Plan4HealthSuccess Story: Statewide Collaboration in Indiana

Plan4Health connects communities across the country, funding work at the intersection of planning and public health. Anchored by American Planning Association (APA) chapters and American Public Health Association (APHA) affiliates, Plan4Health supports creative partnerships to build sustainable, cross-sector coalitions.


Earlier this year in June, planners and public health professionals from around Indiana came together in Indianapolis to share information about Plan4Health work in Indianapolis/Marion County and Columbus, Indiana, and to introduce Planners4Health to attendees.

The intent of the five-hour roundtable was to promote dialogue and elicit ideas for advancing coordination and partnership between the disciplines of planning and public health.

After presentations on Plan4Health and Planners4Health, the roundtable moved to peer sharing and facilitated discussion. Attendees were asked to communicate what work they have been involved in at the intersection of planning and public health, what made the project(s) successful, and, what challenges they encountered.

Bicyclist on the Cultural Trail, a successful public-private partnership to increase opportunities for active transportation in Indianapolis. Photo by Elizabeth Hartig.

Because the group represented a wide range of individuals and organizations, a variety of answers were provided, but common themes and ideas emerged. For example, funding, a lack of understanding and interest from elected officials, and competing priorities were commonly cited as challenges these professionals faced.

Examples of current projects that involved health in planning around the state included health in master/comprehensive plans (e.g. bicycle and pedestrian plans), urban gardens, and work around water issues such as flood preparedness. Participants attributed project successes to healthy partnerships and relationships, grassroots efforts, and dedicated, paid staff, to name a few.

The peer exchange was followed by a time of facilitated discussion. The objective of this discussion was to identify strategies to implement that would bring planning and public health disciplines together. Participants spent an hour in their break out groups to discuss the following questions:

  • How do we best disseminate and translate the work that is already happening?
  • What is most needed to build capacity?
  • What is needed to promote/incentivize/ensure planning and public health work together?
  • Assuming resources, what strategies to connect and coordinate planning and public health should be pursued in the next one to two years? Three to five years?

A wealth of knowledge sharing, ideas, and suggestions transpired out of these discussions. Ideas such as public health professionals having a presence at state planning conferences — and the reverse, planners having a presence at state public health conferences — emerged as a popular suggestion amongst the group. Similarly, identifying funding, including health elements in comprehensive plans, and providing continued training and education on how the two disciplines could work together were suggestions that surfaced out of these conversations.

“Roundtable participants ... seemed excited and genuinely interested in identifying strategies to bring planning and public health together. ... We are excited to begin to think through ways to implement many of the suggestions that came out of our short time together.”
Betsy Prentice, Planners4Health Task Force Member

Using feedback from the roundtable — in addition to feedback received during a needs assessment which included an online survey and a facilitated discussion at the Indiana Chapter's spring conference — the task force has identified five areas of interest that they will begin to pursue over the next few months. The strategies will bridge planning and public health though academic partnerships, health and comprehensive planning, health in all policies, training for citizen planners, and the development of a leadership academy.

Overall, the Indiana Chapter task force identifies the roundtable as one of the group’s most successful Planners4Health activities. The roundtable served as a place to gather baseline information about what is happening in Indiana at the intersection of planning and public health, and the task force looks forward to keeping up the momentum and excitement that the meeting time generated.

“The Planers4Health Round Table was truly a rare opportunity for urban planners, public health professionals, and a broad range of health-related stakeholders to discuss specific strategies for creating healthy communities in our state," said task force member Pete Fritz. "I know that the roundtable will continue to bear fruit far into the future as new partnerships are emerging and new approaches are being drafted addressing the urgent public health issues in Indiana.”

Top image: Bike share in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Elizabeth Hartig, American Planning Association.


About the Author
Kim Irwin is the executive director of Health by Design, which convenes the Indiana Citizens’ Alliance for Transit (ICAT), the Indiana Complete Streets Coalition, the Indiana Safe Routes to School Partnership, and Indiana Walks. Irwin provides staff leadership, strategic direction, and programmatic and administrative coordination for these initiatives. She has a Master of Public Health from the Indiana University School of Medicine and an undergraduate degree from Northwestern University.

December 12, 2017

By Kimberly Irwin