The project

Vegies at Christ Church community garden, St Kilda
Promoting Equity, Environmental Sustainability and Health: a framework for local action

In the “Promoting Equity, Sustainability and Health” project, I am investigating how local integrated health promotion in Victoria can effectively promote equity and environmental sustainability.

The first stage of the project (2011-12) looked at:
  •  How local health and community workers and community members think they can promote equity and environmental sustainability;and 
  • Whether they see commonalities between the issues that make it feasible to address them together.

Stage 1

Forum participants in a Victorian Primary Care Partnership (PCP) developed common principles for addressing equity and sustainability, including:
  • Take a community development approach, starting small and working out, and also advocate to government and power brokers
  • Respect elders and seek knowledge – ensure the wisdom of Aboriginal heritage and diverse cultures is given voice in programs, and build on evidence from what others have done 
  •  Address the causes – the social and economic factors that lead to inequity and environmental degradation. Health and community services can help people cope with the impact of these factors but that should not be their only focus. 
  • Make equity and sustainability everybody’s business – ensure the voice of disadvantaged people  is heard and also ensure the wealthy and powerful take responsibility
  • Focus efforts where they will have most impact – particularly for early life and disadvantaged groups
  • Ensure good communication – have clear messages, include the voice of disadvantaged people, and appeal to both reason and emotion in a balanced way
  • Plan for outcomes – develop meaningful indicators and evaluate these regularly, advocate for government and organisations to do the same
These principles reflect values of inclusion, cooperation and a shared responsibility for looking after each other and the earth, plus a commitment to working effectively.

Participants identified key action areas for promoting equity, sustainability and health, including:
  • Community gardens/affordable fresh food programs; improving housing and reducing energy costs; and developing clear advocacy messages 
  • Providing training and support (including payment) for community members to be champions, mentors and advocates and ensure the voice of disadvantaged people is heard
  • Working in settings (e.g. streets, neighbourhoods, housing estates, schools) and bringing different people together (e.g. age groups, cultural groups, Aboriginal elders and others)
  • Seeking funding for infrastructure such as community hubs

In discussion groups, research participants also identified barriers to promoting equity and sustainability, such as individuals’ sense of ownership and entitlement to consumer goods, and the role of corporations. Research questions raised: what is the meaning of equity? what values underly these principles? what are the relevant discourses, including competing discourses?

Stage 2
In the second stage of the project (2013-15) the project has been broadened to include two other PCPs in Victoria who have also been addressing equity and environmental sustainability.

Some key questions in this stage are:
  • What actions have organisations or community members taken?
  • What helps or hinders them in doing this work?
Thirty eight research participants from the three PCPs have been involved in the project to date. They’ve provided information on 33 projects addressing environmental sustainability/climate change and equity/social justice.  

Below are nine key themes describing what projects are addressing (preliminary analysis):  

  • promote social inclusion (build community, reduce living costs for low income groups, improve access, identify groups vulnerable to climate change) - 28
  • build capacity  (partnerships, policy, community, organisations, government) - 24 
  • save energy (housing 10, transport 5, other buildings 2, communal kitchen 1) - 18 
  • increase access to local fresh food (improve access, produce local fresh) - 8 
  • increase access to nature - 8 
  • increase Indigenous participation/ cultural safety/awareness - 5 
  • reduce waste - 2 
  • focus on early life, young people - 2 
  • save water - 1
The table below shows draft topics and themes regarding what helps or challenges people in this work (preliminary analysis). The themes in bold are the most common, while those in lighter shades and smaller fonts were less frequently mentioned. This does not necessarily mean that common themes are more important than less common ones.



Topic 1: “what gets to the table” - knowledge, evidence, policy and power

·        Knowledge, evidence and expertise 
·        Supportive government policies (at all levels of government)
·         Being flexible
·         Understanding how power or influence works in your community
·         Elected representatives
·         Local autonomy

·        Management and organisations
·        Changes of government policy and politicisation
·         Power, influence and inequality in general

Topic 2: “walk in their shoes” - engaging people and building relationships

·        Relevance to participants, partners and community
·        Contacts, networks, partnerships and collaboration
·         Leadership, champions 
·         Building relationships and trust

·        Engagement, particularly of ‘hard to reach’ participants

Topic 3: “that’s a point of view” - ideas, values and communication

·        Communication, language and underlying values
·         [Frameworks]*

·        Different ideas and understandings, ‘silos’, narrow definitions of health
·         Culture and practice, the way things are done

Topic 4: “funding is always an issue [but] money isn’t everything” - practical factors

·        Funding, time and resources (particularly funding)
·         Materials and technology

·        Lack of time, resources or money (particularly time and resources)
·         Burden of responsibility (volunteers)
·         Technical challenges
All the themes above are preliminary and have to be checked by the participants before they're finalised.  This will occur in Stage 3 of the project, the final reflections stage, which I hope to complete this year.

Stage 3 Reflections

In early 2016 I plan to hold three workshops, one in each PCP, to present the key findings of the project and give participants an opportunity to provide feedback. The workshops will also be an opportunity to discuss theory and the implications of the research. Ethics approval for this stage has been granted in January 2016.

This will be the final stage of the project. I hope to complete the thesis this year.

For more information, please contact me: Valerie Kay, PhD candidate, Monash University, Ph: (03) 99030252 or 0488294848 or email


Colin Cook said...

May I suggest you look at Dr Steven Hail's article, 'Paying for public services.......' and 'The great economic divide explained' both on my website
Good luck with your project and Phd

Val Kay said...

Thanks, I will have a look