Clear Horizon looks to Health Futures

How COVID-19 is forcing a re-examination of systemic injustices, and why we’ve created Health Futures to help social impact initiatives adapt.

With the onset of COVID-19, health has been spurred into public consciousness. Many of us have been subjected to the clinical and infection-control aspects of the disaster response: social distancing, masks, drive-through testing. But we’re also now made keenly aware of the complexities of public health, the way it overlaps sectors, and the way the pandemic is exacerbating many of the issues that social impact programs are already grappling to address.

For one, COVID-19 has brought home the importance of cultivating wellbeing – not just preventing illness – and the ways in which wellbeing is facilitated by social connection, stable income, and access to green space, among many other factors.

In addition, policy discussions surrounding the pandemic in Australia have surfaced the many pre-existing systemic inequities that also manifest as health inequities. We’re seeing renewed debate about an increasingly casualised workforce without sick leave, the privatisation and deregulation of aged care, the inadequacy of social benefits, the detention of people seeking asylum (and lack of a safety net for those living in the community), the cramped and inhospitable conditions of public housing, the difficulties facing those fleeing domestic violence, not to mention the widespread chronic illness (and other structural violence) experienced by First Nations peoples. The fact that health is also a justice issue has never been more apparent.

The social distancing requirements of the pandemic response have also accelerated the development and growth of digital health products and telehealth services. These initiatives are not just continuing to provide the same services in a different medium, but many are also taking advantage of their format to reach groups that previously may have been excluded (such as people in regional areas) and to intervene in new and creative ways. Many of these digital programs support behaviour change or provide resources, particularly in the areas of mental health, chronic and lifestyle diseases, substance addictions and diagnosis/screening.

Clear Horizon is responding to the emerging needs and opportunities in the social change sector through the creation of a dedicated Health Futures team specialising in innovative health and wellbeing initiatives. The new business group will focus on mental health promotion; chronic diseases such as cancer, stroke and obesity; substance addictions; domestic violence; and health systems intersections, for example connecting people to disability support services. We’re most keen to assist both domestic and international initiatives that are community-led, have a digital component, involve developmental evaluation, take a systems approach to change, and/or involve innovative health service designs and integration.

Our approach will be to tackle problems holistically, offering cross-sectoral expertise and a solid grounding in systems thinking. This enables us to better draw links between apparently unrelated processes or concepts, as well as to consider the effect of context on an initiative and how it might interact with broader systems. And as the demand for digital health initiatives continues to grow as part of the “new normal”, we’ll be drawing on our Digital team’s expertise to support the technical intricacies of developing and testing digital health products, as well as their privacy and data storage implications. This is a crucial consideration for confidential health data.

We’ve already had the opportunity to work on some cutting-edge projects in the health and wellbeing space. One of our long-term partnerships, with the Fay Fuller Foundation and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, involves developmental evaluation services for Our Town, which is a twelve-year initiative that takes a community-led approach to addressing mental health and wellbeing. These meaningful, strategic partnerships are where we believe we can achieve the best health and wellbeing outcomes for people and communities, and the organisations looking to support them.

The Health Futures team is led by Dr Jess Dart (Founding Director), and our members are Samiha Barkat (Principal Consultant), Edgar Daly (Senior Consultant) and Alessandra Prunotto (Consultant). To find out more about our services and training, please get in touch.