TheCR Network in the Wild: Learning from Community Health Workers

By Kelly Schott posted 10-25-2019 16:49


On October 23 - 24, 2019, I attended Hearken's inaugural Engagement Innovation Summit in New York City. This is the first of three blog posts that I am writing to sum up some of my key takeaways from three of my top sessions.


"Listening with Love: What Journalists Can Learn From Community Health Workers"


As the first session of the summit, I chose to attend one of the conversations that focused on learning from journalism-adjacent industries. Coming from the perspective of a journalism-adjacent industry -- community management -- I was hoping to use a different lens to think about both how we in the community space engage our members and how journalism and community can better overlap.

"Listening with Love" was a great first session to attend as it really set the tone of the summit for me. By focusing on listening and asking the right questions (in the right way), Tamala Carter and Jill Feldstein of the Penn Center for Community Health Workers brought home the idea that "people are intelligent enough to know what they want", we just have to listen.

By focusing a lot of energy in qualitative interviewing, Tamala and Jill discussed how they learn about why someone might be acting the way that they are. As Tamala put it, "We need to understand who people were to understand who they are."

There was a specific moment where I saw a large overlap with community approaches when hiring was discussed. As Community Health Workers (CHW), they are hired based on their skill sets and strengths rather than their resumes. Training is de-emphasized and getting the right people into the roles is emphasized. By framing hiring around necessary traits versus experience or education, they open up their team to be both well-rounded and full of the right people for the role.

I likened this to hiring for community management. Since it's still quite hard to study or train for a career in community, many community teams are made up of the right people for the role, based upon skills and traits rather than previous roles or education. Background and experience makes a difference in how someone thinks and behaves, and innate skills, like listening and empathy, are keys to success in the field.

A lot of what I took away from this session also centered around inclusivity and visibility.  During the session, I was reminded of a common community problem: a lack of engagement. Just as patients need time to warm up to their CHW and the CHW needs to have something in common with the patient, community members need to warm up and be welcomed into their communities as well.

Instead of continuously prompting members to engage, I want to lean more into asking why someone isn't engaging. I want to practice more qualitative interviewing and ask more about what people think they need and leave space for the answer to be broad. As I gleamed from the session, there are reasons for people's actions, you just need to ask for their stories to find out what those reasons are.

This session also reaffirmed my desire to make TheCR Network more accessible and representative of all of our community practitioners. When Tamala and Jill discussed how they use their Impact Model (a structured form of support by CHW that is built on empathy and listening) to make sure their CHW are a demographic mirror of people that they work with, I instantly thought about TheCR Network could be more of a demographic mirror of its member base. I thought a lot about how we can outwardly show the diversity of members that we have, how we can bring more diversity (of background, location, functional area, personal attributes, etc.) into our member leadership and set of speakers, and how we can better involve members in decision-making that affects them.

I may not have concrete answers (yet), but I do have steps to get there, very much thanks to Tamala and Jill.

So, if you're a member of TheCR Network and reading this, please tell me how you'd like to be involved.

In short, how do you like to engage with TheCR Network?


If you're not a member of TheCR Network, you can read more about what membership entails and how to join here. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out!