The MHLIC offers State Maternal Health Innovation programs and Rural Maternity & Obstetrics Management Strategies programs multiple modalities of training, technical assistance and capacity building. One of our first offerings – a Learning Institute – is structured as an opportunity for teams to share strategies, problem solve and connect with colleagues from other states and organizations working on similar problems and/or interventions for shared learning and support. A Learning Institute differs from a traditional conference in several ways:
- learning occurs with team members rather than individually
- learning is active and immediately applied to the challenge at hand
- learning is skill/tool-based where possible
- active learning support is provided
- fewer topics are covered and, in more depth
Initially the hope was to host the Learning Institute over the course of two days in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Plans were well underway when the state and country began to shut down due to COVID-19 in March. After taking several deep breaths, the MHLIC planning team pivoted and decided to take it virtual on May 28, 2020. The team began with a survey to state teams to find out what they wanted to learn and share. We then designed the day to meet those needs as well as introduce the MHLIC, our team, and create space for state partners to check in with each other and their coach. The planning team spent time in rehearsal to do all they could to prepare for technology challenges. We designated Piia Hanson as the host for the day, used the chat function to build connection, encouraged participants to take breaks as needed, and had a facilitator and technical assistance team member in each session.
With approximately 130 attendees, the Learning Institute started with a welcome and overview from the MHLIC director, Dorothy Cilenti, DrPH, MSW and HRSA directors Lee Wilson (Division of Healthy Start and Perinatal Services) and Kathryn Umali, MPH, CHES (Community Based Division, Federal Office of Rural Health Policy). Dr. Kimarie Bugg of Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere issued a call to action. The 7-hour day consisted of three main learning topics and 20 peer innovation breakout sessions. The varied topics allowed attendees to not only gain knowledge but also share with their peers in maternal health from across the United States. Participant feedback on the event was positive, and comments will be used to plan our next Learning Institute, to be held virtually in September of 2020.