Andrea has been with HC Link since its inception in 2009 and is currently HC Link Coordinator located at Health Nexus. Andrea has an extensive background in physical activity and health promotion and has worked in local recreation centres and public health units as well as provincial NGOs and agencies. Andrea is a student of French and is passionate about working with Anglophones to build their capacity to engage Francophones
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Webinar Recap: Working with Municipalities- Stories from the field

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Consultant

This week I moderated the second webinar in HC Link's Policy Webinar Series: Working with Municipalities- Stories from the field. As the title would suggest, the focus of the webinar was to discuss strategies and techniques for working with municipal staff. In addition to Paul Young from HC Link, we had 3 terrific community members share their stories: Jean Montgomery, a community volunteer from Haldimand-Norfolk; Melanie Davis from the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, and Janet Dawson from the Peterborough County-City Health Unit. The inspiration for this webinar came from a workshop in North Bay in November 2012 on the topic.

There were several themes that emerged throughout today's webinar that are important to keep in mind with working with municipalities (or for that matter, working with a sector other than your own). In no particular order:

  • Do your research: know what it is the municipality/partner does, how they are structured, what their mandate is. Be familiar with the legislation and documents that they deal with/produce, such as official plans etc
  • Educate: you can't assume that the municipality/partner knows what you do! Be prepared to make them aware of the role that you can play within their mandate or work.
  • Build relationships with individuals: have conversations, coffee, lunch with key people that you will need to know and work with
  • Identify win-wins: be clear about common ground where you can each get what you want. Also identify how you can help them: for example many municipalities find it challenging to engage their communities whereas it's in the mandate of public health to do so.
  • Leverage volunteers: volunteers who are not attached to a particular agency may have more freedom/latitude to build relationships
  • Say thank you and congratulations: it might seem very simple, but acknowledgement can go a long way. Take every opportunity to congratulate staff on their accomplishments and say thank you for a job well done.
  • Be persistent, be patient and don't give up!

Resources mentioned in today's webinar:

Communities and Local Government: Working Together. This resource manual from the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition is designed to assist local government and healthy community groups in working more effectively together.

Public Health and Land Use Planning: How ten public health units are working to create healthy and sustainable communities. This report examines the ways in which ten public health units in Ontario are working to influence land use and transportation planning processes to help create healthy and sustainable communities.


The Association of Municipalities of Ontario

The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities

Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing

Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Where to go to from here:

New to policy work? Check out our "Getting Started with Policy" resource to learn more about policy and how HC Link can help you with your policy development efforts.

Check out the recording and handout from the first webinar in our policy series.

Check out slides and handouts from this webinar.

Join HC Link's Policy Learning Community.


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Announcing the Re-Launch of the Policy for Healthy Communities Learning Community!

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

Just over a year ago, HC Link launched the Policy for Healthy Communities learning community. The Learning Community (LC) brings together community-based individuals, groups and networks that are working to develop, change and implement local policies for healthy communities. Since the launch, the LC has grown to over 122 members. More than 70 items have been posted on a variety of topics, such as news, events, questions and discussions.

With the first year of the LC under our belts, we wanted to take some time over the summer to find out how members were experiencing the community, what members liked and didn’t like about it, and what members want our of their community. With the help of MPH practicum student Louisa Pires, we conducted a brief literature scan, several key informant interviews, and a member survey.

Based on what we’ve learned, we’re making several exciting changes to the Learning Community.

The first is we are moving to a new platform! Ning is an add-free social networking site with more functionality. We’ve also added two important new features to the online platform:

  • Webwatch: Our Policy Webwatch scours the internet looking for policy related items on news sites, social media, journals and organizations that work in policy. Our Webwatch has several sources right now, and we’ll add to them as time goes on.
  • Think Tanks: we have two “Think Tanks” on the Ning site, one on food security and one on active transportation. Members can sign up for the Think Tanks, which will have discussion forums etc related to the two specific topics. The community-at-large will be more policy process oriented.

We hope that you will consider joining the Learning Community, and will pass along this information to your colleagues working in policy.

Learn more about the Learning Community in this 3 minute video.

Get an online tour of the new platform in this 3 minute video.

And to join the community, visit

We hope to see you on the new platform soon!

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Speaking Out For Change

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

Once again I have tasked myself, as regular blog readers will know, with the task of trying to capture an entire conference into a single blog post. In this case, the AOHC/alPHa joint conference, Prevent More to Treat Less, which brings together public and community health professionals. I have at least learned that not only is this difficult for me, but likely dull for you to read a catch-all post with a laundry list of themes.

