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Meet the Colorado Health Institute’s Crazy Talented Team

Monthly Focus on a Featured Expert

June 2017: Allie Morgan

By Deborah Goeken

We pretty much threw Allie Morgan into the deep end when she started working at the Colorado Health Institute almost exactly three years ago.

She took over our legislative services portfolio, meaning she was instantly in charge of CHI’s biggest annual event, the Hot Issues in Health conference, as well as our policy outreach work with state lawmakers. Oh, and both the conference and the legislative session were just months away.

I knew Allie was the right person for the job the first time we met to discuss the conference. She arrived with about four pages worth of tasks on her to-do list, each with a little hand-drawn box next to it. We went over that list many, many times over the next months, and Allie eventually checked off each of those little boxes.

It wasn’t high-tech, but it worked. The conference went off flawlessly, and Allie got off to a strong start at the legislature.

Fast forward to 2017. Allie has helped to put on two more of the policy conferences, raising the bar each time. And she has just finished what I think is her — and CHI’s — best legislative session yet.

Working closely with Joe Hanel, our Manager of Public Policy Outreach, Allie launched a new internal bill-monitoring model that leverages the expertise of the entire CHI team; she inaugurated the first health policy day at the capitol; she hosted a legislative breakfast and a roundtable presentation; she and Joe provided testimony on CHI’s resources before the joint House and Senate health care committees; and she and her co-workers gave presentations throughout the Front Range, including at 11 legislative town halls.

She also met one-on-one with a number of lawmakers throughout the session, answered many of their questions about health policy and conducted a great deal of evidence-based research for them. Finally, she and Joe published our annual Legislation in Review report on June 1, the same day they talked about the session’s winners and losers during a webinar.

Whew.

Before you read the Q&A I did with Allie, here are some other things I’d like you to know about her. Besides being insanely organized, she is hilarious, hard-working and a very nice writer. Plus, she is a reliable source for chocolate. That contribution to our office morale should not be overlooked.

Deb: Allie, I know that you returned home to Colorado to work here at CHI. Tell me a bit about growing up in Colorado, going away for school, and your journey back here.

Allie: I felt lucky to grow up in Colorado and always thought I’d end up here. I was born and raised in Fort Collins. It was big enough to have fun things to do — like walking around Old Town, going to the drive-in movie theater and CSU games, and browsing the stores at the Foothills Fashion Mall (R.I.P.) — but small enough to maintain a tight-knit community feel. My parents have owned an independent ski and outdoor recreation store since the early 1970s, so I have great memories of skiing and camping with my family.

I left after high school to experience the wonders of rural Minnesota, where the winters are as cold and the people are as nice as advertised. Afterward, I thought I should spend some time in the big city. I’d only been on a bus or subway a few times in my life when I moved to Boston, and I quickly fell in love with the T. After Boston, I headed to Philly. The city embraces a quirky, tough-love atmosphere that is totally unpretentious and way underappreciated. It was hard to pull myself away from close friends, plentiful cheesesteaks and water ice, and my favorite neighborhood spots after four years there, but when I finished my master’s degree at Penn’s Fels Institute, I knew it was time to come home.

I actually met Michele, Deb and Sara in Philly at a panel discussion on the Affordable Care Act. I started my job at CHI soon after relocating, and the rest is history.

Deb: What was the most challenging part of becoming CHI’s legislative liaison? Looking back after three sessions, what was the toughest part about the learning curve?

Allie: When the CHI team told me they needed someone to take over the legislative portfolio, I was intrigued but uncertain. In addition to having no prior health care experience, I had never worked in government and knew very little about Colorado’s legislature — but I decided to go for it. It was a very steep learning curve, since I had to figure out legislative processes and traditions on top of wading through all the new health care acronyms I didn’t understand. Luckily, I had an invaluable resource in CHI’s Joe Hanel. Joe spent years as a newspaper reporter covering the state capitol, and he’s been my teacher and mentor for all things related to the legislature and politics. I owe him so much.

Some of the toughest things have been memorizing legislators’ names and faces (I use flash cards) and following along with arcane motions in hearings and floor sessions. I’ve learned a ton, but after three sessions I still have to look up the meaning of things — or go ask Joe, my human version of Google. For example, last month some colleagues and I puzzled over what it means when a bill’s conference committee decides to “reject, discharge and appoint.” (Short answer: the bill is dead.)

Q&A Continues Below

Deb: What are you most proud of accomplishing over those three sessions?

Allie: I’m most proud of growing CHI’s legislative presence and convincing more legislators of the value of a nonpartisan organization. I learned quickly that as the session wears on and the calendar fills up, legislators tend to value lobbyists and others who can save them time by telling them how to vote. As a committed nonpartisan group, we can’t do that.

I believe all 100 state legislators value good data and evidence, but they’re really “drinking from a fire hose” every session and just don’t have enough time or staff to carefully consider each bill they vote on. That’s a reality of life at the Capitol, but we still believe that the objective research and analysis we provide is critical for them to make informed decisions, and it’s gratifying when we see that in action. It’s always a fun surprise when a legislator (or even someone testifying) cites CHI data or holds up one of our reports in a hearing, and it makes me proud to know that we’ve developed a rock-solid reputation with members of both parties.

