Breaking down barriers to lower the rate of preterm births

Eli and I spent the last three months learning about what it’s like to be pregnant in Cincinnati, Ohio. Let me explain. We’ve been to Avondale, a Cincinnati neighborhood that has fallen on hard times, and has a history of riots, poverty, and crime. It also has one of the highest preterm birth rates in the country, where 18.7% of babies are born before 37 weeks, compared to the national average of 11.5%.

CincinnatiThis is where we come in. BIF teamed up with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the StartStrong leadership team to lower the rate of preterm births by designing a new experience for expectant mothers that will help them have healthier, longer pregnancies. We’ve conducted 16 interviews with women in Avondale, a mix of women that are pregnant, mothers, and women that are not pregnant and don’t have children. We spent 2 hours in each of their homes, listening to their stories, and what the journey of pregnancy is like in Avondale. We also interviewed 2 candid fathers, and numerous stakeholders from the community representing community organizations, churches, and hospitals.

We came back to Providence, reflected on what we heard, covered our office in sticky notes, and synthesized our observations into 4 insights that we believe lead to healthy pregnancies:

  • Futurecasting
    The ability to imagine yourself in the future, and discover the proactive steps you need to take to get there;
  • Trusted Knowledge
    Quality information that is qualified and delivered by a trusted source, making it relevant, tangible, and actionable;
  • Community Love
    The strong, social network that provides resources, knowledge, advice, and support;
  • Personal Power
    The ability to advocate for yourself, feeling confident that your decisions will lead to beautiful outcomes.

While we had some great ideas of our own for new models, we asked the real experts to design a solution. A group of providers, community leaders, and 8 moms (some very, very pregnant--we weren’t sure if we would witness a birthday) joined us in a full day, roll-up your-sleeves design session. Each table worked with a Mom to design a new experience that would help her have a healthier pregnancy. Moms critiqued each of the new experiences, explaining exactly what they did and didn’t like. And I assure you, they were not shy. At the end of the day, moms stood up in a front of our group of 60 people and presented the idea they believed in. It was amazing to see this diverse group of people collaborate in a creative way that is vastly different from their typical interactions.

One of the stakeholders we interviewed told us that “there are tall walls between institutions and people” in Avondale. I think we started to dismantle some bricks from that wall that day, but we have more work to do. We’re back in Providence now, polishing our solution concepts to present to the StartStrong team. We are incredibly grateful to the community of Avondale for their willingness to share. We’ve learned a ton, and cannot wait to keep working on this complex issue. Stay tuned for transformation.

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