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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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Policy Talk: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

By: Seher Shafiq, Parent Action on Drugs

This blog post is part of a series on the topic of developing health public policy written by HC Link and our partner organizations. If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse recently released a free online learning module to help better understand the Portfolio of Canadian Standards for Youth Substance Abuse Prevention — a resource that guides teams on how they can improve their prevention work in the area of substance abuse.

I had the opportunity to go through the online learning module, and found it concise, informative, evidence-based, and interactive.

The module provides tools to help professionals in various sectors prevent youth substance abuse. It encourages the user to recognize that regardless of what sector they are working in, the work we all do as community service providers plays a role in substance abuse prevention. The module recognizes the importance of setting a strong foundation in the “youth years”.

The module also explains risk factors that youth are exposed to when growing up (ex. Conflict with the law, relationship issues, mental illness, etc.), as well as protective factors, noting the importance of minimizing the former and promoting the latter. CCSA also notes that substance abuse prevention does both of these things.

I have to admit, the discussion about risk and protective factors reminded me of Parent Action on Drugs’ Strengthening Families for Parents and Youth program, which is an evidence-based, preventative program that promotes youth resiliency.

What interested me the most in the module was the data on costs associated with substance abuse. In 2006, Canada spent almost $40 billion on substance abuse. These costs were often associated with healthcare, law enforcement, and the court system. I also found it interesting that 30% of charges in violent crimes are associated with alcohol abuse use.

However, the most surprising data for me was that for every dollar spent on substance use prevention, the government saves $15-$18 dollars. This data should be eye-opening for policymakers. Two years ago, I did a project for the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and similarly found that reducing recidivism rates (i.e. people going back into jail after they’ve been released) through promoting preventative interventions like mental health counselling, affordable housing, and employment skills workshops can also produce similar cost savings for the government.

I can’t help but think of the billions of dollars the government could save if it prioritized prevention initiatives. Policymakers need to recognize that prevention initiatives work and show results – not just in dollar terms, but also through the positive impact on society.

As the saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

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New Resource - Strategic Planning: From mundane to meaningful

By Pam Kinzie, Consultant 

Strategic planning is not a new process. In fact, the first mention of it in the literature related to military strategy in the fourth century B.C.! The Harvard Business School presented it as a new discipline in the 1960’s and by the 1970’s the elements of strategic planning commonly used today appeared.

Those who have participated in strategic planning before may be either enthusiastic about the prospect of developing one or jaded by a previous experience that did not accomplish the anticipated results. There is also a great deal of confusion about what a strategic plan is, why and how one should be developed.

StratPlanThumbTo that end, HC Link has released a new resource on strategic planning, Strategic Planning: from mundane to meaningful. This resource provides an overview of strategic planning including why, when and how to do it, who to involve, the key elements and what to consider when developing a strategic plan. It provides a simple, clear guide to strategic planning for community groups, coalitions and small non-profit organizations drawing on literature aimed at similar organizations. The resource will also provide information that will help you to develop a plan that will not sit on a shelf, but rather act as a living document to guide your program planning, budgeting and measurement of performance. “The best plan is useless unless it is acted upon.”1

Strategic planning is defined as “a process through which an organization agrees on and builds key stakeholder commitment to priorities that are essential to its mission and responsive to the organizational environment. Strategic planning guides the acquisition and allocation of resources to achieve these priorities.”2

Another way to think of a strategic plan is as a flight plan for a pilot. Without one, the pilot and crew have no direction and no specific destination to inform the ticket-sellers or the passengers. The fueling station has no idea how much fuel to provide and the meteorologist can’t anticipate the weather en route. Indeed the mission is unclear. If you don't know where you want to go, it doesn't matter which road you take (to paraphrase the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland).