AOHC conferenceImage from:

So, in this post I'm going to focus on a panel session that I just attended called "Speaking Out For Change: Health service providers and advocacy". Lori Kleinsmith and Rhonda Baron (Bridges CHC), Hazel Stewart (Toronto Public Health) and Monika Dutt (Cape Breton District Health Authority) have some excellent advice for those working to spread their message at the local level:

  • Consider a whole spectrum of activities, ranging from a quiet conversation to speaking out loudly. Advocacy is a dance with steps forward, back and sideways. Your commitment to the issue is what keeps it alive.
  • Working in partnership and engaging communities is critical. Never stop talking and never stop looking for ears to listen to you.
  • Data and evidence is important, but you need to know what the numbers mean, how to use them, and to combine data with stories of those with lived experience.
  • That being said, if you don't have data, don't stop advocating! If someone wants to know what the evidence is and you don't have it, be willing to say so and ask "how can we support you in getting the evidence you need?"
  • Working with the media is important. They are a way to get your stories out. You need to know how to pitch to them, to set up a healthy tension for debate.
  • There are some risks to advocacy. Consider what you do very carefully. Don't not do it- just think carefully. If the risk is too great for you, can you work collaboratively to find someone who can do it for you.

It was a truly inspirational session. I'll close with a couple of quotes from Hazel Stewart: "You'll never experience success without failure" and "Never give up. Keep talking. Find an ear to listen to you".

For more on the conference, check out the conference hashtag on twitter (you don't need an account to see it). You can also read my post on the Health Nexus blog.

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The World Is Your Co-Op

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link

I heard the most amazing speaker today. He also happens to have the most awesome job title I've ever heard: Community Choreographer.

I'm talking about Dave Meslin, and he was the community choreographer for the Nutrition Resource Centre (NRC)'s workshop on food policy.

Now I love policy. I aspire to be a true policy wonk one day. The thought of sitting around all day talking about policy gets me pretty excited. But what the workshop was really about for me was empowerment. It was about the opportunities that we, as folks who work in non-profits and in the health promotion and healthy communities sectors, have to give a voice to people who don't always have one.

Now that gets me even MORE excited than policy does. As Dave says, we would live in a better world if people had a voice.

In my sector- health promotion and healthy communities- we talk about bad policy a lot. We talk about it in the context of policy that's not informed by evidence (or contradicts evidence), about policies that create or support health inequities etc. Dave argues that bad policy comes from a vacuum of non-engagement. When the people affected by the policy are not involved in the process, bad policy is the result. When only industry and political interests form policy, bad policy is the result. The community voice provides a balance, and provides the best ideas of how to make the issue or situation better.

And the even bigger problem, how do we get people to the table? How do you get your message out there? Dave suggested being creative. And maybe a little crazy. For instance, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first pedestrian death due to a motorized vehicle, activists obtained a car and buried it. Literally dug a hole, put the car in it and held a funeral. To bring attention to the 1700 deaths in Toronto associated with smog, activists collected 1700 posters done be people affected by smog, printed them on coloured paper and installed them- like an art installation- on clotheslines in a local park. And in both of those cases, there was a LOT of media presence. The media, Dave says, needs us more than we need them. They need content. We need to give them content in innovative ways (preferably that includes photo ops) that they'll pick up.There are, Dave says, no rules to communications. Except that you should break all of the rules.

There are, Dave says, four steps in journeying citizens from their passive roles to more active ones. Citizens need confidence: that their opinion matters, that they can create change. They need tools: a diagram to be shown how policy and politics works. They need to believe in malleability: that change is possible. And they need to be part of the collective ownership that is this work. The world, Dave says, is a co-op, and everyone is a shareholder.

I could have listened to Dave Meslin's stories about activism and engagement and crazy ideas ALL day. And I hope to have another opportunity to do so very soon!

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A Penny For Your Tweets: a Twitter Chat on policy basics

HC Link’s bi-annual conference, Linking For Healthy Communities: Collaborating for Change is in less than three weeks!  I am super excited for the conference, which I think (in my slightly biased opinion) will be a great one. image of a Canadian penny

One of the things that I’m really looking forward to is displaying my policy wonk side: I’m coordinating the policy stream at this year’s conference. Public Health Ontario will be presenting a workshop on developing municipal by-laws, I’m presenting a workshop on de-mystifying policy, and I’m also hosting a talk-show style panel featuring three fabulous women who are doing amazing local work in policy.

As part of our pre-conference activities, I’m hosting this month’s Health Promotion Twitter Chat (#HealthPromoChat) on the topic of policy basics. I hope that you can all join me on Tuesday October 29th from 3-4 pm to share your thoughts and ideas about policy work.

For those of you who have never participated in a Twitter Chat before, I’ll post a series of questions at #HealthPromoChat and participants post their responses quoting the hashtage (here’s a great post on Twitter Chats and how to participate

A Twitter Chat is really about generating a conversation, sharing ideas and back and forth discussion.

In this chat, I’d like to explore:
•    How you define, define and “sell” policy to your community and stakeholders
•    What barriers you’ve experienced in your policy work, and how you’ve overcome them
•    What policy resources you’ve found helpful

I hope to see you on Twitter on Tuesday! I’m looking forward to a great discussion.

