Welcome to HC Link's blog! Our blog will provide you with useful information on healthy community topics, news, and resources, as well as information on HC Link’s events, activities, and resources. Our bloggers include HC Link staff and consultants, as well as our partnering organizations, clients, and experts in the health promotion field.

Please note: opinions in posts are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of HC Link or our funder.

We look forward to engaging in thought-provoking conversation with you!

To view past blogs, please click on the home icon below left.

Lisa is a Healthy Communities Consultant for HC Link. She has been with the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition (OHCC) since 2001, and has worked around community development and capacity building in the social, economic and environmental sectors for over 20 years. Lisa holds a Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies from York University, with a focus on Community Involvement in Planning. Lisa is passionate about helping to facilitate research, planning and action with groups and individuals in communities around the province. She is also a certified yoga teacher, previously owned and operated a small cafe, and currently lives with her family in the Haliburton Highlands.  

Moving Ahead on Rural and Community Transportation: March 29th, 2016 Forum

By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant

On March 29th, 2016 HC Link partnered with the Rural Ontario Institute (ROI), Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition (OHCC) and Routes Connecting Communities to organize and host a forum for rural and community transportation stakeholders. Moving Ahead on Rural and Community Transportation was held to enable participants to share experiences and lessons learned, and help support peer-to-peer networking. Significant steps are being taken by many municipalities and other stakeholders to improve community transportation in rural areas around Ontario. Representatives from diverse organizations that are implementing community transportation initiatives were in attendance as over 100 people from across the province attended both in-person and online, via live-streaming/webinar.

Things kicked off with an exercise to provide opportunities for networking and to get to know who was in the room, and online. The majority of participants represented municipal and regional government, followed by the non-profit sector. Others working within the private and education sectors were also in attendance. Representatives attended from the following regions and districts:


• Haliburton

• Hastings

• Kawartha Lakes

• Kenora (Dryden)

• Lambton (Sarnia)

• Lanark

• Leeds and Grenville (Brockville)

• Lennox-Addington

• Muskoka 

• Niagara

• Norfolk

• Nipissing

• Northumberland

• Perth County (Stratford)

• Peterborough

• Simcoe

• Timiskaming

• Wellington/Waterloo

• York (Georgina)

A presentation was then given by Cathy Wilkinson from Routes Connecting Communities, which is a transportation provider serving the northern part of York Region. Their volunteer drivers use their own vehicles to provide available, accessible and affordable transportation to people who are restricted due to life circumstances such as financial hardship, health issues, and geographic, social or cultural isolation.

Cathy’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion with three other transportation service providers in the province, including: 1) Brad Smith from Ride Norfolk, 2) Heather Inwood-Montrose from The Rural Overland Utility Transit (TROUT), and 3) Rick Williams from Muskoka Extended Transit (MET). The panelists focused on sharing the challenges and successes that they have experienced in delivering public transit in their respective areas.

Next the Ministry of Transportation offered an overview of what Community Transportation (CT) is to them, and highlighted a few examples of initiatives that they are currently funding across the province. This is a $2 million, 2-year pilot grant program to provide financial assistance to Ontario municipalities for the development and implementation of community transportation initiatives. As part of the CT Program, 22 municipalities have undertaken projects to either start or expand collaborative projects in their regions. MTO representatives also announced that they will soon be supporting communities around the province with increased networking and engagement opportunities with respect to Community Transportation.

 Following lunch, participants broke into small groups to discuss five topics:

  1. Building Community Support - demonstrating the need and/or making the case for community transportation

  2. Collaboration & Partnership Building - managing different organizational mandates and moving forward

  3. Revenue Generation & Funding - using both traditional and innovative or creative approaches to generating funds

  4. Marketing & Promotion - of new and/or existing transportation services

  5. Technology - procuring vehicles, using integrated software, and other forms of technology

The day ended with a live streaming presentation by Caryn Souza from the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA). The CTAA consists of organizations and individuals who support mobility for all Americans regardless of where they live or work. Their membership includes community transit providers, public transit agencies, organizations providing health care and/or employment services, government, college and university planners, private bus companies, taxi operators, people concerned with the special mobility needs of those with disabilities, manufacturers and many other organizations who share a commitment to mobility. Caryn explained that there are many different programs that the CTAA is currently involved in, from mobility management to transit planning and ridesharing across the nation.

