Rural health in Australia is a dynamic and ever-changing field of work that requires innovation and collaboration.
This principle underpins the Sharing Shed, the online portal used at the National Rural Health Conference to collect and synthesise key findings and recommendations into a policy platform for rural health advocacy. Through the Sharing Shed, all Conference delegates can contribute a recommendation, suggest new ideas, comment on the proposals and recommendations of others and vote for their favourite options.
The National Rural Health Conference is Australia’s pre-eminent interdisciplinary rural and remote health forum. Since its inception in 1991, the Conference has encouraged the sharing of knowledge and experiences about rural health from across the sector.
The Sharing Shed is the mechanism through which delegates from across rural, regional and remote Australia can have their say about what is important in rural health and what we should be doing as a sector to improve health outcomes for our seven million constituents.
The Conference Recommendations Committee works throughout the Conference to monitor what’s logged in the Sharing Shed and produces a set of policy recommendations, endorsed by the Conference on its last day, to help guide the rural health policy agenda in Australia for the following two years.
At the 14th National Rural Health Conference, in Cairns in 2017, the hundreds of recommendations submitted to the Sharing Shed were refined to priority recommendations around seven themes of: national rural health strategy; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing; healthy start in life; digital health and high speed broadband; arts in health; research and evidence based practice; and health workforce.
The NSW Rural Doctors Network (RDN), the Rural Workforce Agency for health in New South Wales, was an active participant in the 14th National Rural Health Conference. The NSW RDN has taken the recommendations from the 14th Conference and has used them to guide its policies and program development. It is a good example of one organisation seeking to implement what has been agreed collectively as important in rural health.
A thematic guide to decision-making and information dissemination – the NSW RDN experience
Filtering and deciphering the enormous amount of health program and research content into easy-to-understand and usable formats for practitioners and communities is a key part of our role over the past 30 years.
As RDN CEO, I have found that the Sharing Shed has helped RDN apply evidence-based learnings into the organisation's programs and collaborations.
The recommendations from the 14th National Rural Health Conference have been used within RDN’s organisational performance framework, developed to enable more targeted investment to areas of need and to track the organisation’s performance.
We also used the Sharing Shed recommendations from the 14th Conference to cross check our own on-the-ground evidence with the national perspective.
This approach has strengthened our program logics and methodologies. We are striving to create a cascading line of sight from national health policies to tangible action at the community level.
The RDN’s Aboriginal Health Workforce Engagement Strategy; resource investment in regional health workforce collaboration projects such as the Western NSW 2030 Primary Health Workforce Project; workforce support initiatives for stronger ‘first 2,000 days’ (the first 2,000 days in a child’s life from conception to age five) outcomes; and dissemination of RDN’s workforce evidence are examples of the Sharing Shed recommendations in practice on our organisation.
It has taken effort to keep our commitment to the recommendations front of mind, however we have seen real benefit.
The themed nature of the recommendations has complemented our desire to encourage coordinated policy, programs and funding mechanisms at Federal, State, regional and community levels.
The themes have also been used to support decision making on programs and innovations that connect and align to the recommendations.
Former National Rural Health Alliance Chair, Professor Jenny May, is a Sharing Shed champion.
“Evidence-informed practice needs to be more than words”, she said.
“The approach requires commitment for action and the Sharing Shed allows everyone who is passionate about rural health to take advantage of the collective experience and knowledge and apply it in a manner that is relevant and useful to every organisation, community and individual.”
Jenny and I will be discussing the benefits of the Sharing Shed in the Opening Session of the 15th National Rural Health Conference on 24 March.
The RDN is committed to continue using the Sharing Shed recommendations from the coming Conference and, in line with the philosophy of the Sharing Shed, would be pleased to share its learnings and organisational approach. Contact us on (02) 4924 8000.
The 15th National Rural Health Conference will be held in Hobart on 24-27 March 2019. Register for the Conference and find out more about the Sharing Shed on the Conference website.