In a previous post, Todd Sorensen, AIMM executive director, talked about the importance of local efforts when creating change in healthcare. During that discussion, he touched on the importance of a convener in bringing community stakeholders together.
Today, I want to dive deeper to answer the questions: What are the qualities that make for a good convener? What are their roles and responsibilities? And what are some of the common challenges a convener faces when taking on that role?
Let’s begin by talking about what precipitates the need for a convener. It begins with recognizing an emerging problem in the community. However, change won’t happen until someone volunteers to facilitate movement toward this change.
Conveners in general can take on any type of problem in their communities. In our work, we focus specifically on conveners with a desire to improve medication use. They’re looking to create ways to deliver services that will improve health, reduce costs and improve patient experience.
Identifying a convener in your community
Once you’ve identified an emerging problem in your community, how do you find the right entity to facilitate this change? A convener can be a person, an organization, or someone representing an organization. Generally, their role is to connect people in a way that motivates them into action on a subject that’s important to them. At AIMM, we’ve identified the following five fundamental characteristics of a good convener.
- They have a mission or vision for their organization and community. Successful conveners also understand how they fit into that vision, either personally or organizationally.
- They have a positive reputation in the community. This individual or organization has credibility, isn’t too controversial, and is established (or on their way to being established) as a mover and shaker in their community.
- They have access to capital. They may have access to funding themselves or they have the ability to gather others who do. The amount of capital needed to get started is less than you might think. AIMM can also help conveners find funding if needed.
- They have the resource of time. An organization may have a staff structure in place to serve as liaisons to other community leaders. An individual may have the time and inclination to serve as that liaison themselves.
- Finally, a powerful convener has connections at the state and local levels. They have a network of stakeholders from a variety of health care organizations, in positions to make decisions. These conveners also have relationships or access to community and patient advocates and state government leaders. Actions may include sending an email or making a call to engage these decision makers. Powerful conveners leverage these connections to bring together diverse groups into conversations in which they may not otherwise engage.
What types of organizations or individuals are best positioned to serve as a convener?
- Health systems
- Individuals or groups with access to funding
- Community membership associations
- Public Health agencies
- Academic institutions
A health system will clearly have connections to medical and ancillary services in a region. We also want to bring in community members beyond the healthcare world. This might include social services organizations, first responders, and other individuals not ordinarily associated or affiliated with an individual hospital or health system.
Sometimes relationships aren’t as robust as they could be, particularly with health systems or similar organizations. Community foundations, depending on their mission and purpose, may also vary in their ability to fill the convener role.
Empire Health Foundation (EHF), a community foundation in Spokane Washington, is an example of an organization that fits the convener role well. Their healthcare mission is particularly focused on serving vulnerable populations. This helps them align closely with stakeholders and bring together payers and other groups in their community. EHF is connected with several social services agencies serving urban and rural clients. They work with , community associations and Accountable Communities of Health, which are all important stakeholders beyond those with traditional healthcare provider roles.
At AIMM, we’ve also seen academic institutions enjoy success in the convener role. They generally fit many of the qualities we look for in a successful convener.
Two examples are:
- UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy has a strong and diverse network of relevant stakeholders. Their network includes payers, healthcare providers, state government and others in the position to make decisions and contribute to these efforts.
- University of Utah College of Pharmacy has resulted in powerful partnerships. Through the convening efforts of the school, partners are engaging a state pilot program. This involves providing payment to pharmacists for comprehensive medication management services and establishing a plan to evaluate the impact on outcomes.
What are the roles and responsibilities of the convener?
At AIMM, we’ve identified two phases to facilitating healthcare change in a community. The role of the convener will vary a bit depending on which phase we’re in. The first phase is pre-implementation, which focuses on bringing together payers, health plans, and health care providers.
In the pre-implementation phase, the convener facilitates bringing payers and providers together. In this phase, the need for capital is a little less heavy, but having access to financial resources is still an advantage. The goal is to find synergy between these groups and create sustainable economic strategies to support services.
The second phase is the implementation of healthcare delivery models to improve care, reduce costs, and improve outcomes. Currently, most of our work at AIMM has focused on the pre-implementation phase. But, each phase needs someone in the role of convener to succeed. To be a successful convener, individuals or entities must:
- Have time and/or the ability to secure resources from others. The assembly of the resources (time, talent and money) is a large part of the convener’s role.
- Have networks and local knowledge of the landscape. The convener is responsible for networking and outreach. They strategically identify and recruit the stakeholders that are most relevant to the problem we’re working to solve.
AIMM helps the convener develop a strategy for outreach. But ultimately, we rely on their knowledge of the landscape to determine who to bring in. The convener must provide the background and context of why the stakeholders they’ve identified are the right ones.
- Set the leadership agenda on this topic with these stakeholders. We use the term “leadership agenda” because it’s more than creating agenda for a meeting. It’s creating the vision and engagement strategies for how we’re going to be as a group.
- Have a pulse on the culture of the community. A successful convener has an understanding of what the community can and cannot take. They’re aware of what those priorities might be within the community.
Much of our work at AIMM aligns our efforts with existing initiatives or types of work in the community. Our goal is to integrate and bring together these initiatives so that it’s a singular effort rather than siloed.
What challenges do conveners face?
In many cases, being a convener is new for the individual or organization taking on the role. They may not have the strategies or techniques to execute their vision. But, they are positioned as leading the effort in their community. AIMM works mainly in the background helping conveners do the work they need to do.
AIMM helps the convener see the possibilities of their role by:
- Helping develop a strategy and supporting the convener in amplifying their mission.
- Showing them the power they have to be a convener and how they can leverage that role into making things happen in their community.
- Supporting them in becoming more comfortable in the convener role and seeing the possibilities that can generate.
Often, what holds a convener back is the belief that they need more money upfront than they actually do. All that’s really needed is enough capital to begin building a plan. From there, we can figure out where the next phase of funding might come from.
For example, when AIMM began working with EHF, they’d already brought together a local group of stakeholders. However, when they applied for an innovation grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) they didn’t get it. EHF had already accomplished the hardest work of bringing stakeholders together. We helped them see they didn’t need funding from the HRSA to succeed. They could reach their goals within their own community by leveraging their own resources.
Sometimes we help conveners overcome the perception that they lack the time to do this. They may already have the vision and a plan mapped out. But, they may not have the time or resources to carry it out. AIMM brings not only expertise and experience but also the capacity to do the work.
For example, a convener might not have time to conduct background research on various stakeholders. AIMM can support them in doing that work and gathering the information. We often conduct stakeholder-based interviews in the early part of the process. This helps us understand where potential stakeholders are coming from, and what their vision is for the problem we’re trying to solve.
Ultimately, our job at AIMM is to coach the individual or organization toward success in the role of convener. We help the convener understand how to build and lead a coalition of stakeholders in their community. Our goal is for the convener to be perceived in the best light they possibly can be. This is important in getting buy-in from various stakeholders in the early stages. Helping the convener understand their role in bringing a coalition together is the first step towards changing the way medication is managed at a local level.
If you’d like support in identifying a convener and facilitating conversations with local stakeholders, contact AIMM.
Mark Hawkins, MBA is President of Financial Transformations, Inc and serves as a consultant for the Alliance for Integrated Medication Management in the areas of performance information and finance. AIMM is a non-profit organization working to support the widespread adoption of team-based medication management services in the care of high-risk, high-cost patients suffering from multiple chronic health conditions.