Overall, the day was full of information about Community Transportation in both Ontario and across the USA. Participants said that it was great to be in a room with others who have the same struggles as they do, and that they had the opportunity to learn from one another and as well as brainstorm solutions. Many said that they were able to foster connections with other people working on-the-ground and that they learned something that they will be able to apply in their own communities. HC Link was also pleased to have had the chance to help facilitate this group of passionate and committed people!

If you would like more information about this event, please contact Lisa Tolentino, Community Transportation Network Coordinator, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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Using “Visioning” as a Facilitation Technique

By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant

This is the seventh blog in a series on facilitation techniques and approaches written by HC Link staff. This post focuses on using guided visualization or “Visioning” to identify Healthy Community goals.

Visioning is considered a critical step in developing healthy communities and creating change. It is a creative way to bring community members with diverse perspectives together to develop a collective vision of a Healthy Community. Used in many sectors and spheres of life, from business to mental health and sports, this tool can be very effective in assisting with problem-solving, inspiring hope and building confidence. It is also a method for generating joint ownership and commitment for taking action toward achieving change.

In a community visioning session, the vision is often “expressed in pictorial form, using images and symbols to convey [an] ideal community” (pg. 4). It allows participants to travel beyond the current political, economic, social and/or environmental challenges being experienced, to articulating what they would like to see occur in the future. The result is an idea, dream, mental image or picture that is shared by many people living, working and playing in a community. (From the Ground Up: An Organizing Handbook for Healthy Communities, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition,

Visioning is different than traditional problem-solving in that it offers hope, encouragement and the possibility of fundamental change by generating a common goal. With traditional problem solving, a group can become bogged down in details and even disagree on how to define the problem. It also focuses on the negative, whereas visioning allows a group to move away from this toward something more positive. With visioning, passion and creative thinking are spawned, and people are given a greater sense of control. (The NGO Café, Global Development Resource Centre,

What is needed to hold a Healthy Communities Visioning Session?

This is a list of some key elements that will help to make any visioning session a success:

  • Involvement from a large number of people from a defined geographic area, community of interest and/or affiliation.
  • A diverse cross-section of people who are able to participate in a meaningful way (such as those who are marginalized and/or representative of various ages, incomes, abilities, etc.).
  • Multi-sector participation (e.g., from education, government, business, health, media).
  • A location that is familiar, inviting and physically accessible for participants.
  • Ideally, access to transportation, refreshments and childcare should be available or provided.

How do you facilitate a Visioning process?

There are various ways that you can facilitate a visioning session, depending on who is in attendance and the circumstances involved. Regardless of the situation, each one has the same premise, which is that participants are asked to envision the kind of community that they would like to be a part of in the future. The objective is to allow people to dream and collect as many ideas as possible; no concept is too small, big, or “out there” to be included.

The first step usually involves asking participants to make themselves comfortable and close their eyes. They are then asked to spend a few minutes quietly thinking their own thoughts. Sometimes a facilitator will take them on a hot air balloon ride above their community and into the future. Or they may be asked to simply go for a walk and imagine a newspaper headline 20 years from now. In each case, the facilitator will also ask them something along the lines of: "What would your community be like if you had the power to make it the way you wanted?”

Participants are then asked to formulate pictures in their minds as they travel through the physical space. The questions a facilitator asks can be both abstract and quite detailed. For instance, “How are buildings and public spaces arranged? What do they look like?” They might also be asked where people are, what they are doing, and how they are interacting. Questions could focus on topics like workplaces, transportation or the natural environment. In every instance the goal is to help participants actually “see” what they hope for.

