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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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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Webinar Recap: How to Engage Francophones: when you don't speak French!

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

Supporting our clients in engaging their Francophone communities is an area that HC Link has been working in for the past several years. We've delivered several webinars and produced many resources – in both languages – on the topic. But this week, Estelle Duchon and I delivered a webinar with a slightly different spin: how do you engage Francophones in your community work when you don't speak the language?

For 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 our 90 minute webinar, Estelle laid 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, and also have a plan in place for what you will do with the results. The Francophone community has, in many cases, been consulted often with sometimes invisible results. By properly identifying what you want to accomplish you'll be able to put the appropriate plans in place. You'll also be able to clearly communicate what you are doing, why, and what will happen as result of participation. In this way, you'll be able to manage expectations.

Step Two: Understand Francophone Contexts in Ontario, your community and your organization: Before beginning an engagement strategy with Francophone communities (or any community for that matter) it's critical to understand the history and contexts of that community. For instance one of our participants remarked that she didn't realize that many Francophones in Ontario are new Canadians from 29 of the world's countries that speak French. This can have huge implications regarding culture and beliefs. It's also important to investigate the history of your organization's past engagement strategies (if any) as these can colour (positively or negatively) future participant's expectations.

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 colleugues 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.

We had terrific audience participation in this webinar thanks to HC Link's new webinar platform which includes a chat board. In fact, 78% of evaluation respondents rated opportunities for participation as excellent! Participants shared ideas for engaging Francophones and also shared what their organizations are doing to boost French capacity in the workforce. Unfortunately due to some technical challenges we weren't able to record the webinar, but the slides have been posted for you on our website.

 This blog post just gives you a smattering of the information that Estelle and I presented – there is lots more out there, including in these resources:

Working Together with Francophones: Understanding the Context and Promising Practices

Working Together with Francophones @ a Glance Part 1: Understanding the Context

Working Together with Francophones @ a Glance Part 2: Legislation and Institutional Support

Community Engagement @ a Glance

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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Austerity and Innovation


I just returned from an exciting lunch event at MaRS in downtown Toronto (where incidentally, I had what were quite possibly the best cookies I’ve ever had in my life) that I thought might be of interest to HC Link’s clients. The speaker was Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive from the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) in the U.K. Geoff began his talk with a picture of a painting depicting a beautiful  1800s British wooden sailing ship being towed by a less-than-beautiful tugboat to the shore, where it would be destroyed. Innovation, says Geoff, can be painful as we make way for the new.  But innovation can yield exciting results, particularly in frugal times. Two examples of ‘frugal innovation’ that he used were the Aakash (a $60 tablet computer made in India) and Then Geoff challenged us to think: what are the public sector equivalents? How can we mobilize the creativity often seen in the private sector and by imaginative entrepreneurs in the fields in which we work?

In the private sector, 10-15% of budgets are devoted to research and development to foster innovation and new ideas. In the sectors that we – in healthy communities and health promotion – work in, we see far less (if any). To illustrate the effect of this, Geoff showed a graph (which I was not able to find on the internet, so use your imagination) that showed a correlation between health care spending and mortality over time. The more you spend, the more people die. Though slightly tongue-in-cheek, Geoff used this example to show what can happen when we use the same old techniques to cope with ever-changing and complex situations withoutUntitled innovating.
All over the world, countries, governments, organizations and businesses are facing massive cuts in spending/funding. Those of   you working in local communities are no strangers to this reality. But we can – as others have- use this as an opportunity to do things differently. To innovate. And see what happens.

Here are some examples. In Sutton, England the public library faced massive cuts and could no longer purchase new inventory. The solution: Sutton Bookshare – where people list the books on their own bookshelves via the library website that people can pop over and borrow. Now, using the existing infrastructure of the library’s borrowing system, not only has the library solved their problem, but the solution fosters a sense of community. Another example is Big Society Capital – a new bank that lends money to those creating socially innovative projects. The new bank is funded by the millions of pounds sitting in unclaimed bank accounts. Couch Surfing, and similar concepts for car-sharing in Europe also solve the problem of needing a place to stay or a car to drive, but not having the money for a hotel/car rental.

My brain is still spinning from the session. But I think the one take-away for me (other than the cookies!) is that - when you take the ‘problem’ of funding cuts (or the resulting cuts in service due to funding cuts) to the community, the solution can often be found. Many of you are doing just that in your community work – and are finding innovative, community-based solutions that are working for you. I invite you to share those ideas using the comment box below – let’s start a conversation about innovation!

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Working together with Francophones in Ontario

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link

On January 26th, more than fifty participants from across Ontario joined Estelle Duchon and I for a French language webinar called Collaborer avec les francophones en Ontario (Working together with Francophones in Ontario). Professionals from community organizations, French language planning entities, and public health units learned (or refreshed their knowledge!) about the demographics and contexts of Franco-Ontarians, the history of FLS services in Canada and Ontario and what's working well regarding Francophone engagement.

Francophone engagement is an area in which HC Link has been working and supporting its clients for a number of years- in both English and French. This webinar (which will be available in English in the spring) builds on our earlier document entitled Work Together With Francophones In Ontario: Understanding The Context And Using Promising Practices (Collaborer avec les francophones en Ontario : de la compréhension du contexte à l'application des pratiques prometteuses). In just a few weeks we'll be releasing two @ a glance documents (in both English and French) which capture the highlights of the earlier, comprehensive resource.