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HC Link Community Survey: we want to hear from you!

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link

Our main priority at HC Link is to develop services that meet the needs of our clients. In order to do that- we need to know what our clients' needs are. We do this in a variety of ways, such as telephone interviews, focus groups and online surveys. This year we are conducting an online Community Survey via Fluid Survey and we'd really love to hear from you!

The survey will only take about 15-20 minutes to complete, and will provide us will valuable information about you, your organization, your work, and the challenges you face. We'd also like to hear from you about how we can best support your work. Even if you have never been involved with HC Link before, we are interested in hearing from you. We'd love it if you could share this opportunity to complete the survey with your colleagues and partners. The more folks we hear from, the better sense we'll get of how we can support you.

We know that you are busy, so to show our appreciation we will have a draw for a free registration to HC Link's 2013 provincial conference, Linking for Healthy Communities: Collaborating for Change, to be held at the Novotel Toronto Centre on November 12 and 13. You will find out more information about the conference and the draw once you have completed the survey. Click here to start the survey! And thanks for your help.

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An Introduction to Access to Recreation Policy

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link

There is a growing body of work that documents the health, social and economic benefits that affordable access to recreation can provide. According to this evidence, accessible recreation contributes to healthy communities by providing physical and psycho-social benefits, breaking the cycle of poverty, and being a wise financial investment.

In order to increase access, policies must address the factors and determinants that prevent community members from accessing recreation opportunities. These barriers can be grouped into two overarching categories as depicted below.


Policies to improve access to recreation can take two fundamental approaches:

Affordable access policies – these include funding programs, placing programs in locations where low-income people have access.
Universally accessible programs – core programming that is available to all free of charge.

Components of policy strategies should consider community access to community space, targeted community outreach/engagement, as well as community-based partnerships and collaboration.

There are many examples of municipal policies in Ontario that address access to recreation. Here are a few of them:

City of Mississauga
Mississauga has an ActiveAssist fee assistance program. Fees for the city's recreation programs are calculated based on cost-recovery at 80% attendance. The remaining 20% of spaces are held for fee subsidies. Subsidies are provided on a "charge card". The program is funded by the municipality with other non-profits contributing.

City of Ajax
Ajax's policy document is very comprehensive and includes: using census data to design programs according to need; universal programs; financial assistance up to 50% for recreation programs according to LICO; seeking partners for universal programs as well as funding for affordable recreation programs; training for staff on the policy; as well as monitoring and evaluation.

Township of Rideau lakes
Rideau Lakes formed a task group to identify how to move forward on access to recreation policies. The task force created an inventory of low/no cost programs. The Township later adopted a formal policy and continues to promote low/no cost opportunities. Partnerships with the municipality, public health and community agencies have been a key to their success.

Township of Beckwith
Four neighbouring municipalities joined forces and developed a plan to share access and costs of their recreation facilities. They hired an actuary to develop an agreement where all four municipalities contribute to the capital and maintenance costs of all recreation facilities based on distance of residents to facilities, operating costs, etc.

How has your community successfully dealt with access to recreation? Join the conversation and share your story!


Tools and Resources on Affordable Access to Recreation Policy

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Webinar Recap- Finders Keepers: Hiring and Retaining Bilingual Staff

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

Recently Estelle Duchon and I gave a webinar on recruiting and retaining Bilingual and French speaking staff. This webinar is third in our French Language Services Capacity Building series. Having already focused on engaging Francophones communities- even if you don't speak French, and creating a bilingual organizational culture, we turned our attention to the tricky challenge of finding, hiring and keeping bilingual and French speaking staff.

Like many things in life, recruitment and retention isn't something that you can address in isolation: it's part of a complex web of interdependent factors. Factors such as including FLS in your strategic plan, developing an HR strategy, developing a bilingual organizational culture and delivering French Language Services. A comprehensive strategy is needed, addressing all of these components.

Once you are in a position to recruit bilingual staff, it's important to assess your needs to determine what skills and experience you need, advertise the position in French as well as in English, and to assess the competency of candidates. Many think that actually hiring bilingual staff is the hard part: but as much care needs to be taken to keep them in your organization. Building an environment where working bilingually is supported, and creating/maintaining a bilingual organizational culture is critical.

Estelle and I will be delivering this webinar in French in October, and then we'll be releasing a resource on this topic. In the meantime, we'd love to hear your experiences in recruiting and retaining bilingual staff. What challenges did you experiences? How did you overcome them? What tips do you have in terms of offering a supportive workplace?


Presentation slides
Assessing working conditions for bilingual staff worksheet
Webinar recording

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A new support for local policy work: HC Link’s Learning Community!

I'm excited to announce that HC Link is launching its very first Learning Community (LC) today! Policy for Healthy Communities brings together those working across the province on local policy initiatives. Whether you're just beginning to work in policy or if you've been involved in a variety of policy work, this community is for you!

