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!

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Looking at hospitals with a health promotion lens

This week I’ve had a slightly difference experience to the ones I usually blog about for HC Link. A close family member of mine has had surgery and is in the ICU. While I certainly have lots on my mind at this time, I also can’t help looking around me and noticing the ways that hospitals promote the health of their patients and their families.

My first experience of this hospital was when my family member and I met with the surgeon several weeks ago. A hospital fundraiser was underway. Understandable that fundraisers are necessary, but selling Krispy Kreme Donuts?

selling Krispy Kreme

Yesterday in the ICU waiting room, I noticed a series of wall displays of patient information. Good idea, as many people in that waiting room are there for hours at a time (as most of the time you can only visit your loved one for 10 minutes at a time). However this one gave me pause:

Empty isolation info rack

Social isolation is one of the factors that influences health -- social inclusion is one of the social determinants of health recognized in Canada -- and I can only imagine how feeling isolated and alone makes patients feel and affects their healing. The impacts of social isolation and the benefits of social inclusion aren’t always recognized. I think this empty display speaks to the lack of resources available not just in this display, but overall.

Now to the good news.The hospital does address isolation by allowing visiting at any time.


This hospital -- like many -- has a program to allow vulnerable-feeling pedestrians to walk to parking lots, bus stops and residences safely. A quick call to hospital security gets you a burly escort to your destination of choice.


And here’s one from a BC hospital that HC Link’s Robyn Kalda took: humour and hand washing!


I could go on, but I need to get back to the hospital. Healthy healing everyone!

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Playing Back Your Conference Stories

Playback for new parents




By Naomi Tessler, Artistic Director, Branch Out Theatre


Once Upon a time, there was a conference. A conference that aimed to explore issues of inclusion, equity and working across difference. A conference that created space for participants to critically reflect upon their role in co-creating community transformation: with everyone, for everyone. At this conference there were many moments of inspiration, mixed with conflicting points of view. The result: Two days of deep unpacking, radical learning and the etchings of a new road map to community change.


Let’s Watch! …


These are the magic words you’ll hear at the closing playback theatre performance by Branch Out Theatre for the upcoming HC Link conference. You and your fellow conference attendees will be invited to share your conference reflections, stories and experiences (like the summary painted above) and Branch Out Theatre’s playback theatre troupe will play those moments back to you- on the spot- through improvisation. Branch Out Theatre will co-create a space with you to harvest your learnings, deepen your understanding and strengthen your connections.

With each reflection shared and each story told, our actors will use different playback theatre forms to animate the experiences being recounted. Each form will vary in length and depth and serve to capture the heart of what each conference attendee shares. We’ll use sound and movement to play out a montage of feelings you’ve had throughout the conference. We’ll perform impromptu rants to help make sense of any conflicts or challenges. We’ll re-enact your full stories about the seeds of wisdom and the roots of support you’re taking back to your community practice.

Whether or not you’re up for being a teller: one who shares an experience or story, the whole audience grows more connected as each story is played back. A personal experience gracefully transforms into a universal experience as the audience witnesses the story unfold onstage. Watching your fellow conference attendee’s story played back, you will undoubtedly see speckles of your own experience within it. The chance to have your story played back is like a gift, and our Branch Out Theatre playback ensemble: Alicia Payne, David Jan Jurasek, Victoria Haist and Will Kwan, conducted by Naomi Tessler, looks so forward to helping you unwrap it! To see pictures of past playback theatre performances, click here.

Playback theatre is one of the applied theatre practices that Branch Out Theatre works with to facilitate community engagement, creative play and critical reflection. We also specialize in Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, which centralizes pertinent issues of injustice in order to empower individuals and communities to be agents of change.

Check out videos from our various applied theatre project’s and performances here. Through our participatory workshops, trainings, community arts projects and interactive productions, we aim to inspire personal and collective transformation, and set the stage to rehearse towards social change across Canada.

We look so forward to Branching Out through Theatre with you and playing back your stories on November 21st at 3pm. Let’s Watch!

To learn more about Branch Out Theatre, please visit:

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How can we work “with” people in poverty?

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On November 21st, join Gillian Kranias and Jason Hartwick as they re-examine the way we work with people who live in poverty. They will host an interactive workshop at our conference about strategies for working with people living in poverty in ways that respect their priorities.

How is this important? When working with people who are different from ourselves, our charity-based culture often sets us up to work “for” community members. Following this habit, we can end up in a mess. We carry and create biases around people who live in poverty. We feel rushed to produce results that reflect organizational priorities, not community priorities. We assume things and overlook local knowledge and particularities. Often, for example, we see a “problem” and propose a simple “evidenced solution”, when the local reality is a complex of interrelated issues and options which need to be discussed, sorted through and prioritized with community leadership and ownership.


