Preparing for the Unforeseen: Insights from the Public Health Policy & Strategy Innovation Hub Training

In today’s ever-changing landscape, being an effective public health professional requires being responsive to your community’s needs, and anticipating what services and programs will be needed. Yet, traditional public health training often falls short of equipping professionals with the foresight, adaptability, and collaborative tools needed to navigate future challenges effectively. A 2023 analysis of 201 accredited State, Tribal, Local, & Territorial (STLT) workforce development plans (WDP) identified gaps in systems thinking that align with the shift toward Public Health 3.0, including preparing the workforce for community engagement/partnerships (34%) and resource development (25%) (Yeager VA, et al. 2023). Recognizing these gaps, the Public Health Policy & Strategy ‘Innovation Hub’ emerged.

Created through a collaboration between the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Policy, Performance, and Evaluation (CDC OPPE), the National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI), Georgia Health Policy Center (GHPC), and University of Houston-Foresight Program, the Innovation Hub was designed as a pilot national training and workforce development effort aimed at building the capacity and core competencies of the public health workforce in the United States.


The Innovation Hub’s cohort, which attracted over 170 applicants from diverse backgrounds, was carefully selected for their potential to drive change within their communities. The cohort of 30 included five individual participants and five teams of individuals made up of early, mid, and senior career health department staff. The training series focused on how participants can engage in, operationalize, and support cross-sector collaborations within their agencies.

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The Innovation Hub centered on health and racial equity by intentionally focusing on cross-sector collaboration. By prioritizing diverse partnerships, the program ensured an inclusive approach to public health. From this criterion, individuals were selected from the Alaska Department of Health, the Alaska Native Tribal Consortium, Metro Nashville Public Health Department, and the Michigan Department of Health. In addition, teams were selected from the California Department of Health, the Kansas City Missouri Department of Health, Pima County Arizona Department of Health, Seminole County/Florida Department of Health, and the Philadelphia Department of Health.

Training Modality

From January to July 2023, participants engaged in this innovative training to enhance core competencies required for strategic policy and decision making, adaptive leadership, and designing innovative solutions to address pressing and future public health challenges. One of the key aspects of the Innovation Hub was its emphasis on multi-sector collaboration. Many public health challenges intersect with various sectors such as healthcare, housing, and transportation, requiring practitioners to foster partnerships beyond traditional boundaries. The training initiative included tailored modules and interactive sessions where participants developed skills in building purpose-driven alliances and leveraging resources for community health improvement.

The Innovation Hub’s modality was designed with the busy schedules of public health professionals in mind. Striking a balance between didactic modules, the training fostered peer-to-peer learning and grounded theoretical concepts in practical examples. Through ‘Office Hours’, participants shared insights with one another, refined their skills and identified valuable resources.

A key component of the Innovation Hub’s training was the ‘capstone project’ that the participants completed. These projects aligned with ongoing initiatives within their respective health departments and served as real-world applications of the skills they were learning throughout the training. Participants had access to technical assistance and coaching to guide them from program development to implementation. In May 2023, participants attended an in-person meeting at the NNPHI Annual Conference in Washington, DC. This meeting brought together the training facilitators with the participants and provided a time for cohort members to share updates on their capstones and collaborate with one another.

The training curriculum of the Innovation Hub included four core components, each essential for building a resilient public health workforce:

  • Strategic Foresight: Participants learned about Strategic Foresight , the study of change, using a systematic methodology, which equipped participants with tools to anticipate and shape the future effectively. This module empowered participants to navigate uncertainties and adopt a culture of preparedness within their organizations.
  • Population Health Studio: Focused on incorporating adaptive leadership into funding and decision-making approaches, this module enabled participants to coordinate impactful transformations in their communities by engaging stakeholders, diversifying funding, and driving health systems change.
  • Multi-sector Collaboration: Recognizing the importance of collaboration across diverse sectors, this module helped participants develop skills in building sustainable partnerships and leveraging resources for long-term and sustainable community health improvement.
  • Decision Support Tools for Public Health Capacity Building: Grounded in evidence-based approaches, this module facilitated informed decision-making, empowering participants to drive policy development and program implementation effectively.


Participant feedback highlighted the pilot program’s effectiveness in broadening perspectives and strengthening partnerships. While overall satisfaction was high, suggestions for improvement included structuring course topics more cohesively and providing additional guidance materials.

The impact of the Innovation Hub extends beyond the 7-month training initiative. Equipping public health professionals with the skills, mindset, networks, and resources needed to address current challenges and future uncertainties, has laid the foundation for a more resilient, proactive, and effective public health workforce. One participant reflected:

“The Public Health Policy & Strategy Innovation Hub was one of the most dynamic trainings I’ve participated in in the public health field. Not only was it well thought out, but the training provided cohort members with an opportunity to receive foresight tools that would allow us to think about the future of our field and our work in a tangible way. I had such a positive experience and appreciated getting to participate with and learn from fellow public health practitioners who were at different levels of their career.”

-Ajayi Pickering-Haynes, Innovation Hub participant


As we navigate the unpredictable future of public health, the Innovation Hub stands as an example of how innovative training can help drive progress, empower the workforce, and promote the well-being of communities nationwide.


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