Deb: What surprised you the most?

Allie: When you’re a nonpartisan group working in politics, people are wary of you. Coming into this job, I thought we’d be seen as everyone’s friend — but it turns out that often, we’re no one’s friend.

This became clear to me last summer during CHI’s analysis of Amendment 69, or ColoradoCare. We produced a series of reports that generated widespread interest and phone calls. More than once, proponents and opponents of the initiative called, in rapid succession, to say that our work seemed biased in favor of the other side. It showed me that the best sign of objective reporting can be when both sides are dissatisfied with your findings (and also identify things in your analysis that they support).

Deb: Allie, you have become an accomplished public speaker, in great demand for town halls and other legislative appearances. What tips would you give to people who are just starting to give presentations?

Allie: That’s one of the best compliments I could receive, because it’s one of the things I was most anxious about when I started at CHI. I’m an introvert, so being the center of attention isn’t something I generally want, and the feeling of having all eyes on me is as scary as it is encouraging. I’ve learned a lot from closely watching Michele and other CHIers speak (and knock it out of the park), and from being coached by professionals whom CHI brings in to work with us.

My top three tips for new presenters:

  • Own the right / assume the mantle. Establishing yourself as an expert in front of a room of smart people is intimidating, and when you’re younger than most in the audience you may find yourself thinking, “These people know so much more than me.” We’re taught at CHI to be confident in stepping into the role of speaker and feeling that we know our presentation content better than anyone else. If you put in the work to be prepared, it will show.
  • Give yourself a “reset opportunity” early on. In the first few minutes of your presentation, it can be helpful to tell a joke, ask the audience a question, have people share something with their neighbor or show a quick video clip. If you’re stressed out, talking too fast or need a quick sip of water, this helps break the ice and gives you a moment to take a deep breath. (Bonus tip: Bring your own water bottle so you don’t end up pouring water all over yourself if the venue only gives you a glass.)
  • Practice, practice, practice. Boring, right? But I’ve found that no amount of role-playing or visualization prepares you as much as the real thing. The more you’re in front of an audience, the more comfortable you get, and I really don’t think you can simulate that feeling. One of the many great things about CHI is that they’re invested in us as presenters and give us numerous opportunities to be in front of groups — even if you’re not sure at first about the whole public speaking thing. It does get easier!

Deb: What do you do when you’re not at work?

Allie: My coworkers know that I am NOT a morning person (the world is stacked against us!), so I’m a big fan of naps and sleeping in on weekends. I’m always up for exploring the mountains in the summer or a ski day in the winter, and I try to check out as many sports events, festivals and brewery celebrations as I reasonably can. I’ve also readjusted to living in a house in the past year (as opposed to an apartment), and have been spending way too much time at hardware stores and plant nurseries on the weekends to spruce up our place in Edgewater. Finally, when my schedule allows, I love to join my CHI colleagues for bar trivia on Tuesday nights. They’re some of the smartest and most well-rounded people I know!

Deb: Is it true that there is a big event in your future?

Allie: You mean the 2017 CHAS release? Oh yeah, I’m also getting married. My fiancé, Brett, and I are tying the knot next summer in northern Colorado. Now that we’re a year away the big day, we’re getting excited for all things wedding planning — but mostly music selection and cake tasting.

Deb: What is your best advice for a young person interested in public policy?

Allie: “Policy” is this vague, nebulous concept for many students and young people. As a kid, I certainly didn’t say I wanted to work in public policy when I grew up. (I actually wanted to be a dolphin trainer.) But understanding and working in policy is so important, and its breadth is one of the best things about it. You can work in policy in any topic that you’re passionate about, from health to education to transportation.

One piece of advice: think about how much you care about a) working directly with people and b) seeing immediate change or progress. It can sound bad to say you’re not drawn to direct service, but our cities, states and country need smart, dedicated people who are systems-level thinkers. They bridge the gap between pie-in-the-sky ideas and on-the-ground realities, and they impact people’s lives but in a different, and sometimes delayed, way. It’s rewarding to think through policy stages from initial research to implementation and evaluation, and you’re always learning new things. It’s a cool field and a good fit for those who like to be challenged.

 

Allie Morgan

Read more about Allie.


May 2017: Brian Clark

By Deborah Goeken

Brian Clark, our manager of creative services, is the subject of my inaugural monthly column introducing you to a member of the Colorado Health Institute team.

It’s not because Brian and I both worked at the Rocky Mountain News together. It’s not because Brian is so incredibly creative that it’s just fun to watch him come up with an idea, sketching away with a pencil on a piece of scrap paper. It’s not even because he writes maybe the greatest Facebook series ever on being a single dad to their three kids when his wife, Sally, is away.

