Exploring Collaboration between Regional Planning and Public Health in Southwest Virginia

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Virginia Tech


Research on collaboration between regional planning and public health promises project cost sharing while achieving the missions of the respective organizations. The objective of this research is to apply the theoretical framework of critical contingencies to assess the current level of inter-organizational relationships between planning district commissions (PDCs) and health districts in the area.

Using a case study approach, I collected data through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with the directors of four PDCs and four health districts of southwest Virginia. The results from this study reveal that PDCs and health districts collaborate in three areas: physical/environmental health, access to primary health care, and economic development.

However, collaboration is not consistent across the four districts. In districts with minimal collaboration, directors at both PDCs and health districts cite conflicting missions and a lack of understanding about the other organization. In districts with the highest number of common projects, the directors at both organizations attribute collaboration to a dependency on technical and professional resources, the need for legitimacy and authority, and the ability to achieve internal objectives. All directors claim that limited time and human resources impede collaboration. The directors' views on resource constraints (predominantly time) and organizational philosophy corroborate the general findings of the collaboration literature.

Future research should address means of enhancing collaboration between planners and health districts through improved communication about programs and actual, not perceived, skills, resources, and mission of the complementary organization.



Regional planning, public health, Collaboration