2014 - 2019 Strategic Plan

Executive Summary

The Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living (the Center) was formed in 2006 with a vision of ‘healthy children in a healthy world.’  We believe that children engage in health-promoting or health-compromising behaviors based on their personal characteristics and their environments. Parents, schools, and the larger community have an interest in, and responsibility to, foster the conditions necessary for healthy growth and development. We believe a healthy child is better able to achieve academically and socially.  The development of healthy childhood behaviors is an investment in the long-term productivity of our society. 

As part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston(UTHealth) School of Public Health in Austin, the Center is comprised of UTHealth School of Public Health scientists who specialize in behavior change, epidemiology, health economics, and biostatistics. These public health specialists and associated research support personnel are dedicated to new discoveries in child and family health, with current programmatic foci on obesity prevention, nutrition, physical activity, and tobacco use. The Center’s research portfolio includes funding from diverse sources such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and others. 

The Center has grown from 6 faculty members at inception to 24 faculty researchers today, and from 48 research staff in 2006 to 113 in 2015. The Austin Campus has grown as well, from 20 MPH students in 2008 to over 180 public health certificate, MPH, DrPH, and PhD students in 2015. The Austin Campus and Center complement each other by providing a stimulating, research-oriented training program for students at the Campus, as well as increased capacity and reach for the conduct of research and demonstration projects for Center work. 

The Center’s activities include resources and support for research and development, as well as community outreach, events such as the Michael & Susan Dell Lectureship for Child Health each spring, Texas Obesity Awareness Week and Texas Health Champion Event each September. Moreover, Center-led activities such as the Community Collaborative for Child Health, a Data and Methods Core, and a Communications Core complement these outreach efforts. These events and activities provide venues to accelerate translation of scientific studies into practice.

In 2014, the Center undertook a comprehensive strategic planning process to develop a five-year roadmap. With an independent facilitator and guided by a multi-disciplinary team of Center staff and faculty, the process clarified the Center’s strategic niche, set clear and realistic goals to move the organization forward, and provided a framework for organizing operations and personnel to focus on success.

The Center has grown significantly since its launch in 2006, and the plan addresses several growing pains— which can be understood as a set of tensions—that have come with its successes:

  • Demand for greater programming and services from the community versus staff capacity and the importance of maintaining high quality work
  • Continuous hiring and housing of staff in multiple locations versus building and integrating a strong, cohesive centrally-located team
  • Need for flexibility and ability to respond quickly in exciting and emerging areas versus time constraints of extramural funding and structure
  • Maintenance of organizational consistency and identity versus independent research projects and specializations that may be beyond the scope of the Center’s mission and specializations due to the nature of academia and tenure

As the Center looks toward the next five years, it is focused on being a catalyst for promoting health.  As such, the organization has developed a plan to build upon the strengths in both research and the community and minimize the connected challenges. Ultimately, the Center will be working to advance scientific knowledge through evidence-based research to push the frontiers of public health discovery, enrich public health practice, and strengthen the health of children, families, and communities. This plan outlines a multi-faceted approach towards achieving this goal

Methodology

In the spring of 2014, Greenlights (an organization specializing in strategic guidance for non-profit groups)  conducted a multi-part assessment of the Center, incorporating online surveys, one-on-one interviews, and a comprehensive document review to develop a complete picture of the organization. The Center Strategic Planning Committee, an ad hoc team of 4 faculty members and 6 staff members, informed the initial focus of assessment by clarifying key questions, goals, and areas to be emphasized. Following that conversation, three online surveys were developed (one for members of the Scientific Advisory Council (SAC) and Community Collaborative and two for faculty, staff, and students), two focus groups (of the SAC and Community Collaborative) were facilitated, and 19 personal interviews of staff, faculty, and students were conducted (see Appendix B for details). The Center Director and Executive Committee selected all interviewees, in consultation with Greenlights.

In addition, Greenlights conducted organizational benchmarking and interviews with external stakeholders, including donors, from the following organizations:

  • Alliance for a Healthier Generation
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition
  • National Institutes of Health
  • RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
  • Salud America!

At the completion of each phase, Greenlights produced a summary report that was used to further focus the goals and ideas that ultimately developed into this plan. Members of the Executive Committee, as well as a multi-disciplinary and cross-functional Strategic Planning Committee, led the Center’s efforts. Through facilitated retreats and work sessions of these groups, a daylong retreat for all staff and faculty, and independent work, the goals, strategies, and metrics emerged and were refined.

Purpose and Vision

To emphasize its commitment to being a force for promoting health change and clarify its goals, the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living updated its mission statement:

We advance health and healthy living for children and families through
cutting-edge research, innovative community-based programs, and
dissemination of evidence-based practices.

The Center also adopted an “Ultimate Impact Statement” to articulate the organization’s vision for both its future and its greater goals:

The Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living advances scientific knowledge through innovative research to push the frontiers of public health discovery, enrich public health practice, and strengthen the health of children, families, and communities.

The Ultimate Impact Statement describes the Center’s vision of success in the coming five years. In order to achieve this vision, the Center developed the following four strategies to guide how we deliver services and measure our impact as the Elements of a Success Equation:

  1. Research to develop scientific evidence to address real world problems
  2. Translation of scientific evidence into practical applications
  3. Dissemination of evidence-based and best practice protocols and applications to increase the quality of public health practice and improve lives
  4. Ensuring a strong, sustainable and responsive Center model and identity

As the Center moves forward, each of these goals are essential elements and ingredients for success in achieving the success and vision of the Ultimate Impact Statement.  Thus, the ultimate impact of the Center is through the synergistic combination of research, translation of scientific evidence, dissemination of effective programs, and a strong brand identity.

1. Research to develop scientific evidence to address real world problems

The Center’s unique blend of research and practice are targeted to produce new scholarship through trans-disciplinary teams. Working in multiple settings with Center faculty and key expert collaborators in reducing chronic diseases related to diet; physical activity; and tobacco, nicotine and alcohol use, the Center produces high quality research designed to answer real world problems and to ultimately enhance and improve population health.

2. Translation of scientific evidence into practical applications

The Center ensures that its information and advances are accessible to practitioners, educators, and community partners by translating scientific evidence into user-friendly best practice protocols and applications.

3. Dissemination of evidence-based and best practice protocols and applications to increase the quality of public health practice and improve lives

The Center will engage students, professionals, policy makers, and the general public through education, communication, and activities to ensure that research-based solutions are applied to on-going and emerging public health problems. 

4. Ensuring a strong, sustainable and responsive Center model and identity

The Center commits to thought leadership, intentional and sustainable operations, and reliable, effective, and engaging communications to support these important efforts.