The Seven Vital Conditions for Health and Well-Being
by Josh Jacobson

Frankly, sometimes I feel burdened by my calling.

It would be so much easier to develop a simple approach to our work at Next Stage and just put it all on cruise control. Why work so hard? I feel the occasional envy of entrepreneurs who invent a single process or product – a widget of some sort – and it just works out gloriously as one’s life work. Wouldn’t it be great? <sigh>

Social impact is not so simple. The world is in such a state of constant change, with analytics becoming more sophisticated, that clinging to the way we’ve always done it just isn’t an option. We believe we must continually look to reinvent against a backdrop of always-moving factors, taking the best of the last model and folding it into new methodologies deserving of testing.

Next Stage is fueled by social innovation, and it requires a willingness to pioneer new approaches in hopes of discovering the holy trinity of impact – effective strategies that lower costs and are more equitably accessible to all.

It can feel like we’re on an island, with people too busy with today’s challenges to invest their time and energy in tomorrow’s solutions. We search for an evidence base that helps to translate what we believe – our theory of change developed through engagement with more than 200 institutions across nearly a decade of work – that we won’t make significant progress until we work together at the intersection of social impact.

And sometimes, we hit the jackpot, like with The Seven Vital Conditions for Health and Well-Being.

We are excited to share with you the “one ring to rule them all” framework we believe needs to be central to our work at that intersection.

“What about mission creep?”

This is a reasonable response to what many organizations are realizing about their work in the years following the world-wide disruption of COVID-19.

It has been drilled into the collective consciousness of nonprofit organizations that they should avoid expanding the scope of their work beyond reasonable boundaries of focus. Organizations advancing education, for example, should “stay in their lane,” even as they realize students without access to food are unlikely to retain much of what they are taught. Nonprofit leaders are encouraged to collaborate, but also to be careful with how they position themselves as responsible for outcomes they don’t directly create through their own services.

The result is most often silos of impact, where service providers track data meaningful to their own mission but rarely collaborate with their partners to analyze the larger picture.

Everywhere, that is, except in health. We’ve outlined this before, how the World Health Organization’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health (SDH) published a report in 2005 that outlined how one’s health is determined much less by care provided in a clinical setting but rather by many other factors – things like housing, education, food access and environment.

For nearly 20 years, health-focused organizations have struggled with this knowledge – “how do we manage conditions that are outside the scope of our clinical work?” In effect, “how do we avoid mission creep when everything is telling us that staying in our lane isn’t working?”

A New Ecosystem for Equitable Outcomes

It took time, but there is finally an answer to that lingering question.

The Seven Vital Conditions for Health and Well-Being is an approach developed over the last decade by Bobby Milstein and ReThink Health, an initiative focused on “discovering what it takes to design and execute transformative change and produce better health and well-being for all.”

The framework comprises 75 indicators across seven domains, conceptualizing holistic well-being through collaboration. It is a significant advancement of the social determinants of health conceptually into a measurable framework that unites health and human services into a cohesive roadmap. The rigorously researched and evidence-based game plan calls for a new health ecosystem that is systemic, transformative, stewarded, multi-sector, regional and equitable. These are all of our favorite words!

So groundbreaking is the framework that no less than 44 federal health agencies have signed on. The Federal Plan for Equitable Long-Term Recovery and Resilience (ELTRR), published at the end of 2022, is built on the infrastructure of the Seven Vital Conditions and harnesses investment from the federal government over the next decade to see this new ecosystem realized.

Want goosebumps? Check out this quote from the cover page:

“Recovery to pre-pandemic conditions is thus unacceptable as doing so would eliminate the likelihood of improved resilience for the nation. Instead, we must better position public systems to evolve in ways that seek to address individual and community well-being as the primary outcome of policy, programs, and funding opportunities.”

It isn’t enough to get back to where we were. We need to build something better.

Next Stage’s Domains of Impact

Needless to say, we’re pretty excited at Next Stage. The Seven Vital Conditions provides a context that unites our work.

We had already been working to bring together our disparate efforts focused on collaboration management, community voice, movement-building and social impact for business into a more cohesive frame. We could see how these efforts overlapped, but it was sometimes difficult to translate it into an elevator speech.

Over the last year, Next Stage has begun to redefine its work in domains of impact – sectors of social good with networks who identify together as having shared mission and external factors influencing success. In working in those domains, we are also able to spark connections across domains, building bridges to realize the new ecosystem described in the Seven Vital Conditions.

Impact for Health at Next Stage

The first domain we launched last year was an easy one – Impact for Health. Not only had Next Stage built up credibility through 20+ engagements with health-related organizations, but the very nature of the social determinants of health aligned to our desired work at the intersection.

With Randy Jordan joining our team as Chief Advisor for Impact for Health, and Tim Gallagher bringing his expertise as a Senior Consultant, Next Stage is realizing “new ways of doing things” that lean heavily on our work in other domains, e.g. housing, education, food access, and the environment.

Critical to this work is trust and connection, what the Seven Vital Conditions describes as Belonging and Civic Muscle:

Higher levels of social cohesion are associated with higher levels of trust, cooperation and social capital, providing the necessary foundations for creating healthy patterns for working together across groups and sectors, building the ‘civic infrastructure’ for community members to co-create a shared future.

Strategies will only succeed if we work together to realize them, building a “sense of being valued and cared for” that leads to greater participation in community.

This is the north star for our work at Next Stage, and it has been for some time. We just didn’t know what to call it. Cultivating belonging and civic muscle requires attention, intentionality, and yes, investment. These outcomes won’t just happen without it.

Seeking a partner for your work at the intersection? We’d love to talk. Shoot us a message – we’d welcome the chance to explore this exciting framework with you in greater detail.