Policy for Healthy Communities has several components. We have an online space, with discussion boards for asking questions, sharing ideas and resources. We'll be developing a Learning Community Charter and a variety of learning and networking events and resources to meet the needs of the community. Most importantly, we have the people in the community itself. People, just like you, who are working locally to build support, develop and implement policies to make your community a healthy place to live, work, learn and play. The LC is chance for you to share your work- your experiences, your questions, your learnings- with others.

I can't wait to see and hear what folks on working on! I hope that you'll join me, and others in Ontario, in this community. To learn more and to sign up, please visit

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Increasing access to recreation opportunities: Peer Sharing Session Recap

This morning, HC Link, in partnership with Parks and Recreation (PRO) and the Physical Activity Resource Centre (PARC), hosted a peer sharing session on access to recreation. Peer sharing sessions are an opportunity for practitioners to share their own knowledge and experiences in an informal, conversation setting. Jeff Khol from HC Link, Diane English from PRO and Jennifer Wilson from PARC were the facilitators for this morning's session. We were joined by 20 participants from across Ontario, working in the fields of recreation, public and community health.

To get the ball rolling, participants were asked to share a success, highlight or peak experience involving a policy or program to increase access to recreation. We heard some terrific stories about municipalities that have adopted access to recreation policies, created programming in rural and remote areas, and considered access to recreation opportunities in their official plans.

Next, participants shared challenges and barriers that they face and had an opportunity to ask how others have addressed similar challenges. A challenge that many are facing is around transportation particularly in rural and small communities. One community's successful strategy to address this was to take recreation programs into the community by delivering courses in churches and centres in small towns and hamlets, alleviating the transportation barrier. Another suggestion was to connect with town/municipal clerks to investigate if van transportation is available. They may be opportunities to leverage existing resources, such as local service clubs vehicles, school buses and accessibility vehicles.

We also had a spirited discussion about policy: how the very word itself can be a barrier; how some municipalities may not be ready to consider active transportation or recreation master plans and lack of political will.
Succession planning and sustainability are issues that we also discussed as a vital element in the sustainability of access to recreation programs. Maintaining the momentum and planning for staff and volunteer turnover is essential to ensuring the long-term success of programs, policies, and initiatives. One thing to consider in succession planning is what type of setting you're planning for. The difference between planning for staff and for volunteer sustainability requires two very different approaches. There are resources available that provide information on the value and how to's of ongoing succession planning .

Now we'd love to hear from you! Could you share with us a success or highlight from your work with increasing access to recreation? Do you have any resources that you would like to share that you've found particularly helpful?

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Twitter Chat Recap: How to Engage Francophones when you don’t speak French!

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

As frequent blog readers and followers of HC Link will know, we've done lots of work over the past few years on how Anglophone organizations and non-French speakers can work with Francophones. Today, we hosted a Twitter chat on the monthly #healthpromochat on the very topic.

A small but mighty group of tweeps joined in the discussion. As 140 characters can be limiting (one of my colleagues likes to joke that she doesn't speak Twitter) I thought we could continue the discussion here on our blog.

Today we discussed three questions. We started with the big one: How DO you engage Francophones when you don't speak French?

Having someone within your organization/group that does speak French can be helpful, no doubt about it. But don't let a lack of French capacity get in your way. A great tactic is to reach out to local community groups and organizations who do work in French. Work your networks!

Question 2: How did you find Francophone organizations/partners to work with? What strategies worked for you? Link with your French Language Services Network. Check your local blue book, your LHIN website, Addiction and Mental Health Networks. One participant suggested that having written materials in French is very helpful. We discussed having French resources – often we tend to think about "What materials should we have in French?" One suggestion was to flip that around and ask instead "What materials should NOT be in French?"

Last question: based on your experience, what advice do you have for folks who are seeking to engage Francophones? From my own experience, I have to say that my advice is to dive in and don't be afraid. While it's important to be sensitive, to understand Francophone communities and their contexts, really don't let language hold you back. Another suggestion was to be open about why and how you are engaging Francophones. Let people know your intentions so that they don't have to wonder.

We'd love to hear about your experiences with engaging Francophone communities. Please use the comment box below to post your ideas (you can include your name, or let it be anonymous!).

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Webinar Recap: How to develop a bilingual organizational culture

Last month, as part of the supports and resources that we offer on working with Francophones and Francophone communities, HC Link hosted two webinars, one in English and one in French, on creating a bilingual organizational culture.

