Cross-Cutting Themes: Working Across the Vital Conditions

The Vital Conditions for Health & Well-Being tell us about the places and institutions that we all depend on to be healthy and well. The seven Vital Conditions shape the choices, opportunities, and adversities that we encounter throughout our lives.

While each Vital Condition is distinct and indispensable, Vital Conditions also interact to create a community system for well-being. And, that’s how we experience vital conditions: as a community system.

We don’t think about lifelong learning when we drop off our kindergartener. We don’t consider how our thriving natural world may impact which fruits and vegetables we can buy at the corner store. But, we do think about the local school system, the type of food available in our community, how we get to work, and our homes. When we think about the Vital Conditions within the context of our everyday lives, we see that our lives truly are shaped by this community system.

If our lives cut across all vital conditions, why don’t we incorporate these intersections and interactions in our community improvement work to create health and well-being?

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What does it mean to work across vital conditions?

It’s clear that we live our lives across all Vital Conditions. But, what does that mean when it comes to improving the health of communities?

As an example, let’s take a challenge facing cities and towns across the country: mental health and well-being. Many communities are struggling to address the opioid epidemic and are experiencing high rates of deaths by alcohol, drug overdose, and suicide.

Mental health and substance use disorders are products of many factors and multiple Vital Conditions:

  • Do people in the community have their basic needs met? Can they get the treatment they need? 
  • Do people in the community have safe, affordable housing? Are they experiencing homelessness and substance use disorder at the same time?
  • Do people in the community feel connected to friends and neighbors? Are they able to ask for help when experiencing depression or is there too much stigma?

In the same way that mental health is linked to each Vital Condition, we need to ensure a community response to support mental health and well-being is holistic and addresses each of the Vital Conditions, too.

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Visualizing Well-Being: Belonging and Civic Muscle
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Visualizing Well-Being: Basic Needs for Health + Safety
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Visualizing Well-Being: Humane Housing
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Why are cross-cutting themes helpful?

One helpful way to work across the Vital Conditions is to consider cross-cutting themes, which help us address complex challenges through a holistic, interconnected approach.

When we step back to consider how an investment or strategy impacts the whole person or community, we are better-positioned to see the intended (and unintended) consequences and better able to implement lasting change.

Returning to our example of mental health and well-being, we know that community members of all ages experience mental health challenges. Any strategy or investment to improve mental health and well-being in a community should consider adults and their relationship to meaningful work and wealth, as well as students and the role of lifelong learning.

This doesn’t mean all strategies should be implemented in the same way. One community partner may focus solely on adults, and that’s great! But, if we don’t consider how mental health intersects with work and schools, and with adults and students, we miss a chance to deepen the impact of community work and to support community members.

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Visualizing Well-Being: Lifelong Learning
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Visualizing Well-Being: Meaningful Work + Wealth
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What qualifies as a cross-cutting theme?

If you’re not sure if a theme, strategy, or community challenge is cross-cutting, take some time to list out the Vital Conditions and how the strategy you’re considering or challenge you’re facing intersects with each one.

If we continue thinking about mental health and well-being, consider ways that mental health intersects with the full list of seven Vital Conditions: basic needs for health and safety, belonging and civic muscle, humane housing, lifelong learning, meaningful work and wealth, reliable transportation, and thriving environment.    

When tackling complex challenges, it’s easier than you’d expect to find a component of the work linked to each Vital Condition. And, that’s a good thing. Taking time to develop a bird’s eye view of your theme will help you maintain a holistic approach as you move into planning or implementation phases. 

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Visualizing Well-Being: Healthy Environment
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Visualizing Well-Being: Reliable Transportation
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What’s next?

Interested in learning about one way to identify a cross-cutting theme? Check out the recent summit in Fox Cities, Wisconsin. Stewards in Wisconsin spent nearly a year listening, sharing, and discovering together to identify community priorities—and cross-cutting themes for action. 

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Seven Vital Conditions for Health and Well-Being