Consultants may be helpful in providing objective assistance in the overall design of your planning process to involve all key stakeholders. They can obtain sensitive information through interviews and share it in a constructive way. Their key role is to focus on the process and provide relevant background information. Some organizations find it useful to have consultants facilitate planning meetings or retreats so that the stakeholders are free to participate actively. HC Link offers customized consulting services to community groups, organizations, and partnerships to support their work in building healthy communities. HC Link’s consultants can provide valuable resources, tools, problem-solving, advice and mentorship in a variety of areas. HC Link’s consulting services are funded by the Government of Ontario and are provided free of charge, when possible. Contact us to learn more!

We hope that you will find this resource useful in your strategic planning efforts. To learn more about facilitating strategic planning sessions, please read HC Link’s ongoing blog series on facilitation techniques:

 
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1 A. Suchman, P. Williamson, and D. Robbins. (2002) Strategic planning as partnership building: engaging the voice of the community a new perspective on strategic planning. AI Practitioner Newsletter
2 M. Allison and J. Kaye. (2015) Strategic Planning for Non-Profit Organizations: A Practical Guide for Dynamic Times, Third Edition, John Wiley and Sons Inc. 1.
 
 
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Emerging trends in tobacco use among youth


By: Kristy Ste Marie and Vicki Poulios, Youth Advocacy Training Institute (YATI)


When you hear the phrase, “tobacco use”, what comes to mind? My guess would be “smoking” or “cigarettes”. People might assume that this is the most common form of tobacco use, and indeed, among adults it might be. Among youth, however, the landscape has shifted, and things are not what they used to be. On March 22nd, we went over this in our webinar: Vapes, Hookah, and Chew: Emerging Trends in Youth Tobacco Use. The webinar was developed by the Youth Advocacy Training Institute (YATI), and was a partnership between YATI, PAD, and HC Link.

The webinar started with an overview of Vapes (e-cigarettes), Hookah, and Chew, where we defined the products and discussed their evolution. For instance, we took a closer look at the three generations of e-cigarettes, and provided a quick overview of what we know about the health effects and their effectiveness as a cessation aid. One common element among all of these products is the flavours – did you know that there are over 7,764 flavours for e-cigarettes alone?! Chew and Shisha (which is the product that is placed in the hookah or waterpipe to be smoked) also come in an assortment of flavours, like wacky watermelon, or Sex on the Beach. Flavours are a deliberate strategy by Big Tobacco (those who produce, promote and profit from tobacco) to make their products more appealing and get youth hooked on tobacco from an early age.

flavours

The next section of the webinar provided an overview of new provincial legislation that regulates these products, and examples of municipal by laws, and local policies that fill in some gaps. As of January 2016, the provincial government has banned the sale of flavoured tobacco products (with menthol being phased in by January 2017), and has prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 19. This is very exciting, and a huge step forward for protecting youth from tobacco initiation. The government has also promised to soon introduce legislation that will regulate where e-cigarettes can be used, and how they can be displayed for sale, so stay tuned for that.

Next up, we had Tonya Hopkinson and DeiJaumar Clarke, from Toronto Public Health give us an overview of their youth-led action on Hookah Smoking. Their campaign assessed young people’s awareness of the harms associated with hookah smoking, and they then developed and disseminated various resources to address those knowledge gaps. They also advocated for a ban on hookah smoking in indoor public spaces in Toronto and were successful – it came into effect in April, 2015.

Finally, we had Jacquie Uprichard from the Central East Tobacco Control Area Network, with a presentation on their youth-led campaign, Know What’s In Your Mouth. This campaign aims to increase awareness about chew tobacco, decrease high-school aged youth’s intention to use it, and to reduce the use of chew among students.

We were so lucky to have these two examples of youth-led initiatives that aim to denormalize tobacco use among youth in Ontario – Big Tobacco’s favourite new customer is a young one, because then they get a customer for life. So it’s great to see youth involved in taking action, and saying “no” to Big Tobacco’s tricks.


Watch the webinar recording or view webinar resources for more information!