The English webinar, presented on November 20th, was developed for those who work in primarily English-speaking environments and organizations who have little experience in working in French. Much of the information in the webinar comes from a resource that HC Link developed a couple of years ago, Work Together with Francophones in Ontario. We also had four organizations that have succeeded in building bilingual organization cultures share their experiences, and we had terrific participation from webinar participants.
When I was developing the content for this webinar, I struggled a little bit with understanding the relationship between an organization delivering French Language Services (FLS) and having a bilingual organizational culture. I was clear on the benefits of providing services in French – aside from legislative obligations, Francophones who receive services in French tend to follow health advice/instructions more closely and stay healthier. But what role does a bilingual organizational culture play in the organization's ability to effectively deliver services in French? Firstly, having a culture that supports French language and French culture will build the French capacity of the organization, therefore allowing it to deliver more services in French. An organization which supports bilingualism will also gain credibility with the Francophone community and build strong and trusting relationships with Francophone communities. An organizational culture which values participation of Francophones and Anglophones, where the needs and reasons to move in that direction are understood and one which respects Francophone culture and processes are critical in building that trust.

One point that garnered a lot of discussion amongst the webinar participants was that the francophone community is not just about French language, but about culture. One participant remarked that "language is only a way of communicating, culture is for me something that we have in common and we understand each other in our slang and way of doing things".

If you missed the webinar but are interested in the topic, you can view the slides or recording. We will also be creating a resource, in both languages, on creating a maintaining a bilingual organization culture, which will be available in the new year.

Do you have any successful strategies or discussion points you'd like to share? Use the comment box below. We'd love to hear your thoughts!

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What a day in North Bay!

Once again, I sit at my computer following an event and try to capture months of planning and an entire day's worth of presentations into one blog post. This task, as impossible as it always seems, is an integral part of my own learning process and helps me to consolidate what I've learned and, most importantly, how I can apply what I've learned to my work.

The event, Strengthening Collaborative Relationships: Building healthy communities together, was one of four "regional gatherings" that HC Link is planning and delivering in collaboration with regional partners across Ontario. This event was planned by the Northeast Healthy Communities Partnerships, with HC Link, to meet their needs and interests around working with municipal partners and decision-makers. The event was a strong collaborative between HC Link, the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit and the planning committee: Alison Dutkiewicz, Barb Eles, Melanie Davis, Janet Smale as well as Pam Patry from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.


The purpose of the regional forum was to bring together people – like public health, municipal staff, recreation and community health providers, community partners and volunteers- that can influence the health of our communities to talk about how we can work together. Paul Young from HC Link, who is a health promoter and planner, led us through the bulk of the day and was joined by some amazing speakers from Northeast Ontario. The morning sessions were spent with Dr. Jim Chirico, Beverley Hillier, and Paul Young talking about municipalities: how they are structured, how to work with them, and the myriad of plans that guide them. In the afternoon, a wonderful panel of Stephanie Lefebvre, David Courtemanche, and Karen Beauchamp talked with Paul about how to frame health and health equity issues in ways that will resonate with the public and municipal decision-makers.


As is often the case (and frankly what, as an organizer, you hope for) a key theme emerged from the day: conversation conversation conversation! Don't rely on emails - actually meet each other. Take your planner for lunch! Go for a walk together! Get to know the municipal/city clerk. You don't even have to have a particular goal or issue in mind to start building a relationship, just focus on learning what each of you do. Chances are your municipal planner doesn't understand what public health does, and may not understand the role that community recreation plays and vice versa. By learning about one another's roles, mandates and priorities ways in which you can work together will emerge. Karen, a planner with Temiskaming Shores, reminded the audience that language can be a barrier. Public health, planning and other sectors use different words or sometimes the same words for different concepts. Karen emphasized that folks are not going to agree to something when they don't even know what it is.

I found the afternoon panel conversation about framing the policy issue to be really enlightening. Often, those of us who are passionate about health fall into the trap of thinking that if everyone around us just understands how important health is, they'll jump on board. It's our responsibility to frame the issues that are important to us (such as food security, health equity, age-friendly communities, etc) in a way that the decision-makers will respond to. Dave Courtemanche pointed out that many of the issues that each sector has are driven by the same root causes. Identify the priorities of council and investigate what they have in common with your own priorities.

It was a fantastic experience planning this forum for the Northeast Region. We were also able to livestream and record the forum. You can view the recordings here

Do you have any tips and strategies on working with municipalities? For municipal staff/decision-makers, what advice would you give those seeking to work with you? We'd love to share your thoughts!

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Nine Keys for Success in Engaging Francophones… Even When You Don’t Speak French

HC Link has been a leader in working with Francophone groups and delivering services in French since its beginnings in 2009. More recently, we have begun to develop services and supports to build the capacity of community groups, networks and organizations to meaningfully engage Francophones in their community - even if they don’t speak French. In our recent resource on this topic, we created a list of nine keys for success and this article provides a more detailed look at incorporating these keys into your work. While this article was written with the Francophone community in mind, many of these tips and strategies would apply to working with or engaging many other populations.

It is important to understand the context and environments of Francophones in your community, such as the history of Francophones in Canada and Ontario, where Francophones in your community are located, and any history (positive or not) that your organization/group has in working with Francophones. One such context is that there is no single ‘Francophone community’. Franco-Ontarians have language in common but come from diverse cultures, religions, values and experiences and therefore it’s important to take into account the different cultures of the participants when developing your engagement strategy.

