Michael Chang – “Every Little Action from Everyone Counts”

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Jan 07, 2019
by Oscar Tollast
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Michael Chang – “Every Little Action from Everyone Counts”

Fellow reflects on his “phenomenal” experience in Salzburg and his decision to create the Health and Wellbeing in Planning Network Michael Chang in conversation at Salzburg Global Seminar

In October 2018, health and urban planning professionals from more than 15 countries convened in Salzburg to explore how urban environments can affect health and the public good. The group came together for Building Healthy, Equitable Communities: The Role of Inclusive Urban Development and Investment.

Among the participants was Michael Chang, a project and policy manager at the Town and Country Planning Association. Chang, a chartered town planner, and an honorary member of the UK Faculty of Public Health, leads the Reuniting Health with Planning initiative of stakeholder engagement and policy research across the UK.

We spoke with Michael after the program to discuss what he had learned and his decision to create the Health and Wellbeing in Planning Network. Read our interview below.

SG: Building Healthy, Equitable Communities was your first experience of taking part in a Salzburg Global program. What were your expectations heading into the event?

MC: I had high expectations and was highly excited heading into the event, after doing a bit of research into the organization, about its work and the impacts it has had over the years. I knew there would be a presence from colleagues across the globe so there would be an exciting melting pot of ideas, experiences, and cultures. I was looking forward to harnessing that energy and the opportunity the experience would bring to enhance my own work back in the UK.

SG: How would you describe your experience in Salzburg?

MC: I am not usually an expressive type of person, but I would describe the experience in Salzburg as phenomenal, a once in a lifetime opportunity and such a privilege. The setting gave me a safe thinking space which I don't usually have. The connections allowed me to share my thoughts openly with others. The [program] provided a structure for me to reflect on my own circumstances.   

SG: What impact did the conversations and ideas generated at Schloss Leopoldskron have on your work? Was there an idea or perspective you heard which you hadn't considered before?

MC: Everyone was open and honest with their conversations and professional views. I was grateful to everyone for this level of transparency. It did raise a couple of challenging conversations especially when it came to issues around racially-related inequalities in the American and South African contexts, and the nuance between ‘gentrification’ and “regeneration.” I learned that while as professionals, we may use these terms interchangeably to suit, it doesn't alter the level of impact our actions can have on local communities. Fortunately, as the experience of attending a planning conference in New Orleans earlier in 2018 was still fresh where such issues are very much at the fore, I was able to relate and have a broader mind-set during discussions.

The ideas discussed and presented show that every little action from everyone counts, and sometimes the big idea may not be the answer. We don't tend to learn and acknowledge the lessons of the past and from others, so having that critical mass of thinkers and doers was really beneficial.

SG: What's inspired you to move forward with the Health and Wellbeing in Planning Network?

MC: I wanted to move forward with the idea of identifying [and] then bringing together that critical mass, at least initially in the UK context which doesn't currently exist in a structured way. The ability to exchange and share experiences, potential transferable solutions or even to have those challenging conversations at the Session demonstrated that perhaps if only initially replicated in a virtual forum, it would be worthwhile. The thinking space provided during smaller group discussions with colleagues such as Gemma McKinnon towards the end of the [program], and with external colleagues such as Rachel Flowers gave me the conviction to press the “go” button for the Health and Wellbeing in Planning Network. This meant activating a series of communication platforms via a LinkedIn group, a Twitter account, and a simple website.

SG: What response have you had to the Network so far?

MC: In the first weekend of the Network being set up on Twitter right after #SGSHealth, it had close to a couple of hundred followers already. By 2019 new year’s day the number of followers is at 350. On LinkedIn, the Network has 48 members, and on the website, there is a list of 17 members who sent in a short biography to be included.

SG: In the long-term, what are your hopes for the Network?

MC: It is still early days for the Network to be fully activated across its different communication platforms. I am hoping that the Network members will increase to build a critical mass of “public health planners,” its presence enhanced through its website and its value widely recognized, which means ultimately more virtual peer to peer exchanges taking place in 2019. The Network can function in a number of different ways that is focused on its members acting as ‘peers’ to help each other signpost requests for further support and technical expertise. I hope it can be self-sustaining and become the go-to one-stop-shop for information on all things about planning for health and wellbeing.

SG: What do you think practitioners working to improve health and wellbeing need to know more about when it comes to planning?

MC: The first step is to understand the parameters of what you mean by “planning.” Certainly, I learned that planning in the UK is very different from planning in the USA, South Africa or New Zealand. By understanding the parameters, you can begin to think about the possibilities including the limitations of what legislation and policy allow you to do. Most importantly this allows you to know who else you have to work with, engage and involve in the process, and appreciate that working together is always better than working alone.

SG: The Network is in its early days, but what is one thing you have learned already?

MC: It is important to articulate a need for an idea and whether such a need is sustained and regular or just a one-off. This can really be done by having lots of conversations with others so as well as understanding more about the target audience, you are also making links and thereby helping to create the need. Come back to me in a year or so to see whether I am on the right track or not!