Purpose and objectives: Multisector collaboration is a widely promoted strategy to increase equitable availability, access, and use of healthy foods, safe places for physical activity, social supports, and preventive health care services. Yet fewer studies and resources exist for collaboration among governmental and nongovernmental agencies to address public problems in rural areas, despite an excess burden of risk factors for cancer morbidity and mortality. We aimed to learn about cancer prevention activities and collaboration facilitators among rural informal interagency networks.
Evaluation methods: In 2020, researchers conducted semistructured interviews with staff from rural public health and social services agencies, community health centers, and extension offices. Agency staff were from 5 service areas across 27 rural counties in Missouri and Illinois with high poverty rates and excess cancer risks and mortality. We conducted a thematic analysis to code interview transcripts and identify key themes.
Results: Exchanging information, cohosting annual or one-time events, and promoting other agencies’ services and programs were the most commonly described collaborative activities among the 32 participants interviewed. Participants indicated a desire to improve collaborations by writing more grants together to codevelop ongoing prevention programs and further share resources. Participants expressed needs to increase community outreach, improve referral systems, and expand screenings. We identified 5 facilitator themes: commitment to address community needs, mutual willingness to collaborate, long-standing relationships, smaller community structures, and necessity of leveraging limited resources. Challenges included lack of funding and time, long travel distances, competing priorities, difficulty replacing staff in remote communities, and jurisdictional boundaries. Although the COVID-19 pandemic further limited staff availability for collaboration, participants noted benefits of remote collaborative meetings.
Implications for public health: Rural areas need consistent funding and other resources to support health-improving multisector initiatives. Existing strengths found in the rural underresourced areas can facilitate multisector collaborations for cancer prevention, including long-standing relationships, small community structures, and the need to leverage limited resources.