Develop clear goals for your community engagement strategy and define the target groups according to those goals. For instance, do you need to reach the general Francophone public, or is it more appropriate to work with established groups or organizations? As in any community engagement strategy, it’s important to involve Francophones in each step of the process rather than view the engagement as an ‘add-on’ or consult with the group after critical decisions have been made. Consider how the Francophone community can be involved in scoping, needs assessment, planning and evaluation activities. Report back to the Francophone community following the engagement/consultation and be clear about how their participation affected outcomes.

While there is much you can do to work with and engage Francophones even if you don’t speak the language, at some point you will need the assistance of a French-speaking individual to work with Francophone communities. It’s true that many Francophones do speak English, and yet the results of your consultative process may be richer if people can participate, share and express themselves in their first language. Having a coordinator or facilitator who speaks fluent French will facilitate this process.

Many of us who are used to sell-out crowds at our events may be disappointed with small turnouts at French events. Remind yourself that since the Francophone population makes up 4.8% of Ontario’s population, it’s understandable that attendance numbers will be lower! Start with the number of people you have and regard your first few events as stepping stones to establishing a long-standing relationship with Francophones in your community. One strategy that can help you reach Francophones is to advertise in French in Francophone media. You can also create or strengthen relationships with Francophone organizations and groups that have connections to Francophones in your community. Developing the capacity of your organization to be a viable potential partner on various francophone projects will increase your chances of success.


What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone working with a Francophone community for the first time?

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New HC Link Resource- How to Engage Francophones... When You Don't Speak French!

how1For many people working in the areas of community-based planning, health promotion and healthy communities, we want to fully engage and work with all of the people who live, work and play in our community. When it comes to working with the Francophone community, many feel that this can only be done if we are fluent in French. In June, Estelle Duchon and I delivered a webinar to demonstrate that you CAN engage Francophones in your community work – even if you don't speak the language. Now we are releasing this @ a glance on this same topic.

In the resource, we lay out three easy steps to engage Francophones regardless of your French capacity.

Step One - Examine Your Motives: Be very clear about the purpose and objectives for your engagement strategy. Also have a plan in place for what you will do with the results.

Step Two - Understand Francophone Contexts in Ontario, your community and your organization: Understand the history and contexts of the community as well as the history of your organization's past engagement strategies.

Step Three - Find people to work with: For many of us who don't have the capacity or comfort to work in French, this step is really key. Are there colleagues in your organization or networks that have the capacity to liaise with communities in French? Also investigate existing networks and initiatives that you could partner with. Take the time to establish a trust relationship with new partners as well as with the communities themselves.

The resource also discusses a few common pitfalls to avoid, as well as 9 "keys for success". We hope that you'll find this @ a glance helpful, and that you'll also check out our past resources for more information on the topic.

Have you experienced successes or challenges in engaging Francophone communities in your work? Please leave us a comment and tell us about it!


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HIA Part 3: What's in a name?

This is the third and final in a series of blog posts recapping the 12th International Health Impact Assessment Conference, which I attended in Quebec City in August. Part 1 was an introduction to Health Impact Assessment (HIA), Part 2 discussed the benefits to conducting HIA, and in Part 3 I'll talk about the myriad of different types of assessment - and what is (and isn't) in a name.

EIS2There are many, many types of impact assessments. A 2004 literature review identified 142 different types: environmental, health, health equity, collective... and the list goes on (and on). As I talked about in Part 2, one reason to conduct an HIA is that it provides a framework to access the impacts on non-health policies or programs on health - which means that you can 'sneak' health onto the agenda even if there is little political will around health issues.

But is HIA the only – or best- way to go? In some cases, the decision about which types of assessment to conduct may come down to expertise or personal preference. The decision could also be determined by legislation or policy, or a level of government could make a conscious decision about which type of assessment to promote. For example, in Ontario, the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MOHLTC) has developed a Health Equity Impact Assessment (HEIA) tool. HEIA is a way to identify unintended impacts, support equity-based improvements, embed equity and raise awareness of the importance of health equity. As April McInness from the MOHLTC said in her presentation, health equity matters because poor living is a result of poor environments which are a result of poor policies. For example, in the City of Hamilton, Ontario, there is a 20 year variation in life expectancy between neighbourhoods. HEIA provides a way to identify potential harms and ensure that the proposed program or policy will be effective.

It is a confusing world of impact assessment out there - but as Isabelle Goupil-Sermany said in her presentation, "If you hear of any (type of) assessment happening, this is your opportunity to get health in. (These assessments) are the same language with different words".