This technique has been used in many real-life situations with great success!

Following this exercise, the facilitator will slowly bring participants back to the present day and into the room again, asking them to keep the features that they just saw in their minds. Then, in small groups, participants will be asked to talk about what they saw using key words or phrases that capture their image of a Healthy Community. The facilitator may even provide some guides or categories like housing, health care, crime rates, and/or public engagement.

In each case, group members will be asked to make short, clear and positive statements about how the community will be in the future. The statement will be in the present tense, like a newspaper headline. Statements may include things like: “There are lots of bike trails”; “You can walk safely at night” and “Transportation is efficient and affordable”. These statements will be generated until they run out of ideas or time.

These will be read aloud as a large group and then members will be asked to highlight the major differences between the present and the future that they have created. People may express that some things are impossible to achieve. The facilitator will remind them that 50 years ago it was difficult to imagine some of the changes that have taken place today, such as the existence of the internet, and that anything could be possible.

When today's problems seem overwhelming, visioning presents an opportunity to move beyond them and focus on a positive idea of the future.

Next the facilitator will work with the group to gather elements of the vision under common themes, and find areas of consensus. These vision statements could then be made into a list of ideas or even presented in a graphic form. Some communities have had the ability to hire an illustrator to draw images as participants spoke, such as the one below from Haldimand-Norfolk. Maps, photos and other images can also be added after the fact.


Simply articulating a vision can be a powerful tool for making a Healthy Community a reality. The next step after any visioning process is to develop a plan to achieve that vision. In Healthy Communities processes, visioning is usually followed by community-wide priority-setting and decision-making.

If you would like help hosting a Healthy Communities Visioning session in your community, be sure to request a service from HC Link!


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An Introduction to Engaging in the Review of your Official Plan - A Webinar Follow-up

By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant

On February 24, 2016, Community Planning Consultant Kate Hall and I presented the second webinar in a series on Civic Engagement. During this session we provided two examples of how we have been engaged in reviewing and providing input into Official Plans (OPs) to support the creation of Healthy Communities. At the very end of the webinar we received a great question, and I think that others will benefit from the answer, so I have decided to include it here...

Q: In your experience, how much of the feedback given to them do municipalities incorporate? In other words, how many pages is an ideal submission?

From our experience here in Haliburton County (and also judging from the submissions that we have seen from elsewhere), we think that something in the 5-10 page range for each topic area is manageable, but that it is really the "format" in which comments are provided that is important. For example, an easy to read chart that includes the policy statement from the current OP, along with the recommendation that you are making (i.e., the suggested change or addition), as well as the rationale from the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) will greatly help those who are receiving the submission to make sense of things.

In addition to the Rural and Urban Checklists by Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Healthy Communities (that we referred to during the webinar and which can be used as templates), I have attached a sample submission here for you to view. It is what was submitted by the Communities In Action Committee (CIA) to the County of Haliburton in April 2015 regarding the incorporation of active transportation policies into their Official Plan. As you will see, in addition to the chart, general comments were provided in the form of a preface, as well as some terms for definition.

Finally, the length of a submission will also depend on the municipality and the complexity of the additions/changes that you desire. For instance, if an OP currently has little or no reference to a topic, then more detail will likely be required. For further assistance with reviewing an Official Plan in your area, feel free to contact HC Link to request a service.

Materials and recording from this webinar

Materials and recording from webinar 1 in series: Engaging Citizens for Healthy Communities: Current Challenges and Approaches

Registration is still open for the third webinar in the series: Inclusive Civic Engagement.


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Peer Sharing: The Wise Crowds* Technique

By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant with the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition

Note: This is the second blog post in a series on facilitation techniques and approaches that will be written by various HC Link staff over the next little while. This particular segment focuses on an approach to Peer Sharing, which allows you to draw on the wisdom of those around you.

wisecrowdsFollowing our bi-annual conference last November, we received numerous requests asking for more information on an activity that we facilitated during the Plenary Session on Day 2 called, Wise Crowds. This fun approach to collective problem-solving and networking went over very well with participants!

