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North Dakota Advocates Are Building A Movement for Child Wellness Through Trust—One Community at a Time

The Foundation for a Healthy North Dakota (FHND) and their partners at the public interest communications firm Odd Duck have developed a silver bullet strategy for empowering communities to take charge of child wellness and define what community health looks like.

They listen.

Since December 2021, FHND has focused on understanding the emergent effort to promote legislation targeting vaccinations that, if passed, could significantly impact the health and wellness of children and families across the state. Concerned about the potential harmful consequences for child development, FHND put together a statewide campaign to raise awareness about the critical contribution general wellness vaccines make to ensure community-level wellness. FHND leadership knew that to be successful in making progress on hotly debated issues like vaccines, they would need an intimate understanding of diverse perspectives across the state. So they got to work on identifying four cities and two tribal communities to host listening tours in order to better understand not only what concerned communities the most, but also the hopes and goals they had for their community-level health.

FHND and Odd Duck adopted a set of winning principles that guided their approach to authentic engagement, beginning first with an inquiry-based approach

“Misinformation is most successful in derailing productive collaboration on a shared interest, when it is provided in an environment of mistrust. Therefore, if you want facts-based messages and information to be truly heard, the messengers must first establish trust through a consistent posture of listening to the community—without judgment or rebuttal.

Josh Gryniewicz, Founder, Odd Duck

FHND and Odd Duck recognized that they had to become trusted partners with communities; starting conversations by listening to community stories, concerns and beliefs, without an agenda, in order to understand what information they had, wanted, and needed to make informed decisions.

To create a two-way conversation with the community, FHND and Odd Duck had to first  demonstrate that they could be a trusted broker of information. To do this, allies used teams of multidisciplinary experts, sourced from trusted institutions in the state, to deliver facts-based data that was responsive to the communities’ needs and perspectives, and grounded in their unique contexts.

Key to this process was engaging the communities in something called strategic storytelling. In this approach, allies would design a map that identified the health outcomes a community was trying to reach, the barriers to those outcomes, and the associated information that the community stated they needed to understand and overcome those barriers. But to get folks in the room to participate meant that allies had to take the time to find the right mobilizers. This required being observant enough to recognize and engage those sometimes unspoken leaders who anchored the community. Once community members were able to engage authentically with the data and the story of their community wellness, they began making plans to address the identified barriers. FHND and Odd Duck followed-up with a commitment to democratize the data they had collected in the form of a report that would be made available to the community to inform the work of local agencies and community health leaders. 

For FHND and their partners, success will ultimately be defined by establishing trusting relationships with community leaders and assisting them in realizing their community health and wellness goals. As a means to that end, FHND will be supporting a handful of communities to facilitate an ongoing dialogue about community wellness, and to determine on their own terms, what strategies they will employ to achieve their goals. 

In an effort to reset the formerly contentious debates that have surrounded the topic of wellness vaccines in the state legislature, FHND also hopes to use the community research and constituent insights from their community discussions to educate North Dakota decision makers on the role that wellness vaccines can play in supporting the health and wellness goals of the communities they serve. 


Contact Sandra Tibke to learn more about the Foundation for a Healthy North Dakota ‘s community wellness campaign. Visit Odd Duck , or contact Josh Gryniewicz to learn more about effective public interest communication strategies. 

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