Plan4Health Success Story: Jump Starting Cross-Sector Collaboration in Nebraska

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.

The notification that Nebraska had been awarded a Planners4Health grant was met with celebration, followed by a reality check: with a timeline of six short months and an ambitious plan, we had no time to waste.

With little time to ramp up, our work had to jump start quickly. As it turns out, the "jump start" theme played out time and again in the work done for the project.

"The six months we had for this grant went very fast, but the Nebraska Task Force is confident that the work and relationships jump started along the way will lead to sustainable change long into the future."
Planners4Health Project Manager

One of the key components of the Nebraska work plan was professional development, involving current planning and public health professionals in addition to pre-service graduate students.

Bike/Walk Summit

The Inaugural Nebraska Bike/Walk Summit was an ideal venue to bring in a nationally known speaker, Charles Marohn from Strong Towns, to help jump start an event that aims to become an annual tradition and to provide students and industry professionals an opportunity to learn more about the work being done in Nebraska around active transportation and health.

Students from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Public Health and the University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL) Department of Community and Regional Planning were given Planers4Health-sponsored scholarships to attend the summit for free. Additionally, the Planners4Health Task Force set up a second, more intimate meeting with Marohn, students, and City of Lincoln staff on the university campus at the conclusion of the summit's first day.

Nebraska Bike Walk Summit logo. Image courtesy The Nebraska Bicycling Alliance.

NACTO Training

Another professional development opportunity was created by this grant in the form of sponsoring certified trainers from the National Association of City Traffic Officials (NACTO) to come to Nebraska to present a day-long training seminar on innovative design for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and Complete Streets. The event was at maximum capacity and included a balanced audience of consultants, city staff, and, notably, several staff from the state.

NACTO training immediately jump started conversations between NDOT and the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance regarding lessons learned in the seminar. Trust and collaboration build with each productive conversation, and we are optimistic about the continued evolution of the department.


The grant-required roundtable meeting jump started a great relationship between the Nebraska Chapter of the American Planning Association and the Public Health Association of Nebraska. Both membership groups were surveyed to determine the base of knowledge regarding how public health and planning work together, the perceived barriers of collaboration, and what tools each thought were necessary to foster more collaboration.

The survey results were enlightening and fostered a great discussion between the two organizations' boards of directors.

As a result of the event, a memorandum of understanding is being drafted to create and trade ex-officio members for both boards. Trading newsletter content, presentation, and research opportunities and potentially merging the organization's state conferences every few years are all ideas for future consideration.

University Collaboration and Participation

Perhaps the biggest jump start came with our goal to bring university departments together to explore the potential for collaboration via joint classes, research and cross-sector degree specialization within the UNL College of Architecture and Planning and the UNMC College of Public Health.

Key faculty from UNL and UNMC were convened to discuss these possibilities, including the two faculty members of the Planners4Health Task Force representing the two programs.

In prepping for the initial meeting, UNMC faculty discovered a dormant plan for a joint Master of Public Health / Master of Community and Regional Planning degree that had been drafted several years ago. Coupled with a recent challenge from the president of the university system to faculty to explore more cross-campus and cross-departmental partnerships, the work to achieve our goal was jump started in a big way.

The initial plan for the joint degree had been on a positive path to implementation, but languished when the faculty champions of the plan left the university. Further, the initial plan was detailed — including specific degree and class requirements — making the new committee's work much easier. Both administrative deans are on board with the revived proposal. Thanks to the considerable work completed by the initial champions, a joint degree could be approved in as little as 18 months after each department finishes current reaccreditation tasks that have priority.

We are grateful for the opportunity to participate and look forward to finding ways to collaborate with the other colleagues from our cohort in the future.

Top image: A bicyclist enjoys the Lincoln Trail Network's 100-plus miles of pedestrian- and biker-friendly pathways. Photo courtesy City of Lincoln, Nebraska.

About the Author
Julie Harris is executive director of the Nebraska Bicyling Alliance.

April 19, 2018

By Julie Harris