Leadership Interview: Bill Fulton, Ph.D., Founder and Co-executive Director, The Civic Canopy

Bill Fulton is the founder and co-executive director of The Civic Canopy, a nonprofit that provides the facilitative leadership to allow disparate groups to work together more effectively toward a greater collective impact. Fulton consults with Colorado’s Accountable Health Communities Model, a partnership of clinical and community organizations. Western Colorado is one of 20 regions selected by Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services for this initiative. The AHCM is testing whether identifying an individual’s social needs and connecting them to non-clinical community services—e.g., food, stable housing and utility assistance, personal safety, transportation, and social isolation—will positively impact health care costs and outcomes. As a consultant on the power of networking, Fulton is a facilitator for building collaboration among leaders of AHCM participating organizations. 
Ascent: What are some of the benefits of bringing together a group of diverse leaders like the AHCM contingent and facilitating their development as a network of collaborators?
Fulton: What makes us so excited about this work is that most people come to the table for an effort like this looking through the lens of their issue or their area of expertise, but without a focus on the collaborative activity. Once they begin to collaborate, they find that many more things become possible because the effect is so multidimensional. The network effect, or the platform of collaboration itself, becomes a new factor in the environment. With the AHCM collaborative, we created something together that none of us could have access to on our own. It’s a lot like when neural pathways in the brain connect; you become so much more knowledgeable and skillful because of those connections. When people make a commitment to work collaboratively, it feeds an upward spiral of ever-larger activity. I think we’re beginning to see the signs of that with the AHCM group.
Ascent: How does this work to build trusting, collaborative relationships support the bigger picture--to fulfill the Accountable Health Community Model vision for a whole-person approach to health, across the community? 
Fulton: Whole-person health is a compelling sight on the horizon, and we keep traveling toward it. But the only way you get things to function at that level is by creating bold goals that are compelling enough for individuals to commit themselves to a cause greater than just their own immediate self-interest. So first, we raise the flag high enough to inspire and captivate people. Second, we connect everyone to this big, bold vision. It takes a sufficiently elevating goal to bring the energy and resources around the table to succeed, so that what was once experienced as a slow, individual journey becomes a collective journey. 
If they experience enough trust and some success, best practices emerge, and they’re disseminated effectively over the network.
Ascent: What’s next for the AHCM collaborative?
Fulton: The grant has some specific deliverables attached to it in the near term. It’s our hope that the plane that is just starting to take off has enough runway to clear the trees, in terms of the CMS grant and the effort to screen 100,000 patients here for social determinants of health. But the collaboration goal isn’t just victory by number of patient screenings for social determinants. It needs to transition to a more meaningful, whole-health mindset and to partners working more effectively with one another to achieve that goal. 
It’s a pleasure for me to be along for this ride, to be able to work across the entire Western Slope with great, willing partners who believe so deeply in this approach.