Diversity & Inclusion Corps – Crucial Conversations on Health & Wealth

Project Leader

Jeff Piestrak
Cornell University
Outreach Specialist, Albert R. Mann Library

Other Issue Corps Team Members

  • Brian Raison, The Ohio State University, raison.1@osu.edu
  • Rich Pirog, Michigan State University, rspirog@anr.msu.edu
  • Kim Niewolny, Virginia Tech, niewolny@vt.edu
  • Rachel Welborn, Mississippi State University, rachel.welborn@msstate.edu

Affiliated Team Members

  • Cornell Community and Regional Development Institute (CaRDI): Robin Blakely-Armitage, David Kay, Heidi Mouillesseaux-Kunzman
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE)/Cornell Small Farms Program: Anusuya Rangarajan
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension/Department of Natural Resources/Rust to Green Project: Shorna Allred
  • Cornell Department of Development Sociology: Scott Peters
  • Cornell Masters in Public Health Program: Gen Meredith
  • Cornell Office of Engagement Initiatives, Anna Sims Bartel
  • Center for Transformative Action, Anke Wessels
  • North Carolina A&T State University: Kathleen Liang
  • Interaction Institute for Social Change, & Research Alliance for Regenerative Economics: Curtis Ogden
  • SCNY Rural Health Network: Jack Salo, and from their Food & Health Network (FaHN) project, Erin Summerlee
  • University of Minnesota Extension: Stephanie Heim
  • Virginia Tech: Eric Bendfeldt

What is the issue your proposal will address?

Many of our most challenging issues including climate change, wealth inequality, and food insecurity are commonly referred to as “wicked problems” – complex problems where there is no simple solution, nor perhaps even agreement on the nature or source of the problem. Frequently underlying these are a complex of contributing factors related to health and wealth, and associated barriers or inequities. Effectively responding to such challenges requires ongoing communication and learning amongst all stakeholders. Yet troubling divides persist in our country, across race, place, age and class, within and between urban, suburban and rural populations. These make it difficult to address such issues in an inclusive and context appropriate manner. This situation is exacerbated by zero-sum narratives which view economic, environmental and social well-being as mutually exclusive, or scarce. Interventions often focus on individual symptoms or determinants of health in isolation of each other and the larger systems they are embedded within. Such fragmentation makes it difficult to collaboratively address these challenges, from the local to global level.

What is your proposed solution?

Land Grant institutions offer a wealth of knowledge resources useful in helping communities respond to these issues. But attempting to remedy complex problems by simply providing prescriptive information will not work by itself. Cultivating greater trust, shared understandings and good faith across multiple divides is essential. Facilitative approaches are also required, making research-based information available when, where and how it is most needed to support informed decision-making, while recognizing the importance of local context and assets. Through its boundary spanning connections with Land Grant Universities and numerous community groups Cooperative Extension is well positioned to play a role in this process. Initially using an agrifood systems lens, our team will explore approaches facilitating dialogue and learning within and across our respective communities, regions and states around the topic of health and wealth through framing issues like hunger. We’ll assess and implement where possible a variety of methods (including each other’s) useful in cultivating shared understandings related to health and wealth. And from that, new possibilities for collaborative action. One focus will be identifying ways we can enhance our social and technical capabilities for supporting productive in-person dialogue as well as networked communications channels and online information platforms, “designed for conversation”.

How did the design-a-thon help you?

The designathon provided several members of our widely distributed team a valuable opportunity to discuss our proposed approach in person, as well as sketch out through concept mapping how several potential elements of our theory of change might fit together within a larger systematic approach. One of our biggest realizations was how many activities we were already individually engaged with, including cultivating collaborative networks, were relevant to this shared area of interest and approach. These “crucial conversations about crucial conversations” helped us partly reframe our still evolving work, initially less as a “project” and more as a learning group. Sharing insights and best practices, while remaining open to opportunities for collaboration as they arise.

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