In 2017, we held the first Evidence Based Birth® Be the Change Conference near Lexington, Kentucky. For years, I have wanted to host a gathering like this… it took a lot of time and teamwork to finally pull it off!
I always knew I wanted the first location to be at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill near my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky. Shaker Village is a historic countryside community– a former commune– that spans 3,000 acres of rolling Kentucky bluegrass hills. The buildings have been beautifully restored and turned into a museum and retreat setting. It’s hard to describe the beauty of this special place unless you go there yourself. It’s just the most peaceful, idyllic setting. One of my favorite things about the Shakers is that they believed in equality of men and women, and equal rights for black and white people—in the early 1800s– in the South! You can learn about the history of the Kentucky Shakers here.
So in the fall of 2017, an inter-professional team of midwives, nurses, childbirth educators, physicians, doulas, consumer advocates, and researchers came together at Shaker Village to talk about how we can become true change agents.
A change agent is defined as a leader in the effort to bring positive change to any aspect of healthcare. At the conference, we went through a step-by-step curriculum designed to help people become empowered, equipped change agents who are ready to go back to their communities and create change!
We started our weekend off with a kick-off reception outside—our guests were greeted with a beautiful display of food, flowers, and a fire-pit. We began building connections as people arrived from all over the U.S. and Canada… and we ended the night with a group toast to the coming weekend!
On Day 1, we got into small groups (hand-picked by me!) and started getting to know each other. We then learned, through interactive lectures, discussion, and case studies, how change happens in hospitals, how we can become prolific change agents, and how to set dreams and goals.
To start off, each attendee created their own “dream board,” in which they wrote down their big, bold dream! But this is where most people get discouraged—they focus on dreams and the end-result without really understanding HOW to get there. Together, we learned how to focus on SMART goals—goals that are specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-based. Most attendees realized that the goals they were setting were too big, so we focused on small, bite-sized goals that could be easily accomplished, creating a cycle of positive “wins.”
Creating change in hospitals is not an easy task, so after a picnic lunch under the trees, we turned our attention to learning specific change strategies that we could use in our communities. Attendees learned the change “lingo” that is often used in hospitals (and seems scary to non-medical professionals like doulas). We de-mystified this whole change process, and used our workbooks to do a force field analysis of the barriers and drivers behind change in our communities. Being a change agent means knowing how you’re going to deal with resistance, and figuring out ways to facilitate your colleagues in changing their behaviors. We finished this session by choosing one thing that each person could work on, so that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary!
Next, we moved on to a session on creating legislative change. I spoke about how policy change happens at the state and national level, and then our guest speaker, Mary Kathryn DeLodder, spoke about the difficulties of getting midwifery legislation passed in a state that disparages midwifery care. Mary Kathryn impressed the group with her tenacity, grit, and relentless drive. She was the perfect “real life” example of a change agent!
Finally, we wrapped up the day with a Q & A plus “hot seats.” Hot seats allowed several people from the audience to come up to the front of the room and share the difficulties they were experiencing in their community. As a group, we helped brainstorm solutions for their unique situations.
We shared our dinner meal together in the Trustees Dining Room, and then many of us went on an evening walk as a group, under the stars. Afterwards, there was a lot of bonding and drinks to be had by the bonfire (along with live music)!
In Day 2, we turned our attention to overcoming barriers to change. We started with a session on inter-professional team building. Change does not happen in a vacuum… and you can’t create change by yourself! In this interactive session, we learned about the gold standard of “inter-professional education,” and why it’s so difficult to collaborate with people of other professions. We did a unique EBB “power exercise” where we visually demonstrated—as a group—how the power hierarchy interferes with change—and what we can do about it!
Next, we learned communication techniques for creating change. I shared with the group my tips and tricks for communicating. For example, what do you do if you have to communicate with people who don’t want change, or who are resistant to change? We did several role plays demonstrating non-effective vs. effective communication, and talked about how to respond to aggressive language when we encounter it in the healthcare setting.
After taking a break for another picnic lunch (can we say gorgeous September weather?), we reconvened to hear Cristen Pascucci talk about horizontal violence. Everyone was on the edge of their seats, waiting to hear her proposed solutions for how to deal with this universal problem!
Finally, we ended with several more “hot seats,” where we could put what we were learning into action by helping our colleagues solve their pressing problems.
We wrapped up the conference with a group photo, and then it was on to the celebration boat ride!
We had a catered dinner on the Dixie Belle riverboat on the Kentucky River. We drifted past limestone cliffs (also known as the Palisades) and enjoyed each other’s company before we parted ways! Check out the scenery and watch Erin Wilson, MPH, talk about what she learned at the conference in the video below!
One last unexpected perk that many of us received was getting the chance to view Saturn’s rings, dwarf stars, and other amazing night sky features with the help of the Bluegrass Astronomy Club. They happened to set up their powerful telescope equipment in the fields behind Shaker Village, and so we took a starlit walk out there and learned about the universe. The astronomers were happy to help a bunch of birth professionals learn more about the science of the night sky. It was an amazing end to a wonderful day!
Some people departed early Sunday morning, while the rest of us headed out to a special post-conference outing to a thoroughbred horse farm. We learned the particulars of horse breeding, birthing, and training. When we got to the birthing barn, we told the tour guide, “Don’t hold anything back! Tell us every last detail!” She laughed, and then went on to describe exactly how foals are born. (Did you know that the stable staff know to leave the mama alone, because her labor will stall if she’s watched?) It was super interesting and fun way to relax and hang out on our last morning together.
The Future of “Be the Change”
Right now, the plan is to host an Evidence Based Birth® conference every two years… so our next event will be held in 2019!
However, I know that the curriculum I taught at the Be the Change conference is super valuable, and I’d love to be able to bring it to more communities. I am open to traveling to 2-3 locations in 2018 to teach a one-day version of the Be the Change conference. I’m also open to teaching a shorter version in a live online setting (using Zoom video conferencing), to small groups. If you’d like to bring me to teach and facilitate your group, I’d love to talk with you more! Just contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about pricing and availability.