Session 1.1: Advancing Health Equity through Asset Framing
Reframing the Narrative: Defining People by their Aspirations, not their Challenges...
Asset Framing is a narrative model that humanizes and defines people by their assets and aspirations before noting the challenges and deficits they face. This model invests in people for their continued benefit to society. It is the opposite of deficit-based narratives that lead with problems, unintentional stereotypes, or misconceptions.
In Asset Framing, we strive to focus on the places, conditions, systems, or solutions rather on perceived vulnerabilities in the group we're talking about. We lead with their strengths and values. Where possible, we connect their current state to historical reasons.1
Let's look at an example:2
Instead of: African Americans in this community have higher rates of diabetes.
Consider: Diabetes is more common in neighborhoods that don't have access to healthy foods.
“Rather than what’s wrong, ask where is the community strong? Instead of what do you need, ask what are your dreams? Beyond what’s your vocation, ask what’s your sense of call and purpose?” – DeAmon Harges, Founder of the Learning Tree
“You can’t lift people up by putting them down. Human beings are hardwired to create and act upon narratives. We crave the moral direction stories provide. And whether we know it or not, we constantly default to these narratives, which often place white men at the front of history. In asset framing for instance, we teach that instead of branding a young person in a high crime community as an ‘at-risk youth,’ we define them as a student – because they typically are. And when you properly frame that this person has an aspiration, and they something is blocking that aspiration, then you fix the larger problem, rather than trying to fix the person who is coping with it. You fix the system." – Trabian Shorters, founder and CEO of BMe Community.
MCHwork provides a jump start to Asset Framing through a Ready-Set-Go approach. Use the following resources to start your learning, dig deeper, and move from knowledge to practice.
Educational Equity Mindset in Practice. Date Developed: January 7, 2021. Source: Rethink Together; MIT Teaching Systems Lab. Presenter(s): Justin Reich. Type: Video. Level: Intermediate. Length: 9 minutes.
You Roc! With Asset-Based Thinking. Date Developed: February 21, 2013. Source: TEDxYouth. Presenter(s): Kathy Cramer. Type: Video. Level: Intermediate. Length: 12 minutes.
Seeing and Valuing Students Through Asset Framing. Date Developed: Unknown. Source: MIT Open Learning Library Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Presenter(s): Unknown. Type: Interactive Learning Tool. Level: Intermediate. Length: Self-Paced.
Who Do You Think We Are. Date Developed: January 26, 2016. Source: Black Enterprise. Presenter(s): Trabian Shorters. Type: Video Presentation. Level: Intermediate. Length: 11 minutes.
See the Big Picture: Asset Framing works within a larger public health context. Learn more about related skill sets below.
The MCH Leadership Competencies describe the necessary knowledge, skills, personal characteristics, and values within a framework designed to support and promote MCH leadership. Asset Framing draws upon the following competencies for planning, implementing, and evaluating activities:
Competency 2: Self-Reflection. Self-reflection is the process of assessing the impact of personal values, beliefs, communication styles, cultural influences, and experiences on one’s personal and professional leadership style. Access additional trainings related to self-reflection.
Competency 3: Ethics. Ethical behavior in professional roles includes conduct congruent with generally accepted principles and values. This definition includes general leadership ethics, such as honesty, responsibility, and cultural competency, as well as ethics specific to the MCH population. Access additional trainings related to ethics.
Competency 7: Cultural Competence. Cultural competence is a developmental process that occurs along a continuum and evolves over an extended period. It broadly represents knowledge and skills necessary to communicate and interact effectively with people regardless of differences, helping to ensure that the needs of all people and communities are met in a respectful and responsive way in an effort to decrease health disparities and lead to health equity. Becoming culturally competent is an ongoing and fluid process. Access additional trainings related to cultural competence.
Competency 8: Family-Professional Partnerships. Family-professional partnerships at all levels of the system of care ensure the health and wellbeing of children, including those with special health care needs, and their families through respectful family-professional collaboration and shared decision making. Partnerships with family-run organizations and with families and individuals from the target population honor the strengths, culture, traditions, and expertise that everyone brings to the relationship when engaged in program planning, program implementation, and policy activities in leadership roles in a developmentally respectful manner. Access additional trainings related to family-professional partnerships.
Competency 11: Working with Communities and Systems. Improving the health and well-being of children, youth, families, and communities is a complex process because so many intersecting factors influence the MCH population. Systems thinking recognizes complexity and examines the linkages and interactions among components—norms, laws, resources, infrastructure, and individual behaviors—that influence outcomes. Access additional trainings related to working with communities and systems.
Skill 1: Advancing Equity. Advancing equity is key to making change happen in the social determinants of health. With the release of the MCHB Health Equity Blueprint, Title V professionals have the opportunity to assess current programs and practices and plan future initiatives through an equity lens. See the MCH Navigator Spotlight: Diversity and Health Equity.
The 10 Essential Public Health Services provide a framework for public health to protect and promote the health of all people in all communities. To achieve equity, the Essential Public Health Services actively promote policies, systems, and overall community conditions that enable optimal health for all and seek to remove systemic and structural barriers that have resulted in health inequities. Asset Framing draws on the first three services:
Service 1. Assess and monitor population health status, factors that influence health, and community needs and assets. See related trainings gathered by the MCH Navigator.
Service 2. Investigate, diagnose, and address health problems and hazards affecting the population. See related trainings gathered by the MCH Navigator.
Service 3. Communicate effectively to inform and educate people about health, factors that influence it, and how to improve it. See related trainings gathered by the MCH Navigator.
The de Beaumont Foundation has identified 9 Public Health Strategic Skills to address new challenges and the constantly shifting focus of the public health workforce. Asset Framing draws on a number of these interdisciplinary skills:
Skill 1: Communication. An interactive process of partnership and dialogue that leads to the exchange of information and ideas with a variety of groups in order to influence behaviors, policies, and social norms. Crafting effective communication requires centering an audience’s values, environment, and priorities and utilizing an array of formats well received by the target audience. Effective communication is participatory in its nature and seeks to empower intended groups and communities to create longlasting and transformative change. See related trainings gathered by the MCH Navigator.
Skill 2: Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI). Advancing JEDI involves an ongoing, intentional effort to create an environment where everyone has a fair opportunity to thrive, enjoy good health, and wholly participate in a full range of life’s activities. Supporting JEDI calls for both personal accountability and collaborative group efforts to examine power structures, listen and act on the perspectives and voices of underrepresented/historically marginalized groups, and ensure that all people have real, meaningful access to necessary resources and support systems. See the MCH Navigator Spotlight: Diversity and Health Equity.
Skill 6: Systems and Strategic Thinking. A holistic and dynamic understanding of interrelated complex structures—such as public health and health care—as well as the ability to recognize those systems’ influences at multiple levels and use those insights to align resources to achieve goals. It involves designing interventions that help people see the overall structures, patterns, and cycles in systems and allows for the identification of solutions that simultaneously leverage improvement throughout the system. See related trainings gathered by the MCH Navigator.
This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number UE8MC25742; MCH Navigator for $225,000/year. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.