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

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Facilitation Technique: Fishes and Weeds

I’m a big fan of using activities to draw out information in groups I work with. It seems much more effective that just asking questions of a big group. Lately I’ve been using “Fishes & Weeds” as one of my go-to facilitation techniques.

One of the interesting things about many facilitation techniques that I use is that I tend to “borrow” them from other facilitators. This means I’m not always aware of the history of the specific technique: where it came from, how it evolved, and how to attribute it. I borrowed “Fishes and Weeds” from my colleague Gillian Kranias, who tells me she developed it by adapting a common popular education technique of using cut-outs to focus collective dialogue, reflection and learning. You can find Gillian’s key questions for “Fishes and Weeds”, alongside a picture of its use (copied below), on page 4 of The Power of Reflection: an introduction to participator evaluation techniques.


Fishes & Weeds is a great activity that you can use to collect two sets of information (often opposing) with a group. I frequently use it with groups or networks that have been working together for quite a while and are having issues with participation or attendance, some kind of communication difficulty, or simply want to refresh or revitalize their work. I’ve used the information gathered with this activity to draft mission/vision statements, to update terms of reference or to guide group processes. One of the (many) things I like about this activity is that it uses an asset-based approach: while you are trying to identify something challenging, limiting or difficult, you also identify things that are working well -- strengths that the network can build on.

How the activity works

Design your questions: Determine what it is that you need to know, and then select two questions to gather the data that will give you that information. For example, if the group has had a drop-off in attendance or people are not fully participating in the group, you need to identify what the issues are that are keeping people from attending/participating. You might ask questions like:

  • What do you VALUE about participating in the network? WHY do you participate in the network? WHAT keeps you coming back to this group? What do you LOVE about this work?
  • What challenges are facing the network right now? What keeps you from participating/engaging in the network? What is preventing the group from moving forward?

Choose your shapes: Just because the activity is called “Fishes & Weeds” does not mean you have to use fish shapes and weed shapes. You can choose a shape that goes along with the mandate of your group, or your questions. For example:

  • Lightbulbs (what is your one bright idea for moving the group forward?)
  • Stop signs (what is stopping us from moving forward?)
  • A “kapow” symbol (what one impact are we trying to achieve)
  • A cloud (what is your dream for the network?)

Of course it’s not strictly necessary to use paper shapes and colours, but I do find that it’s a bit more fun than using sticky notes.


Step One: participants write on their shapes. Give participants a few minutes to write on their paper shapes (one idea/concept per shape). One of the benefits to this activity is that it gives everyone a chance to participate and share their ideas whether they are comfortable speaking up in a group or not.

Step Two: sharing shapes. There are a few options for how you can do this. You can simply collect the fishes and weeds and sort them, or you can have participants exchange shapes and read them out. I have two techniques to do this:

  • Incorporate movement by putting on some music and have people dance around the room, handing out their fish/weed as they dance and collecting someone else’s in return. Stop the music at random times and ask participants to read the shapes they currently have to their partner. Repeat several times.
  • If you are more limited on space or have a group that needs/wants to stay seated, have participants pass one shape (e.g. fish) two people to the right and the other shape (e.g. weed) two people to the left. Then each participant reads out the shapes that they have to the group. This is best in groups of under 15 participants as otherwise it can take a very long time.

The advantage to this is that participants get to hear the perspectives of others in the group, without having to read their own out loud.

Step Three: theming. Begin to sort the fishes and weeds into themes. Make sure the whole group hears the themes and have the group validate these themes (is there anything missing? Anything surprising? Etc.)

Day one Reflection

Step Four: using the data. Now is the fun part. With the themes, you’ve clearly identified what the group feels is important (positive/negative, benefits/challenges, strengths/weaknesses). You can now explore these themes with the group in conversation or using another facilitation technique.

For more ideas of facilitation techniques and participatory approaches, check out Facilitation for Healthy Communities Toolkit, The Power of Reflection: an introduction to participator evaluation techniques and Participatory Evaluation Toolkit.  

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Looking back: VISION ZERO CONFERENCE: Take Aways - For an Age Friendly City


Taking a look back at the 2017 Vision Zero Summit as we gear up for round #3 beginning in February 2018!


By guest blogger: Adina Lebo, Toronto Senior’s Forum


Back in October 2017, Parachute Canada held their second Vision Zero Summit in Toronto. Parachute invited several members of the Toronto Senior’s Forum to attend the event and I was pleased to be one of them. Many of the panelists throughout the conference came from cities in Europe, the USA and Canada which have adopted many of the safety features that I will be listing below. This has reduced fatalities and casualties in their cities. The overriding principles that these cities are following are that “cities are for people not cars”. Vision Zero started in Sweden in the 1990’s. They are 35 years into the project and their streets have been transformed by it. Vision Zero also fits our Age Friendly City criteria and the Toronto Senior’s Strategy. Every city in Europe or North America that has taken on Vison Zero has fought the prevailing and underlying belief by their citizens that “Roads are for cars, and ….pedestrians should be on sidewalks and if there is an accident on the road it is the pedestrian’s fault or the bicyclist’s fault …..Because they shouldn’t be there! - They weren’t wearing a helmet or they were too slow in crossing"...and the list goes on!