In desperately trying to sum up HIA in general, and the incredible conference in particular, I find I'm still struggling, nearly two weeks later, to process everything. A few things are clear to me and so here are my final (for now?) thoughts on HIA:


  • HIA has the potential to bring collaborators together, to engage the community, and get health on the agenda of non-health folks. In this way, HIA may be a different "basket" or package of skills and techniques many of us in health promotion/public health already use: the aforementioned collaboration and community engagement, also research, analysis, contingency planning and advocacy.
  • There are a myriad of types of impact assessments out there. Be clear about why you want to conduct an impact assessment: that may help you to choose which type and framework to use.
  • If you're thinking about conducting an HIA or HEIA (or any other type of assessment) – stop thinking and get out there and do it! Look for others to experiment with you, track everything that you do, and learn as you go. There are lots of fantastic resources and experts out there (I have found a LinkedIn group for HIA) that you can tap in to.

Thanks for going on this 3 part HIA journey with me. I'd love to hear your comments, thoughts, experiences and ideas on HIA or other types of impact assessments. Let's learn together!

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HIA Part 2: Why should I do HIA? What’s in it for health?

This blog post is part of a series on the 12th International Health Impact Assessment conference which I attended in August in Quebec City. In Part 1 I gave an overview on HIA in case you – like me - are new to HIA (Health Impact Assessment). In this post, I'll try to answer the question "What's in it for me?" (with the 'it' being conducting an HIA) by exploring the themes that emerged over the course of the 7 plenary sessions/ keynote presentations and 6 concurrent sessions that I attended. These three themes, which really speak to the outcomes and benefits of conducting an HIA, are:
• Collaboration and expanded social networks
• Community engagement/participation
• Address health through non-health policies/programs

HIA provides opportunities for collaboration with sectors/organizations/people that may not have worked together previously. The process of conducting an HIA can build mutually respectful relationship and establish common language. While many of us work with partners in various sectors, HIA can take intersectoral collaboration to concrete action. HIA can be a way to build social networks by establishing new relationship and collaborations amongst people whose work addresses similar issues, but have not worked together (or even spoken to each before). For example, Rajiv Bhatia from the San Francisco Department of Public Health shared that in his city, the planning and education sectors did not have a working relationship until an HIA was conducted. The HIA brought the two sectors together and through the project, they established a relationship that carried on after the HIA was completed into future projects and planning.

HIA provides opportunities for community engagement and participation and gives communities a voice in matters that deeply affect them. In Thailand, conducting an HIA on "potentially harmful projects" is required by the Constitution and the National Health Act guarantees the right of citizens to participate in the process. In this way, HIA is a tool that gives people power- and a voice- in policy making. In Oakland California, the Change Lab conducted an HIA received a community participation grant to conduct an HIA regarding the placement of a transit.

As I talked about in my first blog post, HIA provides a framework to address health though non-health policies/programs. This gives the health sector an opportunity to influence strategies, policies and programs that affect health but are directed by other sectors. A note of caution here: that there is often seen to be a push-pull relationship between health and other sectors whereby health "pulls" other sectors into "our" territory and "pushes" those sectors to do work which they may see as the work of the health sectors. This can often evolve into a tug-of-war between health and other sectors. Danny Broderick, from South Australia, advised us to "drop the rope" and instead of attempting to pull sectors into our territory, move into the territory of the other sectors. This theme was echoed and referred to throughout the conference.

A final reason to conduct an HIA is this: it works. In New Zealand, nearly 50 HIAs have been conducted on a variety of strategies and policies. 17 were evaluated and 24 were included in a meta-analysis which showed that HIA does work. The majority of the recommendations made in the HIAs were accepted by the local council/government: this is the dream of those of us who work in policy development! When asked "What does HIA achieve?" Robert Quigley, who has worked in HIA in New Zealand, the UK and Australia, answered that HIA:
• informs and changes the proposal
• alters the proposal development process
• informs and changes the work of other sectors
• develops knowledge and skills of HIA and the social determinants of health
• develops technical, methodological, consultative, partnership development and community engagement skills of those conducting and involved in the HIA

As Francois Benoit, from the National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy noted, HIA is a WIN WIN WIN: a win for public health, for policy makers and for the community.

I'll wrap up this blog post by quote Robert Quigley again: you don't have to be an expert at HIA at the start. You'll build capacity along the way. Just get out and do one!

Stay tuned for the last blog post in this series: HIA Part 3: What's in a name?

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HIA Part 1: What is Health Impact Assessment?


Last week, I attended the 12th International Conference on Health Impact Assessment in Quebec City. The conference's theme was "How Health Impact Assessment matters in Health in all Policies" and it attracted 365 participants from 42 countries!

It's impossible to condense learning from a two and a half day conference into one blog post - so I'll be writing a three part series for the HC Link Blog. In this first post, I'll talk a little bit about what Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is. The second post will attempt to summarize some of the conference themes, how HIA can be applied in health promotion and what the benefits to conducting an HIA are. In the third and final blog post, I'll talk about Ontario's approach to HIA.