So, how do we shift into working “with” people? To begin: make sure community members feel on their own ground and comfortable. To begin: allow community members to co-lead the process. To begin: resource their leadership, and talk openly and ongoing about how to shift resources towards a more fair sharing of power and leadership.

There is a story of a low-income community which started organizing Friday night dinners at the local recreation centre, providing a safe space where community members could include their children (including teens), share food and dialogue about different community issues and priorities – all facilitated by partnership members.

In this workshop, on November 21st, participants will build awareness and skills through stories and a case study, community development values and principles, collaborative learning and reflection activities. Participants will leave with direction and hope for engaging better “with” people who live in poverty.

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Getting Under the Skin: What is the Role of Cities in Mental Health and Illness?

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By Jewel Bailey - CAMH 

Here’s a compelling fact: half of the workforce in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area is suffering from a mental health issue – that’s more than 1.5 million people! This begs the question: how does the place where we live, play, and work impact our mental health?

It’s well established by researchers that people who live in cities have higher levels of mental illness than their rural counterparts. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Currently 85 percent of Ontarians live in cities. As more people move to urban areas, the need for experts from different fields to focus on how city living impacts mental well-being will become increasingly important.

One of the international experts who has studied mental health and the metropolis is Professor Nikolas Rose from King’s College, London. He examined years of research on how mental health is shaped by city living. Rose says scientists have made the connection between mental illness and factors such as social exclusion, racism, and poverty, but what they have not determined is the process through which the “city gets under the skin”. He believes that as scientists from various disciplines work together they might be able to explain the process through which urban living affects the brain.

Other findings from Rose’s work include the following:

  • Cities should be viewed from an ecological perspective, with humans co-existing in a complex, ever-evolving environment. There is constant social stress produced by “noise, sprawling transport networks, the cacophony of diggers and concrete mixers, scaffolds and cranes”. Humans are not passive in these environments, but are always negotiating these spaces.

  • Researchers identified stress as one of the reasons for elevated levels of mental illness among urban dwellers. One group of researchers found that people who are born in cities, and continue to live in urban environments, process stress differently, which might be linked to why there are higher levels of stress in urban areas.

  • Stress is a subjective experience based on people’s perception of what is occurring around them. How a person interprets an element in their environment (e.g. crowding) determines whether it’s stressful or not; what one person considers stressful might not be stressful for another.

What is one of Rose’s more interesting points? He states that in the aftermath of a traumatic event, most people do well just speaking with family and friends. Only a few will require ongoing intervention by a mental health provider. This highlights the resiliency of humans.

While researchers such as Rose continue their work, policymakers are asking the question: what can cities do to improve the mental health residents? New York provides a good example of what can be done. The city has created a comprehensive mental health plan called Thrive NYC which is built on 6 principles. Dr. Gary Belkin, Executive Deputy Commissioner of Mental Hygiene in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and one of the leaders of the plan, notes that NYC had to rethink and restructure how mental health services were delivered, and also engage citizens in the process. One of the six principles is partnering with communities to improve mental health.

Thrive NYC’s work began by assessing where people go and how they access services. According to Belkin residents may not always access services in traditional mental health facilities so the system must reach people in their natural settings. For example, in this video, Thrive NYC worked with a Black faith-based organization to reach members of that community. The plan recognizes community stakeholders as “innovators in their own health” and builds the capacity of community-based organizations to increase access to programs and services. The success of Thrive NYC has sparked other international cities, such as London, to launch similar strategies.

Both Rose and Belkin were in Toronto recently, delivering talks on mental health and city, as part of a series hosted by the Provincial System Support Program at CAMH and the Wellesley Institute. You can find links to their presentations below.

As we turn the spotlight on the reality of mental illness during mental illness awareness week, let’s consider how we can build healthy, vibrant communities in rural and urban areas. Because more people are migrating to cities, where there are higher rates of mental illness, cities require unique attention. Cities touch the lives of residents in multiple and intimate ways. The urban environment can be a source of stress and happiness, but working to create supportive environments, and strengthening communities for action, as Thrive NYC has done, can impact the mental well-being of all residents.

Here are links to some resources:

  1. For more information on Thrive NYC and the principles click here

  2. To watch Rose’s presentation click here

  3. To watch Belkin’s presentation click here

  4. About mental health and mental illness

  5. Mental health first aid

  6. The friendship bench

Share your views - what do you think cities in Ontario can do to promote the mental health of residents and support those living with a mental illness?