During the webinar, we had excellent participation and discussion from the participants. One participant reminded us that these days, there really is not one Francophone community. Demographics show us that Francophones in Ontario come from not only Ontario and Quebec but also Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe and their faith practices include Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism as well as traditional and African faiths.

Another discussion point that surfaced (and surfaces in every Francophone engagement workshop or session I've been involved in) is that engagement is not simply asking people what they want, or consulting them in some way. Engagement is about providing opportunities for meaningful involvement throughout the entire process. It's about an openness to have others involved, a willingness to have them participate, and a recognition of the incredible benefits of doing so.

HC Link looks forward to continuing work in this area – and supporting you with your efforts to meaningfully engage the Francophone communities in your area. Keep watching for our new resources and English webinar!

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Linking for Healthy Communities Wrap-Up


By Andrea Bodkin

Well, we’ve just finished HC Link’s first conference, “Linking For Healthy Communities: Building from within”. It was a fabulous two day event, held at the BMO Institute for Learning, attended by more than 130 participants, staff and speakers.

Our keynote speaker was John Ott, co-author of The Power of Collective Wisdom and the trap of collective folly. Not only was John our keynote, he also worked extensively with the planning committee to shape the event as well as with the many speakers of the breakout sessions to ensure synergy in themes. John also provided many opportunities for reflection throughout the two days, which gave participants a chance to really take in and process what we were hearing.

After attending such an event, I always like to spend some time absorbing what I heard and learned. I thought I might share these thoughts with you. In fact, one of the first things that John said to us on Tuesday morning is that the most important moment of the conference is Thursday at 8 am. After the conference is all over: how will you carry the work forward? So the following is my attempt to carry what I learned forward. And yes, at time of writing it is 8:15 Thursday morning!


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This is a pretty exciting day.

This is the day that we get to share with you our new name and brand: HC Link (Réseau CS, in French)!

Like most healthy communities and health promotion work, this celebration isn’t so much about one day as it is about the months and years of work that have led up to it. Today really is about the journey that we, HC Link, have been on — and that many of you have been on with us.

Our journey started more than two and a half years ago when our funder, the Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport, asked us to form a virtual consortium to support its new Healthy Communities Fund. Since that time, we have journeyed from four resource centres working together to one strong collaborative organization with four provincial partners: Health Nexus, OHCC, OPHA and PAD. We have brought our history, our expertise, our passion for working with communities together under one brand: HC Link.

The re-branding alone has been a journey in itself! Several months ago, we hired Fingerprint Communications to do our re-branding. As part of this process, Fingerprint consulted with several of our clients from a variety of regions and sectors to get a clear sense of the positives and negatives of the name Healthy Communities Consortium and our work. The results were really interesting… there was a split perception of the Consortium where clients felt that the Consortium was credible, expert, helpful and a go-to source but at the same time disorganized, chaotic, confusing and a mish-mash. Fingerprint’s mission became to select a new name and identity that described not just who we are (as the name Healthy Communities Consortium does) but what we do in an understandable and simple way. After a lengthy process to identify potential names, Fingerprint conducted focus groups with our clients in French and in English to test the name. Our new logo and communications materials were also focus tested.

As a result, we have our new name. HC Link represents how we — as four separate organizations — have created new linkages with one another and how we’ve linked with clients over the past two years.  While “Link” describes the connecting function that we have, we added a further descriptor “HC” (healthy communities) to anchor it. The tagline “your resource for healthy communities” defines what we do: we provide supports for those working in the field of healthy communities.  

In our logo, the person icon represents the people function of HC Link — that we are people that are open to receiving information, ideas and people and that we also transmit thoughts, ideas and resources (represented by the bubbles and squares).

Our new communications materials are all clean, simple, ordered and structured to try to address the concern around confusion. On our new website, there is reference to the four member organizations that make up HC Link, but it is not highlighted to prevent confusion and create the sense of one organization.

One of the key challenges Fingerprint experienced was in trying to describe our services using language that would be accessible and understandable to the broad range of audiences that we serve. We’ve selected these four categories to describe the types of services that we deliver, in both languages:

  • Consultation
    ….. “how to” advice and support on issues that concern you
  • Learning and Networking Events
    …..  webinars and workshops on relevant topics
  • Resources
    ….. links and articles on tools and methods for developing healthy communities
  • Referrals
    ….. linking you to the right information source

We hope that you like our new name and brand and enjoy our website and new materials. Our services and our commitment to you, our clients, remains the same even though the name is new!

In ending….a little story. At the end of August we held a meeting for all of the staff and consultants who work with HC Link, and in conjunction with this meeting we launched our new name and brand internally. As part of the celebration we had balloons in our new blue colour with our logo in black, with which we decorate

d our meeting room and the door opening into it. To open the meeting, we asked each staff and consultant to share a peak experience from working with HC Link over the past two years. Anderson Rouse, Finance and Administration Coordinator with OHCC, shared the following:

“I arrived at the building this morning without really a sense of where I needed to go. I couldn’t find a map or a room directory so I just wandered through the building feeling a little lost. When we have one of these meetings the room could be booked under any name….Consortium or one of the four organizations in it. You never really know what to look for. Finally, I saw the HC Link balloons on the door and I thought “That’s where I belong!”

After two years of ambiguity, our new name on a balloon is what made Anderson feel like he was a part of something concrete and real.

Finally, with our new name and brand the staff and consultants at HC Link know who we are and what we do. Now we can go out into the healthy communities and health promotion world, confident with our image and our services, and meet your needs. And we can’t wait to do it!

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