I am quite new to HIA. In fact, my pre-conference reading and then the conference itself were my first exposure to it. I think a good way to explain what HIA and what it's used for is to compare it to a more well-known type of assessment- environmental impact assessment. These are conducted for proposed projects – such as the Northern Gateway Pipeline project in Alberta, to determine what the effects of the project on the environment would be. In a similar fashion, Health Impact Assessments aim to predict the potential positive and negative effects of policies and programs on health, wellbeing and health inequalities.

HIA recognizes that the health of individuals and communities is largely determined by decisions made in other sectors; for example an oil/gas pipeline project may – or may not- have effects on health, but the health sector may not be involved in the decision-making process. HIA provides a framework to assess non-health policies or programs on health and helps decision-makers make choices about alternatives and improvements to prevent disease/injury and to actively promote health.

The World Health Organization's HIA is a four step framework. The screening phase determines whether or not the HIA should be conducted. In order to determine this, question if the policy will affect/address any of the 12 social determinants of health as well as any particular priority groups (such as Aboriginals, new Canadians, the homeless etc). In the scoping phase, decisions are made about how to conduct the HIA and who will do it. It's very important here to define the parameters for the HIA, as generally speaking, resources and time are limited! In the appraisal phase, health hazards are identified and impact evidence is considered. HIAs can incorporate a wide variety of data sources, from statistics and health data to findings from the literature to focus groups, community meetings and individual interviews with groups who will be impacted by the policy or program. In the final reporting phase, recommendations to reduce hazards and/or improve health are made. The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention add two additional steps for reporting to decision-makers, and monitoring and evaluating the effect of HIA on the decision.

HIA, whether for a policy (such as land-use planning in a municipality) or a program (such as a Good Food Box program), is best done early in the development stages. In the policy development process, HIA can be a part of steps 1 to 3 in the Roadmap for Policy Development. In program planning, conducting as HIA can be done as part of step 2 (situational assessment). HIA can also be a powerful tool for community participation and engagement (more on this in part 2).

Please stay tuned for HIA Part 2: Why should I do HIA? What's in it for health?


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New Resource from HC Link: Are We Ready to Address Policy? Assessing and building readiness for policy work

Many of us working in health promotion and healthy communities are working to build healthy policies. The focus of this resource is on assessing the readiness of your community for the policy work that you're embarking on. Building on her popular workshop at last fall's HC Link Conference, Nancy Dubois has written this inDepth article to explore step 2 of THCU's (now housed at Public Health Ontario) Roadmap for Policy Development.


According to the Roadmap, the first step in the policy development process is to clearly define the problem or issue that your policy will address as well as to explore possible policy options. In step two, it's time to examine the readiness of your organization, your partners, and your community for the policy that you're proposing. In this resource, Nancy explores The Community Readiness Model as a way to identify to level of readiness of your community.

Once you to have a sense of the level of readiness of your community, you will be able to determine what your next steps will be in order to successfully move the policy forward. For example, if you determine that your community isn't ready to take action on the problem/issue, appropriate next steps may be to conduct an awareness or education campaign or to work with the media or social media to inform your community and begin to shift attitudes and beliefs.

This new resource is full of helpful information about how to move forward with this stage of policy development, as well as numerous resources. Nancy will also be giving a webinar on this topic on Tuesday September 18th in the afternoon. Hope to see you there!


Download the resource in English or French.

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Announcing HC Link’s 12/13 Webinar Series

We have a very exciting line up of webinars planned for this year on a wide range of topics, from social media to community engagement to youth substance use. We're pleased to be working with several partners, such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Physical Activity Resource Centre (PARC) and Parks and Recreation Ontario (PRO).

This year we have two new things to announce: we are offering series of webinars in several topic areas – community engagement; youth substance use and related issues*; and social media and health promotion** (in French and English). Participants are encouraged to attend as many webinars in the series as they can as the content and material will build throughout the series. Participants who attend all of the webinars in the community engagement series will receive a certificate of completion.

We will also be offering several Peer Sharing Sessions this year. This is a format that we developed a couple of years ago for the Healthy Communities Partnerships and we're pleased to be able to offer this format to a broader audience. The purpose of a peer sharing session (as you may gather from the title) is to give participants a chance to learn from one another, as well as to ask questions or even ask for trouble-shooting advice. Peer sharing sessions will be offered via Adobe Connect (the same platform we use for webinars).

Here are the webinars that will be coming up in September and October:

  • September 18th: Assessing Community Readiness for Policy Development, with Nancy Dubois
  • October 9th: Session de Partage – Les médias sociaux et la francophonie (Peer sharing session- social media and Francophones), Melissa Potvin et Ronald Dieleman (**Series)
  • October 16th: Emerging Issues in Youth Substance Use - Distinguishing Evidence and Hype, with Patricia Scott and Diane Bhuler (*Series)

Stay tuned for more news about our webinar series for October and November!

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