Narratives and health equity: Expanding the conversation
About this narrative work
First convened in 2010 by the Commissioner of Health, the members of the Healthy Minnesota Partnership come from rural, suburban, and urban communities; from business and government agencies; from faith-based, advocacy, and community organizations; and from hospitals, health plans, and public health departments.
Starting with the 2012 statewide health assessment, the Healthy Minnesota Partnership developed a basic narrative about health, and several narratives on specific issues that intersect with health.
In 2013, the Healthy Minnesota Partnership convened a Narratives Strategy Team to identify, develop, and promote alternative narratives that emphasize the opportunity to be healthy. This group's work resulted in a core narrative: Emerging elements of public narratives on health (PDF).
In early 2014, MDH published Advancing health equity in Minnesota: A report to the Legislature (PDF). This report provides an overview of Minnesota’s health disparities and health inequities, identifies the inequitable conditions that produce health inequities in the state, and makes recommendations to advance health equity in Minnesota. This report used the narrative approach to center the conversation on the conditions that shape health in Minnesota. Because populations of color and American Indians historically and today endure consistent inequities in health and the conditions that shape health, MDH made a key decision to lead the report with a discussion of race and structural racism in the state. The Healthy Minnesota Partnership, too, is explicit about the role of race and racism in health.
After publication of the 2014 report, the Healthy Minnesota Partnership identified several strategic areas for engaging in conversations about health that go beyond the health care and individual behavior frames. The Partnership took its core narrative and produced narratives for health on:
- Income and health
- Paid leave and health
- Transportation and health
- Incarceration inequities and health
- Burdensome debt and health
- Healthy food access
- Housing, home, and health
In addition to narrative work done through the Partnership, MDH staff engaged partners to develop narratives for health on:
Each year, the Partnership selects key policy areas and then invites participants to come together and develop narratives around those areas. Each gathering starts with narrative training to establish some common ground, including shared values. The next steps in the process include:
- Naming the dominant narrative of the issue at hand
- Identifying elements of an emerging narrative
- Connecting the emerging narrative to the Partnership core narrative
- Using the emerging narrative as the basis for developing messaging