It’s mostly because Brian has been the driving force behind CHI’s strong visual identity. He designs beautiful publications. He helps us tell clear stories with data. He is always searching for a better way to communicate our work. He is a true collaborator. And he does it all with grace and humor, even under the tightest deadlines.

I’m excited to hear from Brian about how he went about creating our new logo, which debuts today. He also chose our new font, Mr. Eaves, and updated and modernized our color scheme.

Question: Tell me how you ended up at CHI, including your career path before this.

Answer: Looking back, it’s obvious I was destined to end up in some kind of creative field.

As a kid, anything that involved cutting and pasting was right up my alley. Posters, mobiles and collages were my favorite school projects, and I for years I maintained my own scrapbook of pictures of Philadelphia Phillies players that I cut out of newspapers and magazines. Eventually I found my way into the newspaper industry and worked as a designer and editor for 14 years, including the last nine at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. I’ve now been at CHI for six years and I am pleased to report that nearly all the skills I’ve developed as a journalist and a creative apply to the work I do here.

Q: What’s the best thing about working at CHI?

A: Without question, it’s being part of the incredibly talented and close-knit CHI family. In a lot of ways, it’s like being back in the newsroom. The level of excellence in this office is astonishing. Plus, unlike with my own family, I never have to yell at anyone to hurry up and find their shoes because we’re already running 20 minutes late.

Q: What have you learned since arriving at CHI?

A: Health policy acronyms. So many health policy acronyms.

But seriously, I’ve learned that people in the health policy world love their data and they love it presented visually. I can make things look pretty (everyone here calls it Brian-izing) but our researchers and analysts truly are the heart and soul of our work. The enthusiastic collaboration between design and data is one of the best qualities we bring to the table.

Q: How did you go about designing the new logo? I seem to remember it involved a day out of the office.

A: Logo design is four parts caffeine, three parts staring into space waiting for inspiration to strike, two parts randomly drawing shapes on the computer until something finally looks good and one part talent.

I wasn’t happy with anything I came up with during the first few rounds (see below), and I was starting to question how in the world I’d ever been hired as a graphic designer. To steer into that slide before it became a full-on crisis, I decided to ditch the office and head into the great outdoors. I left all my technology behind and spent an entire day just meandering around a park with my sketch pad.

Being outside helped me focus on why health and health care are such important topics for many Coloradans. Being active and healthy makes living in our magnificent state that much sweeter. Eventually the fresh air helped clear out the cobwebs and I came up with several ideas, one of which eventually developed into our new logo.

Q: What do you want people to take away from the logo about CHI?

A: Our new logo is actually quite simple, but if you look closely, it provides a fairly comprehensive picture of who we are and what we do. Now obviously, the main icon, a mountain peak, is not exactly groundbreaking when it comes to Colorado-based logos. However, while developing the concept I began to see a way to use the peak as both a nod to our Colorado roots and our passion for all things data. The peak is set slightly off center because while we provide balanced and impartial information, we also bring our own unique perspective and analysis to our work.

The right line of the peak ends on an upward trajectory for two reasons. First, our work focuses primarily on Colorado, but we are also interested in how health issues in our state spread out to the world beyond our borders and vice versa. Second, the rising line signifies unfinished business. There is still plenty of work to do to make Colorado the healthiest state it can be.

As far as typography, we moved from almost no capital letters to all capital letters. A redesign just seemed like a good time to grow up a little. We’ve also included a bold emphasis on the word Health. We are Colorado and we are an institute, but health will always be at the core of what we do.

Q: What did you like about the new font? How did you choose it?

A: Our new font is called Mr. Eaves and it gives us a more modern look and a lot of versatility, both in print and online. The font itself is fairly compact, but the spacing is light and airy and I expect people will find it extremely legible and easy on the eyes.

Q: What is different about our new color scheme? How do you intend to use it?

A: We’ve done a great job over the past six years of creating a strong and easily recognizable CHI brand identity. We frequently hear from people who come across our publications in various places out in the real world and they immediately recognize it and know they can trust the information because it comes from us. For that reason, I wanted to build on our brand rather than start from scratch. Blue is still our primary color and yellow our main accent. However, I adjusted the yellow to make it more yellow and less orange. That was constantly an issue with our old shade, especially the time we ended up with a Bronco-themed lobby wall after the logo signage printed way too orange.

Sticking with the nature theme, I drew inspiration for our secondary palette from Colorado's own colors as they change throughout the seasons. We will still use light blue, purple and green, but I lightened them up across the board. And I introduced a red and orange (because Broncos, obviously). The colors should add a lot of pop to our publications and website.

Q: What do you do when you’re not at work?

A: If I’m not in the office, I’m most likely at home torturing my family with an endless barrage of puns and dad jokes.

Q: Your best advice for a young designer?

A: I have a sign in my office that says, “Everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.” I know that sounds simplistic, but I try to live by that philosophy. Keep going, keep experimenting, keep learning, keep looking. Keep trying to be better than you were the day before.

 

Brian Clark

Read more about Brian.