 

 

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Paving the Way: an online discussion on defining the policy problem

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

This blog post is part of a series on the topic of developing health public policy written by HC Link and our partner organizations. If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


This afternoon, Kim Bergeron (Health Promotion Consultant with Health Promotion Capacity Building Services at Public Health Ontario) and I were joined by 22 people to talk policy. Kim and I normally get pretty excited about the topic of policy, and we enjoyed having others to share our enthusiasm with. The purpose of the online discussion was to explore three concepts in defining the policy problem that we will be diving into more deeply over the course of the year.


The topic of the online discussion was on defining the policy problem. This is a tricky step in policy development, where often times we jump to policy solutions (or are given policy solutions by our agency/funder) rather than taking the time to explore the nature of the problem that the policy is intended to solve. It’s important to take the time to define the nature of the problem so that a) you can articulate it b) you can get the support that you need from community and stakeholders and c) you can select the policy option that best solves the problem.


Kim began by introducing the concept of determining the type of problem we have on our hands:

  1. Tame problems: are those where stakeholders agree on the nature of the problem and on the best way to solve it;

  2. Complex problems: are those where stakeholders agree on the nature of the problem, but not on how to best solve it; and

  3. Wicked problems: stakeholders agree neither on the nature of the problem, nor on its solution. They are not evil, but are those problems that are considered highly resistant to resolve. The first action to define the problem is to recognize what type of problem it is.


We then had a conversation about wicked problems, using the example of safe injection sites. We discussed that values, personal bias, political opinion and ideology often affect how people see the problem and solutions. The public and various stakeholders often disagree about the precise nature of the problem, and whether it is a downstream, mid-stream or upstream one. We discussed the importance of developing a shared understanding amongst your stakeholders, engaging them in the conversation, on the nature of the problem and the possible policy solutions to it. We identified techniques and shared resources on how to develop that shared understanding, including:

  • Dialogue mapping

  • Collective Impact: a recent blog post from Tamarack discusses the tensions in light of a “wicked problem” in Collective Impact

  • Deliberative dialogue: the National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy has a collection of resources on Deliberative Processes

  • Finding areas of agreement and building relationships from there

  • Policy narratives: an article by Steven Ney and Marco Verweij discusses “Messy Institutions for Wicked Problems: how to Generate Clumsy Solutions”


Once you have identified the type of problem to be addressed and have developed a shared, collective understanding of the problem, there is a need to identify ways to communicate this information to others to build support and/or increase awareness. We discussed communication vehicles that we have used to communicate a shared understanding of a problem:


Kim and I are looking forward to diving into this subject more deeply at our peer sharing session on April 21. During this session, we’ll hear from 3 or 4 people about their experiences in defining the policy problem, and we’ll have the opportunity to talk more about our experiences, challenges and solutions. Registration for the peer sharing session is limited to 20 people to ensure that we can have a deep conversation. Register soon!

 

 

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Video Interview with Dave Meslin on advocacy and how to influence change

At our 2015 Conference Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change we were fortunate to sit down with keynote speaker Dave Meslin, community choreographer, to ask for his views on advocacy and what we can do to influence change.

“Everyone has an idea of how to make their neighborhood or their city or world a better a place, but most people have no idea how to take that idea and act on it.” In this interview, Dave shares the one thing everyone can and should do to influence change, and two things he has learned through his advocacy work.

Watch the full 2 minute video interview below!

 

 

A few key points from the interview:

  • Advocacy is the idea of people coming together and finding their voice.
  • Unfortunately, people tend to have a negative perception of what advocacy means (such as angry people marching in the streets), but there are so many fun ways to do advocacy.
  • One thing everyone can do to influence change is to start from within, and to find out what you are truly passionate about.
  • In advocacy, it is important to find a group that is totally aligned with your values. If a group does not exist that is fighting for what you think needs to be fought for – create your own! “There is nothing more fun than political entrepreneurialism.”
 

For more on our conference, please see highlights below:

confhighlightsimage
Linking for Healthy Communities 2015 Conference Highlights
offer photos and highlights from all plenary and concurrent sessions, including links to slides and additional information. It also provides ways HC Link can help build upon the connections and momentum started at the conference.

 
 
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