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Community Conversations About Oral Health This process is almost entirely about listening. You want to learn as much as you can about what dental health means to key people in your community — and to what extent they believe there are oral health problems. Don’t ask to “interview” someone; that term can be off-putting. You want an open, casual conversation that will likely last no more than 20-30 minutes. The ultimate goal is to learn new insights and bring new people into your network who can be called on to play a role that improves oral health in your community. But first things first — whom should you talk with/listen to? Your best sources will fall into two groups: Informers and Influencers.
Those who have “their finger on the pulse” and know what conversations are happening (Examples: A clergy member or a neighborhood activist)
Those who have important relationships with elected officials and/or health stakeholders (Examples: Leaders from the local chamber of commerce or school board)
Those who may have health-related stories and/or data that help illustrate the impact of dental disease (Examples: A hospital administrator or school nurse)
Those who have experience and savvy when it comes to successfully advancing policies and programs to improve health or quality of life (Examples: Manager of a local community health center or the county public health officer)
Tips for Having These Conversations: 1. Develop the List: During an in-person meeting, ask committee members to suggest people to talk to. Use the concepts of Informer or Influencer. Depending on how many suggestions you get, you might need to pare down your lists. Ideally, your list of people to meet with should range from 6 to 12 people. 2. Decide on Questions: Once a list of people to talk with is finalized, the committee should discuss the questions they feel should be asked of each person. Try to avoid yesor-no questions because the idea is to get the subject talking freely. Going into each conversation with at least 2-3 questions is important to ensure that each interview is productive. Follow-up questions will enable you to clarify what you have heard. (over)
© 2015, Children’s Dental Health Project
3. Assign Interviews: Conducting these “listening sessions” should not be the responsibility of only one or two members of your committee. Most — if not all — of your committee members should have responsibility for meeting and reporting back on one community conversation. This ensures that all members of the committee are hearing what the community thinks or knows about oral health. 4. Set a Deadline: Your committee should set a date/time for when those conducting the community conversations will report back to the whole group, sharing what they heard. Ideally, everyone who met with an Informer or Influencer should report back at the same meeting, as this helps the committee compare and contrast the information or observations received from different Informers and Influencers. 5. Reach Out: Use an initial phone call or email to ask the Informer or Influencer to meet over coffee, for lunch or at their office — whatever is most convenient for them. (After all, Informers and Influencers are busy people.) Be sure to give these individuals the “why” for this meeting. Tell them your committee is trying to learn as much as it can about how key people perceive the quality of dental health in the community. 6. Get Their Views: Bring a note pad and tell them you have it just to jot down the key points that they make. Let them know that their name and comments are not going to end up in a publicly released report. Do not ask or attempt to record any of these conversations; doing so would make them nervous and more guarded about what they say. You are aiming for honesty and openness. 7. Thank Your Informers and Influencers: Be sure to send an email after your interview to thank those who shared their thoughts about the community’s oral health. A separate “thank you” message should be sent to each interviewee. Tell them you will touch base once the committee has drafted its local oral health plan or proposals. 8. Stay in Touch: After you’ve met with these individuals, stay in touch with them. For example, share your committee’s local oral health proposals and welcome their feedback.