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Measuring Partnership Effectiveness

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Measuring Partnership Effectiveness: evaluating partnerships

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

This blog is one of a series profiling some of HC Link’s “oldie but goodie” resources from the past several years. This resource was published under HC Link’s previous name, the Healthy Communities Consortium, by former member organization OPHA.

Evaluate, celebrate and renew is one of 6 activities for successful partnerships, which Gillian Kranias and I presented in a June webinar. According to a survey conducted with participants of that webinar, it’s one of the activities that people find the most challenging. In 2008 I wrote that the world of evaluation can seem mystical, confusing and daunting. I will cheerfully admit that 9 years later, I still often feel like that! That’s why I delved back into a two-part resource that we published in 2011 on partnership evaluation, Measuring Partnership Effectiveness.  Part one provides and overview of partnership evaluation, including the benefits of assessing your partnership and principles to guide your partnership evaluation efforts. Part Two profiles a number of tools that you can use to measure the effectiveness of your partnership.

A simple way to think about evaluation that’s relevant to those of you who work in partnership, is the three levels to partnership evaluation:

  • Level 1: Measuring coalition infrastructure, functioning and processes: how well the partnership is working together. Level 1 evaluation is process evaluation that measures short-term outcomes.
  • Level 2: Measuring partnership programs and interventions: what the partnership is accomplishing together, such as the activities delivered and populations impacted. Level 2 evaluation is outcome evaluation that measures short and intermediate outcomes.
  • Level 3: Measuring community change and community outcomes: changes in health status, community capacity, the sustainability or institutionalization of programs and services. Level 3 evaluation is outcome evaluation that measures long term outcomes.

Conducting a Level 1 evaluation can provide valuable information on how your partnership is functioning, how each partner is contributing to the partnership, and the effectiveness and efficiency of the partnership. This information can be used to help your partnership improve and make adjustments over time, resulting in improved functioning and a greater likelihood of achieving the goals and activities of the partnership. Tools used to assess partnerships typically gather data on things like:

  • Purpose of the partnership: vision, mission, goals
  • Partnership structure and meetings
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Member diversity and involvement
  • Sense of community/cohesion and identify
  • Task focus and sustainability
  • Use of resources
  • Membership needs and benefits

So what does a Level 1 evaluation look like? Here’s a case study from HC Link’s efforts to assess and improve its partnership functioning:

As a partnership between three provincial organizations, HC Link understands the importance of assessing our partnership functioning as well as how we meet our goals and objectives.  Our Level 1 partnership evaluation focusses on measuring the effectiveness and efficiency of HC Link, how well we are structured/organized, how well we communicate, and the quality of our relationships.

We evaluate annually, using a mixed-method approach, with different approaches each year: surveys, key informant interviews, focus groups, analysis of service statistics and document reviews. One of the more innovative approaches we use is “Evaluation Day!” where HC Link staff are paired up and answer a series of questions in a dialogue. Immediately following, individuals answer an online survey. We found that the paired interviews develop relationships and understanding, and provide a richness that is then reflected in the online results. This would be a great approach for steering committee members! You can read more about “Evaluation Day!” in this blog post.

We use the results of our partnership evaluation to celebrate our accomplishments and highlight areas for improvement. When an area(s) for improvement is identified, we develop a strategy to help us strengthen this quality. Over our 8 years of working in partnership, we have made a number of adjustments based on the results of our evaluation. For example, we make changes to our meeting structure on an annual basis, and have made several rounds of changes to our structure to adapt to our changing environment/contexts. 


In addition to the ten tools analyzed in the Part Two resource, here are some additional resources you may find helpful:

The Wilder Collaboration Factors Inventory has an online collaboration assessment tool with research-tested success factors.

Bilodeau, Galarneau, Fournier & Potvin have developed an 18 indicator tool: Outil diagnostique de l’action en partenariat. Currently the tool is available in French only, however Health Nexus is adapting the tool for English audiences.  

Collaborative Leadership in Practice(CLIP) was a project of Health Nexus and the Ontario Public Health Association. The aim of the project was to equip leaders to be able to collaborate with diverse partners and recognize the power structures that exist in our partnerships. On the resources page, you’ll find an excellent tool- with guide- called Equity Analysis Tool of Group Membership.

HC Link’s Participatory Evaluation Toolkit and The Power of Reflection: an introduction to participatory evaluation techniques describe techniques that can be used to help assess and strengthen your parntership.

This 2017 edition of HC Link’s Digest + is on evaluation, and contains many more helpful tools and resources. 

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