The theme in all cities that are following Vision Zero is that “Streets are for People and we’re taking them back!” The car lobby and people who use cars have been opposed to many of these initiatives…but little by little ….people are gaining strength and winning against the cars. Changing norms and beliefs are critical to changing behaviour.


Here are my take aways for Canadians cities and towns: 

1.) Slower Speed Limits in the City. Evidence shows that if you are hit by a car going 20 -25 mph your chances of surviving with fewer catastrophic injuries improves than if you are struck hit by a car going 60, 70 or 90 mph.

2.) No Right Turns on Red, NO left turns on Red ….Red means STOP! This alone could reduce 81% of the accidents. Many accidents happen at intersections where pedestrians are crossing legitimately and a driver turning right or left doesn’t see them because they are looking for cars in the way not people!

3.)Four Way systems and technology for giving bikes, cars, pedestrians “each” the right of way or their turn in crossing streets and at intersections by means of flashing arrows. Also the intersections must be free of cars or trucks that block the site lines which means reducing parking spots. Also paint helps define bike from care from pedestrian walkways. This would reduce 99% of the accidents.

4.) Bike lanes must be protected space with raised borders, posts, colour, etc. separating them from car lanes. Surveys have been done throughout the world by Friends and Family for Safe Streets and 97% of the survey results show that drivers don’t mind their journey taking 3-4 minutes longer in order to avoid traffic fatalities.

Other recommendations: Clear messaging- Non conflicting messages with signals – i.e. showing a red hand saying “stop” and showing 15 seconds left to “go”? Also more time buttons for seniors and those with mobility issues. Seat Belts- Believe it or not people are still not wearing seat belts. They save lives! At lights – safety automated speed cameras, as well message boards approaching lights and crossing areas. More severe penalties for alcohol and drug related driving incidents. 9/14 accidents are driver lead accidents. More organic crossing zones built into city building and development plans.


Toronto Seniors Forum will take up this mantle to make Toronto a Vision Zero city by lobbying for changes at City Hall. For more information on this project and how you can help, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Theories, models and frameworks used in capacity building: an excellent article from our colleagues at PHO

HC Link has been helping build the capacity of people, groups and communities working to build healthy communities for eight years. The three organizations that now make up HC Link – Health Nexus, Parent Actions on Drugs, and Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition- have been involved in capacity building for decades. The term “capacity building” is often seen as jargon — as nebulous as the terms “health promotion” or “healthy communities”.  What does it really mean to build capacity? How important is capacity building in health promotion and healthy communities work? Does it really make a difference? These are questions we often get— and that we often ask ourselves. Answering them has not always been easy.

My long-time colleague, Kim Bergeron, and her colleagues at Public Health Ontario (PHO) have recently published an excellent article on this very topic. The article summarizes a systematic review that PHO conducted to identify the underlying theories, models and frameworks that inform capacity building interventions in the published literature.

What does it really mean to build capacity?

The WHO defines capacity building as the development of knowledge, skills, commitment, structures, systems, and leadership to enable effective health promotion. In other words, we are building all of the components necessary for health promotion to affect the health of our communities. To do this effectively, we need to work at three levels: individual, organizational and community. Importantly, like with many things, there is no “silver bullet” in capacity building; no one thing that will build capacity on its own. A range of approaches is needed across a number of dimensions. Typically, services that build capacity include consultations, webinars, training workshops, and knowledge products and resources (precisely the services that HC Link provides). 

Theories, Models and Frameworks for Capacity Building

The purpose of the systematic review conducted by PHO was to identify underlying theories, models and frameworks used to support capacity building interventions relevant to public health practice. Twenty-eight different theories, models and frameworks were identified. Of this number, five were most frequently cited:

  • Two were theories: Diffusion of Innovations and Transformational Learning;
  • Two were models: Ecological and Interactive Systems Framework for Dissemination and Implementation; and
  • One was a framework: Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.

How important is capacity building in health promotion and healthy communities work?

Well, that’s a good question. Clearly, HC Link believes this is critical work! We are not the only ones, however: the Bangkok Charter for Health Promotion, Canada’s past Chief Public Health Officer Dr David Butler Jones, and Ontario’s strategic plan “Make No Little Plans” all refer to the importance of capacity building. In the late 1990s, the Ontario Government established a system of capacity building resource centers. That system, the Ontario Health Promotion Resource System (OHPRS), developed a framework to show the relationship between the services that its 22 members provided and the health of Ontarians. By building the capacity of health promoters, the framework proposes, the quality of health promotion programs will be enhanced, which will ultimately improve health outcomes at the individual and community level.

Does it really make a difference?

It has often been a struggle to show tangible outcomes from capacity building interventions, beyond satisfaction and short-term change. In 2004, the OHPRS conducted a literature review to establish the link between health promotion capacity building and positive health outcomes at the population level. While a causal pathway (below) was inferred from the literature review and research conducted, direct evidence to support the link between capacity building amongst health promoters and positive health outcomes is difficult.