A Liberating Structure*

Wise Crowds is a technique that was developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless, who are the authors of a book and website called Liberating Structures . The purpose of the Wise Crowds technique is to:

  • Uncover solutions to common problems/challenges;
  • Tap into the intelligence of the diverse opinions available within a group;
  • Generate results without using “outside” expertise;
  • Actively build learning, mutual support, and make peer connections;
  • Refine one’s ability to give, receive, and ask for help;
  • Liberate the wisdom and creativity that exists across sectors and disciplines; and
  •  Create the conditions for unimagined solutions to emerge.


Wise Crowds enables you to engage a group of people in helping one another. You can use it with a large group (as we did with over 100 people at our conference), simultaneously with various small groups, or even with a group as few as four. In a short amount of time, individuals referred to as “clients”, ask for help and receive it from other group members. Each of these “consultations” draws on the knowledge and experience of those in the group, so that participants find solutions to real-life challenges, and also increase their capacity for problem-solving. (Lipmanowicz and McCandless, 2013;

HC Link Coordinator, Andrea Bodkin, and I both took a Liberating Structures training workshop where we had learnt the Wise Crowds technique. So we were eager to share it with others when it came time to pick an activity for the conference. Sarah Christie and the Physical Activity Resource Centre (PARC), who sponsored the session, also loved the idea of using it!

wisecrowds 1

 We Planned for Success

We determined ahead of time that the purpose of the session was to both facilitate networking, and to gather feedback and advice on the types of challenges that participants were experiencing. We knew that some participants would know each other but that most were likely strangers to one another. While we were aware that this was a one-time event, we were conscious that participants had the ability to make connections and develop longer term relationships. We also knew that people would be coming from different sectors, but that all of them would be interested in and/or working to create Healthy Communities (the common ground). Given that they were coming to our conference, we expected that most of them would be familiar with facilitated processes and have had a positive experience with them. Finally, we polled registrants in advance about their challenges and hopes for the conference – so we were aware of what topics and issues they wanted to discuss, as well as their areas of expertise.


We wanted to set things up so as to enable the greatest amount of information-sharing and draw upon the knowledge, experience and ideas of everyone in the room. Considering we were working with such a large group, we decided to identify the “clients” in advance. On Day 1 of the conference, we asked individuals to identify themselves and be prepared to briefly describe: a) a challenge that they were dealing with, and b) the advice or help that they were looking for from other participants. We explained that they would present their challenge in small groups and then listen as other group members provided suggestions and recommendations.

When the session began the next day, we clarified that anyone not acting as a client would be acting as a “consultant”. We asked the consultants to then draw on their skills and experiences from within their own communities and areas of work, so as to offer advice to the clients. One-by-one the clients posed their situations to their small groups, and then they moved onto other tables so as to further gain from the expertise that was located there. In this way, they were able to benefit from consultations at three different tables.

Not only did the “clients” receive suggestions and ideas for addressing their challenges, but the “consultants” also gained by learning from and connecting with the other consultants in the group. Therefore, everyone was engaged in benefitting from the know-how and inventiveness of those around them. To close the session, we ensured that there was time at the end of all of the consultations to both de-brief the activity and further allow participants time to connect with the people that they had just encountered.

Organizing for Variety

Like most great facilitation approaches this one was created based on ideas that came from others, and Lipmanowicz and McCandless (2013) make it clear that the Wise Crowds technique was actually inspired by Quaker Clearness Committees. They also provide all sorts of ideas for organizing the activity differently. In designing the session for our conference, we ourselves became aware of a whole host of ways that we could have used this technique.

