Taking Action

Several principles guided the Winnable Battles initiative and emerged as key success factors, including prioritization, data and information systems, and accountability.


Having a clear understanding of the goal—to save as many lives and prevent as much disease as possible—set the foundation for determining the priority for each Winnable Battle. Many approaches to a health problem may deliver progress, but for Winnable Battles, focus on the most effective options and priorities changed the way the program leaders conceived and developed programs.

Initial discussions centered on examining existing program activities and future goals, without yielding to perceived barriers or previous challenges. Together, program staff and agency leadership identified the most effective, evidence-based strategies and the best ways to support the program to deliver the biggest impact.

Data and Information Systems

Data was used to drive decisions, identify the right strategies and monitor progress. A free, online portal was developed to provide easy access to data on a variety of health indicators. Known as Sortable Stats, the online portal houses an interactive data set with state-level data for the 50 states, DC and U.S. territories This tool provides data for some Winnable Battles topics areas and is intended to serve as a resource in the promotion of policy, system, and environmental changes across public health programming, not limited to Winnable Battles.


Frequent meetings with the CDC Director helped establish accountability as an expectation from the outset. At the beginning, each Winnable Battle met monthly with Dr. Frieden and the leadership team. The interactive nature of Winnable Battle meetings required people to do what they said they would do and to know where things stood and why. Answers to questions backed up with data or evidence and detailed updates were expected. Results had to answer the “So what?” question in a meaningful way that moved the program forward.

Staff from science, policy, program and communications offices participated in meetings and were equally accountable for their assigned tasks. Later, monthly meetings with the Director moved to quarterly with senior staff participation, but the accountability that had been instilled at the outset remained.

Collapsing the Hierarchy

Early on, Winnable Battles work created a flatter organizational hierarchy within the initiative. Discussion centered not on peer-to-peer interaction but on subject matter expertise, regardless of seniority, rank or grade. Participants were open to learning new things—whether from a more junior policy advisor or a senior scientist–to help make the best decisions possible.

The organic collapsing of the hierarchy and openness to learning helped drive greater efficiency, faster decision-making and ultimately accelerated the pace of the Winnable Battles programs. Leadership was more knowledgeable and better equipped to carry forward Winnable Battles messages and connect with stakeholders outside CDC in meaningful ways. CDC program leadership better understood how the Office of the Director could assist them with a connection at another agency or navigating through obstacles. All meeting participants expected to be asked to contribute to the initiative and were committed to deliver.


As part of the initiative, Winnable Battles program staff reported progress against their plans to senior leadership. Successes, priorities for the next quarter, challenges and requests for senior leadership support in the areas of data, guidelines/best practices, policies/incentives and state and local infrastructure were noted. Senior agency leadership was updated on any cross-cutting accomplishments in  the areas of providing data to drive action, supporting  state and local policy change, promoting best practices  and strengthening the science and evidence base.

Beyond internal reporting, Progress Reports were made available to all stakeholders and the public on www.cdc.gov/winnablebattles. The web site also housed a variety of communications materials including presentations on each Winnable Battle outlining burden, priority strategies and programming updates easily accessible to states.


Each topic area identified indicators of health that would be tracked during the initiative. Considerable analysis was conducted to identify indicators, most appropriate data sources, levels of data and to set the baselines and targets to achieve. Ambitious yet obtainable goals were identify for completion by 2015. Finalizing the indicator, baseline and target as a team helped drive accountability because Winnable Battles participants were invested in the process and had a clear vision of the path forward.

Page last reviewed: December 14, 2017