CB causal pathway















Tina Sahay, 2004. A Review of the Literature on the Links between Health Promotion Capacity Building and Health Outcomes

Conclusions and Implications for Practice

That is why the work that Public Health Ontario has undertaken is so important. The article concludes that there is a need for the use of theories, models and frameworks to be intentionally used to develop capacity building interventions, and importantly, to be explicitly referenced.

The findings presented in the article can be used to better design capacity building interventions (e.g., consultation, technical assistance, training, coaching, web-based and/or facilitated learning opportunities, knowledge products and resources). They can also help to guide implementation practice by encouraging practitioners to consider, explicitly identify, and clearly define which theories, models and frameworks were used during various stages of the capacity building process.

I’d highly encourage you to read this article- and wait impatiently for Kim and her colleague’s next published work on this topic. 
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Conference Workshop : Engaging Young People from Diverse Backgrounds

IMG 2627


by Aly Tropea 

Working with Young People means actually having to listen.

Do you ever think “Why ask me for advice if you’re just going to ignore it?”. Whether it be a colleague asking for your input on a group project, a friend planning a trip somewhere you’ve been many times before, or a spouse asking for your opinion on redecorating the house, it happens to us all at some point that you get asked for help but that advice you take the time to give back gets ignored. It can be frustrating when people seek you out purposefully for your input, only to completely disregard it in the end. 

I attended the workshop Actionable Knowledge & Helpful Tools for Engaging Young People from Diverse Backgrounds on the morning of day 2 of our conference and this was a theme that I think many people did not consider before. When working with youth, YATI presenters Garett and Leila explained that youth should be included in decisions, and not in a tokenism kind of way. For example, you want to include a young person on your board but don’t want to give them a vote? Unfair. What’s even more unfair is when you assume that that 1 young person can represent an entire community of young people. Integrating youth into more of your planning will make for better outreach. That doesn’t mean having to give them carte blanche, though. The role of the adult is still one of authority and security, but by giving them more time and guidance to develop their own process to problem solve ways to uphold community efforts, you may just be surprised by the outcome. 

To young people, they should feel like the sky’s the limit in their ability to grow their potential and excel in this world. So maybe you can provide them with a creative outlet to express themselves. Setting goals of achievement are important and adults can be consulted for direction on how to achieve goals, but youth should be able to come to the conclusion on what those achievements are by themselves. If in your diverse community, you want to instill a sense of ownership and responsibility among your teens, ask them to take charge in planning an activity or event that children will partake in and that the teens will have to plan from beginning to end. By offering leadership and guidance, but by also providing a safe space for creativity and ideas to flow freely, young people will become less apprehensive to breach more important subjects such as substance abuse or family issues with you later on. 

We explored Roger Hart’s ladder of participation (see below):

roger harts ladder of participation

We took a look at how adult influence in youth activities can range from manipulation to equality. Our goals should not and cannot always be to have to achieve youth engagement at the rung 8 level, but implementing the uses of a mixture of the top 5 rungs, young people should begin to feel a sense of confidence in their work and be able to take on more responsibility and autonomy. 

By allowing them this autonomy, they will begin to take charge and excel in new ways that you may not have thought up in your initial planning. Although certain barriers may seem to exist currently, such as the need to have set plans and timelines, a more effective strategy of engaging youth even in the planning process will reap better rewards. This may mean having to rework your planning and scheduling to accomodate more inclusive conversation around upcoming programs. It is sometimes hard to ask for several people's input on program development simply because of the "too many cooks in the kitchen" idealogy. But, the reality is that if programs are being developed for youth, they should be developed with youth in mind right from the planning stages -- and that means having to ask them. Once a new timeline and scheduling system is in place and youth are feeling more confident that they are being heard, programming for youth should come more naturally and you may find that having more hands on deck might actually be a great thing! 


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Linking for Healthy Communities: Day Two Reflections

It’s the day after our Linking For Healthy Communities: With everyone, for everyone conference. Aside from feeling exhausted, I’m thrilled that conference participants were engaged and excited throughout the conference.

Day Two began with two sessions of four workshops. I heard many people say that it was difficult to choose which workshop to attend as they all sounded wonderful!

day two sessions

Following the workshops and (yet another) magnificent meal (featuring the BMO Institute’s famous and unbelievably delicious) bread pudding, it was time for something a little different. When we first started planning this conference, and selected the theme of diversity, inclusion and working across difference, we wanted to provide an opportunity for small group conversations for conference participants to cultivate empathy, think from other people’s perspectives and co-learn. We came up with the idea to merge together a Living Library format with a World Café, where we would have table facilitators from a variety of life and lived experience work with small groups to deepen conversation and reflection. HC Link was very fortunate to work with consultant Sara Mohammed, who created an incredible “collection” of “Living Books” to help conference participants explore successes and barriers in this work. Throughout the Living Library Café, conference participants were engaged, open, and reflective.

living library

We closed our conference with something even more unique. Branch Out Theatre joined us to interpret our conference experiences through participatory theatre, music and movement. It was a wonderful way to digest the past two days and close the conference.



This was our third- and last- Linking for Healthy Communities conference. We have been thrilled to have hundreds of people join us over the years, to work with you, learn with you and celebrate. 

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