruits of their efforts. This type of feedback can assist with buy-in, innovation, dedication and morale.
It’s important for community members in the service area to be made aware of the positive ways the network is impacting where they live. Increasing people’s awareness of the collaborative efforts organizations are making may have ripple effects, from increased donations to improved reputation, to becoming a preferred place of employment.
Typically, funders provide applicants information regarding what type of data, reporting format, reporting due dates, and method(s) of reporting in regard to the activities and impact of activities supported with their funds. Capturing and tracking this information from the start makes reporting back to the funders much more efficient and accurate.
As the network grows, additional partners or members may be sought. Being able to quickly and effectively inform potential collaborators about the successes of the organization and how they might contribute to and benefit from the network can expedite their decision. Again, this decision will most likely come down to the potential ROI.
Using visual elements to support your data
How do you effectively communicate the results of the network? Visual aids are commonly used to enhance verbal messages. These tools, which range from bulleted lists, to a variety of pictures, graphs, charts and diagrams, can succinctly highlight information. Adding visual images to verbal communications provides listeners data in two formats, activating different parts of their brain to receive and make use of the information. The key to using visual aids is to make them easy to read and understand. They need to clearly communicate “at a glance.” Having too much information that readers must study defeats the purpose of such a tool. Be sure any key codes (color, shape, symbol, etc.) are clearly identified.
For example, here is a bar chart (Graph 1) that quickly and easily depicts the annual growth of a network’s service volume through the first five years of its inception. A chart such as this effectively communicates the network’s successful growth to funders, members, staff, the board and the community at large. Even if they don’t remember the numbers, the image of the orange bars increasing in height is likely to stick with them.
Graph 1. Annual growth of the network’s service volume through the first five years of its inception
Similarly, the following pie chart (Graph 2) quickly conveys the improved continuity of care resulting from this network’s efforts.
Graph 2. Continuity of care
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. And in the hustle, bustle world of rural health networks, communicating the results of the organization’s hard work efficiently and effectively is a skill worth improving.
Linda K. Weiss is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 25 years of direct service, supervision and management experience. As a former network director, Linda was instrumental in the original design and implementation of a 24/365 behavioral health crisis services delivery system. Linda earned an MSW from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is a graduate of the Johnson & Johnson/UCLA Health Care Executive Program from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles, CA. Linda has been Director of Member Services for the National Cooperative of Health Networks Association, Inc. (NCHN), since 2015. NCHN is a national asociation of health networks and strategic partners whose mission is to support and strengthen health networks. Founded in the late 1980s, NCHN was incorporated in 1995.
The National Rural Health Resource Center (The Center) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustaining and improving health care in rural communities. Rural Health Innovations, LLC is a subsidiary of the National Rural Health Resource Center.