Utah State University HEART Team solidifies vision, reinforces project planning at Impact Collaborative Summit

Taking action to help communities across Utah in response the opioid epidemic is a critical priority. The HEART Team’s focus on Harm Reduction Education is one important component of our response to the epidemic. The time this team spent with the Impact Collaborative allowed them to form a vision and strategy for their project, test their ideas, and get equipped with skills and tools that helped innovate a new project idea from the ground up with real potential for saving lives and increasing awareness of programs available to our communities across Utah. – Dr. Brian Higginbotham, Associate Vice President of Extension, Utah State University

The United States, including Utah, is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic. As a state, Utah has consistently ranked in the top ten of deaths from opioid overdose. Although Utah has taken steps to respond to the opioid crisis, Substance Use Disorders (SUD) continue to impact many lives. The use of government programs to reduce opioid use has been met with questionable success due to the lack of focus on individual communities. One method of research that is not well-known to the general population and has shown to be effective is Harm Reduction programming. Harm Reduction is the idea that recognizes the challenges of completely stopping individuals from using substances, but provides services that will keep the user safer and healthier until the time comes that they may want to stop using a substance and seek assistance. 

The Health Extension: Advocacy Research Teaching (HEART Initiative) Team from Utah State University represents various communities across Utah in 9 counties. They have identified four pillars in the fight against the opioid crisis in their communities and across the state as (1) Harm Reduction, (2) Strengthening Community Ties, (3) Prevention and Education, and (4) Stigma Reduction. Additionally, the team has identified a major need to increase Harm Reduction Education in those communities. Looking to increase the awareness of communities across Utah, the HEART team is looking to create a video education series focused on Harm Reduction. 

The team members include Dr. Ashley Yaugher, Extension Assistant Professor, Health & Wellness; Timothy Keady, Extension Assistant Professor, Health & Wellness; Dr. Maren Voss, Extension Assistant Professor; Reshma Arrington, Extension Assistant Professor; Kandice Atisme, Extension Assistant Professor; and Dr. Mateja Savoie Roskos, Associate Professor of Nutrition Dietetics & Food Sciences. 

According to Keady, “our first year as an Extension team focused on opioids, we have found communities filled with anger, compassion, devastation, love, mistrust, stigma and bias, confusion, thankfulness, and shame towards opioids and those with Substance Use Disorder. Our Harm Reduction video series will begin to connect all of these emotions to professional staff and members of the community that really care and can help. For many in the healthcare field, treating SUD is a driving passion. Too many community members have suffered in silence due to the stigma of substance use. The videos will provide a conversation starter in the community.”

Joining the Impact Collaborative

The HEART Team first joined the Impact Collaborative in April 2019 at the Impact Collaborative Summit. The Impact Collaborative is a program that was created by eXtension to help Extension professionals find more innovative ways to generate a visible, measurable, local impact. It achieves this through offering professional development opportunities to Extension professionals both virtually and face-to-face, connecting Extension professionals with non-traditional partners for strategic support and new capacity, and equipping Extension professionals with new skills, tools, and resources to help increase innovation in their daily work. 

At the Impact Collaborative Summit, the team had the opportunity to work closely on their project with access to key resources assembled by eXtension. The team was provided a coach from the Impact Collaborative’s network of Innovation Facilitators, several Key Informants on staff with subject-matter-expertise in specialized areas, and the opportunity to work in our Innovation Labs with access to graphic recorders and concept-mapping experts. 

Team lead, Dr. Yaugher stated “We really enjoyed being at the Summit. Not only did it provide us focused and dedicated time as a team – but it allowed us to develop relationships with all of our team members to both unify and solidify our program. We found the Innovation Stations at the Summit to be particularly helpful, and we made it a point to attend each of them. We went from having a basic illustration of our idea at the visualization station to a much more detailed infographic. That really helped us solidify the main areas of our program in a way that’s easy to understand. The coaches, the visualization stations, the Key Informants – all of that, you don’t have access to everyday. Having that all in one place was very helpful.” 

At the Summit, the team also had the opportunity to leverage the Impact Collaborative’s Innovation Kit Workbook for help guiding their project development. The Innovation Skill-Building methodology helps Extension professionals build skills in innovation, create opportunities for ideation through a design-thinking and lean experimentation process, and create action plans for projects and programs ready for implementation. “We really enjoyed the Impact Collaborative Innovation Workbook and the Innovation Canvas, and found it particularly useful. Those resources ensured that we were all on the same page and moving in the same direction,” said Dr. Yaugher. 

The Summit included 26 teams across Extension representing 34 land-grant universities. An important aspect of the Impact Collaborative framework is co-creating solutions for community impact and the opportunity for teams to collaborate on a national scale to help better inform project and program planning. Dr. Yaugher shared that “the coolest thing about the Impact Collaborative is the environment with teams from across Extension coming together, and feeling that energy in the room with everybody working towards a final product – you can’t get that anywhere else. The opportunity to network and collaborate with other teams across the country, and seeing what other Extension professionals are doing in similar work is really unique. After the Summit, we’ve continued to connect and collaborate with other teams and individuals.”

The culminating event of the Impact Collaborative Summit was an opportunity for teams to present their projects and programs to a panel of Extension leaders and external partners at a “LaunchFest.” Teams participating in the LaunchFest not only gain valuable feedback from the panel and their peers across Extension, but teams that are most-ready to implement their projects and programs have the chance to secure an opportunity for funding. As a result of their presentation at the LaunchFest, the HEART  team received a pre-approved application for a $5000 grant funded by eXtension to move their project towards implementation. 

Moving Towards Implementation

The grant will allow the HEART team to plan the Harm Reduction Video Education Series where they will pursue additional funding through a separate grant in the fall, 2019. The team has contact with experienced members of the Utah State University Marketing Video Production Staff who will assist in producing and editing the proposed video series. Looking forward, the team is looking to strengthen partnerships with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH), UDOH Injury Prevention, and the UDOH Division of Substance and Mental Health around the consensus that Harm Reduction is an area of concern that needs to be strengthened. 

Want to learn more? Follow the HEART Team’s progress on their website: https://extension.usu.edu/heart/index

About the eXtension Foundation

The eXtension Foundation is a membership-based non-profit designed to be the engine fueling U.S. Cooperative Extension’s advancement in making a more visible and measurable impact in support of education outreach from land-grant universities/colleges located in every state and territory. eXtension provides an array of opportunities for Extension professionals that foster innovation creation, the adoption of innovations at member institutions, and increased impact of Extension programs.