Establishing Powerful Program Partnerships

DC Million Hearts Program: Recipe for Public Health

Recipes for Public Health: DC Million Hearts Program

  1. Establishing Powerful Program Partnerships
  2. Background and Resources


Health departments can facilitate the development of multisector partnerships that, when developed and used effectively, can lead to increased collaboration and coordination. Using findings from an evaluation conducted by CDC, this Recipe for Public Health outlines programmatic “ingredients” for establishing powerful program partnerships and includes considerations for replication of this approach in health department settings. The Recipe for Public Health provides information for public health practitioners who are interested in learning more about a public health approach to establishing multisector partnerships in their jurisdiction.

Recipe cards.

Key Ingredients

Every state and local health department is different and implements strategies under different circumstances. As with many recipes, the “ingredients” mentioned here are suggestions and may need to be modified or combined in different ways, depending on the setting and target population.


The District of Columbia Department of Health (DOH) tried to find partners in the district with similar missions and goals; the department did not limit its search to public health organizations but rather aimed to involve other types of organizations to create a diverse partner network. DC DOH staff worked with four types of partners, including:

  • National or regional organizations (e.g., American Heart Association, American Medical Association)
  • Local health care systems (e.g., MedStar, Unity Health Care)
  • Academic organizations (e.g., Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University)
  • Community organizations and programs (e.g., Catholic Charities, YMCA)

The first ingredient for implementing a statewide collaborative with health systems is to find a partner who can access the health care sector and may already have some of the infrastructure in place to implement a learning collaborative.

The first ingredient for building multisector partnerships is to identify and get to know the desired partners. In order to execute a multisector approach, consider how to engage partners from various sectors.

How to Implement

  • Identify partners with similar goals for a multisector effort. Potential partners could include national or regional organizations, local health care systems, academic organizations, or community organizations and programs. Also consider nontraditional partners to create diverse partnership networks.
  • Research potential partner organizations’ priorities, needs, and preferences and use this information to identify opportunities to make partnerships mutually beneficial.
  • Develop tailored engagement plans for potential partners with clear roles and responsibilities based on partners’ priorities, needs, and preferences.


As DC DOH was reaching out to potential partners, it considered partners that could bring a wide range of knowledge and skills to the program. Partner representatives typically hold decision-making positions, which allow them to effect change broadly within their organizations. After getting to know all the partners within the network, DC DOH discovered there was a need for a data-sharing agreement to conduct population-level monitoring. The department played a lead role in developing the data-sharing agreements between partners and aligning data submission requirements with existing partners.

A health department can establish the components needed for a learning collaborative by securing the infrastructure, leadership, process, and participants.

The second ingredient for building successful multisector partnerships is to develop clear roles and responsibilities. By documenting key aspects of the partnership, collaborations can build a strong foundation for a partnership that is mutually beneficial and focused on achieving outcomes.

How to Implement

  • Execute the engagement plan to communicate how the development of a new partnership would be beneficial for all partners.
  • Evaluate the potential partners and determine what role each partner will play and each partner’s value in helping the network reach its goals.
  • Establish clear goals and priorities of the partnership. Also consider developing a plan that will outline how partners communicate with one another. Some partnerships may also require the development of:
    • Data-sharing agreements
    • Dissemination plans
    • Quality improvement processes
    • Technical assistance opportunities


DC DOH’s Million Hearts program provided opportunities for relationship building and collaboration between partners, which was a key facilitator in partners’ implementation of quality improvement (QI) interventions and promising practices in heart disease and diabetes prevention and management. In the first year of the program, DC DOH sought to engage partners through a series of four learning sessions. During Year 1, DC DOH convened the partners 14 times (including the four learning sessions). In Year 2, DC DOH sought to create more opportunities for partners to share and engage with one another by planning and implementing a monthly partner meeting schedule and an annual DC Million Hearts symposium. Networking opportunities alternated between in-person meetings and virtual meetings. DC DOH also designated a regional organization to facilitate webinars on promising QI activities to local health care systems.

To further strengthen your foundation for success, ensure all health systems participating in the learning collaborative have some basic capabilities in place that will support the implementation of quality improvement activities.

After the partnership is created and clear roles and responsibilities are developed, it is important to maintain the relationship and keep all partners engaged.

How to Implement

  • Communicate regularly with the established partners as outlined in the communication plan. Keep in mind that different partners may want to be informed through different communication means (e.g., phone calls, emails). The frequency of communication may vary for each partner.
  • Share information with the multisector partner organizations on evidence-based models, protocols, and programs. This will help partners stay up to date on the latest approaches to chronic disease prevention and control. This could include providing technical assistance after reviewing the partners’ needs. Technical assistance is an effective way to engage and help the partners in their quality improvement efforts.
  • Support opportunities for the partners to connect and learn from one another. Multisector partnerships provide great opportunities for the partners to network with each other and share strategies and best practices.
Measuring spoons.

If implementation challenges occur, keep the following troubleshooting tips in mind (derived from the DC Million Hearts example):

  • Work to identify the types of public and private partner organizations that will support program goals and objectives. This should be done early in the planning phase and will help to ensure that the right mix of organizations is involved in a multisector effort. For example, the DC Million Hearts program brought together four types of public and private partner organizations to support the program goals: national and regional organizations, community organizations and programs, local health care systems, and academic organizations.
  • Understand all partners’ priorities, needs, and preferences related to providing quality care to individuals with heart disease or diabetes risk factors. Use this information to identify opportunities to make the partnerships mutually beneficial. Doing so can lead to more effective and longer-term collaboration, which can ultimately result in greater collective impact. Public health practitioners can gather this information through formal (e.g., a needs assessment questionnaire or protocol) or informal (e.g., discussion) means.
  • Develop tailored partner engagement plans with clear roles and responsibilities, based on partners’ priorities, needs, and preferences. It is important to treat partner engagement as a critical and deliberate program activity. Tailored partner engagement can help practitioners develop, implement, and track the steps and activities necessary to build and maintain partnerships to achieve program goals and objectives.