For instance, instead of the clients moving from table-to- table, the consultants can do this – it encourages physical activity by more of the participants, and also allows the clients more time to reflect on the advice that they have just received. If you want more people in the entire group to be able to act as clients, and/or you need to be mindful of peoples’ ability to move, you can even arrange it so that no one has to change tables at all – you can set it up so that they just rotate who acts as the client at each table (i.e., three different people could each get to present their challenge to the same small group). This can also allow each of the small groups to focus on a particular topic or area of expertise like: working with youth, addressing issues in rural areas, building partnerships, etc. Also, if space, equipment or noise volume are issues, you do not have to use tables at all and need only have circles of chairs – this way people will likely lean inwards and huddle together like a sports team, which further encourages a sense of team work and makes connections. The possibilities are endless…

If you would like someone from HC Link to help facilitate this activity at one of your events, don’t hesitate to contact us!

* To learn more about using this technique, please visit: , or refer to the book: The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation. Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. Liberating Structures Press. Seattle, 2013.


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Blog Series on Facilitation - Introduction to Choosing a Facilitation Technique

By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant (with special thanks to Jeff Kohl, of the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, for sharing his notes and wisdom on the topic)

Due to the number of requests that we have received asking for more information on the Wise Crowds activity that we facilitated at our recent HC Link conference, we have decide to post a series of blogs on Facilitation Tools and Techniques over the coming months. By way of an introduction this will be the first post in the series and the next one will be on the Wise Crowds activity itself.

Facilitation is the art of guiding groups of people through processes to help them reach agreed upon goals in a manner that encourages participation, ownership and creativity from all involved, while fostering respect and trust. (David Sibbet, Principles of Facilitation: The Purpose and Potential of Leading Group Process. February, 2002.)

Plan for Success

As HC Link Consultants we often receive service requests for help in planning and facilitating community processes, meetings or events. Sometimes we are called upon to facilitate an event and are asked to use a particular technique because it was used somewhere else or at another time, and it worked really well. But in some cases, the technique or approach that is suggested is not always the ideal one to use under the circumstances. Therefore, we hope that this blog series will help you when you are considering a technique or sequence of techniques to use, given your specific situation and circumstances.

Facilitating group processes is not always as straight forward as it seems. We choose to use facilitation techniques based on a variety of things, including the current situation that exists within a community and the individuals or groups who will be participating. In order to plan for a successful meeting or event, we need to design the session to ensure that the facilitation approach or technique we use meets the goals and expectations of those involved. We have to consider what the overall purpose and desired outcomes are for the session. This requires not only speaking to those who are planning and organizing the event, but also gathering information on who will be participating and what sorts of things they will be looking for when they attend.

Ask a Series of Questions

Choosing the right approach, technique and tools means asking a series of questions to determine what is appropriate for the group and situation. In order to answer these questions, you also have to be sure to involve the right people in the planning process (i.e., those who are well-informed and/or have access to the necessary information). Among the questions that you should ask are the following:

  • What is the purpose of the facilitated session? For instance, is it for: sharing information; gathering information; getting feedback on something; and/or making decisions?
  • Is it a one-time event, or is it part of an ongoing process?
  • Are you working with an established group, a newly created one, or individual participants who do not know each other? If they know each other, how well? What is the level of trust that exists? Are there any group dynamics that you should be aware of?
  • What is the participants’ previous level of experience with facilitated processes? Is this experience likely to be positive for them or will there be any resistance?
  • Are there any other topics/issues you should consider?

Various Tools & Techniques

There are a variety of techniques that you can use depending on whether or not you want to gather information, create shared understanding, identify possible solutions, do priority setting, take action, and so on. As facilitators, we typically use and string together numerous techniques and approaches in a single session so as to meet a range of goals and objectives. Among the approaches that we use are the following:

  1. Ice Breakers - to allow people get to know each other and/or network
  2. Visioning - to generate ideas for the future
  3. World Café & Community Conversations - to explore current and pressing topics
  4. Open Space - when topics need to be identified by the participants themselves
  5. Appreciative Inquiry - to uncover unknown or hidden motivations
  6. Peer Sharing - to draw upon the wisdom in the room
  7. Asset-Based Community Mapping - to build upon what already exists
  8. Naming the Moment - to plan for political action
  9. Results-Based Accountability (RBA) - developing plans by starting with the desired outcome
  10. Grouping, Merging and/or Prioritizing Ideas - to assist strategic planning & decision-making

To assist you in learning more about a collection of facilitation approaches and techniques, HC Link staff will be making several blogs posts in the New Year. The next and second one in this series will be on the Liberating Structure Wise Crowds, as it was used at the Day 2 Plenary Session at our bi-annual conference on November 13th, 2015. So please stay tuned…

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Recapping HC Link’s Northern Gatherings

During the 2014/2015 year, HC Link held 6 regional gatherings in northern Ontario so as to provide an opportunity for
information and knowledge exchange between individuals who were working to improve community conditions for local residents. Three were conducted in French and three in English. These events took place within the Northeast and Northwest regions of the province, as defined by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

The Northern Gatherings were designed to appeal to and attract people from across the regions in which they were held. The three French language northern gatherings were planned in collaboration with a number of francophone organizations and networks, and held in Longlac, Geraldton and Thunder Bay during spring 2014. The three English language gatherings were held in the fall and winter of 2014/15, in Sioux Lookout, Timiskaming and Kenora. This blog will provide an overview of the English language northern gatherings.

A goal of the gatherings was to promote networking and facilitate connections at the regional level, while also promoting the availability of HC Link services in Northern Ontario. The content of each of the gathering related to Healthy Communities, i.e., community-wide, multi-sectoral engagement to improve local conditions that promote health and a high quality of life. Each of the events focused around a specific theme and was very interactive, including skills and knowledge exchange, peer sharing and networking components.

Host organizations were recruited to assist with planning and logistics in Sioux Lookout, Timiskaming and Kenora. For each of the events, a committee was established to take the lead in planning the gatherings. The committees met on a monthly or semi-monthly basis for 4-6 months prior to the events. Support was provided by HC Link in the areas of planning, committee development, workplan creation and budgeting, media communications and outreach, registration and workshop facilitation. HC Link consultants also helped to provide information on topics such as community development and engagement, partnerships and collaboration, health and the built environment, and local sustainable food systems.

Here is a recap of each of the events: 

  1. The Sioux Lookout event was held on October 28th and involved a developmental assets workshop on the building blocks for raising healthy children and youth. The premise was that the more assets young people have, the less likely they are to engage in a wide range of high-risk behaviours and the more likely that they are to thrive. Participants were provided with tools to become asset builders in the lives of young people in their communities.
  2. In Timiskaming, two separate events were held on December 9th and 10th in New Liskeard and Kirkland Lake respectively. A need had been identified to build upon existing community initiatives by increasing engagement, skills
    and the capacity to advocate for change. A type of advocacy training specific to northern small and rural communities was provided, along with story-telling about successful local initiatives.

  3. The Kenora event was held on February 12th and had three goals: 1) develop a common understanding of food security in the region; 2) engage local municipalities in food security work; and 3) increase awareness of Kenora food security initiatives. The priorities were that identified at the event were organized under the headings: a) School, b) Workplaces, c) Community and d) Municipality. Among the partners and groups that participated were: the Northwestern Health Unit, Women's Place Kenora, Kenora Association Community Living, the City of Kenora, Lake of the Woods District Hospital,
    Kenora Midwives, the Northwest Training Adjustment Board, the Legal Aid Clinic and arts organizations.

All of these events helped to build skills and strengthen networks in northern Ontario. They were positive and enriching experiences for participants, planning partners and HC Link representatives alike. HC Link got to know these communities better, gained key insights into what their needs are, how they function, and the types of supports and relationships that are available to them. We are very appreciative for having had the opportunity to work with our partners and all of the participants in these northern communities.




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