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Paving the Way: A peer sharing session 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 staff 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.

Today I hosted a peer sharing session, along with Kim Bergeron from Health Promotion Capacity Building at Public Health Ontario. Called “Paving the Way”, today’s peer sharing session built on last month’s online discussion (of the same name) on defining the policy problem. Using a teleconference line and webinar platform, we had an interesting discussion about some of the approaches to and challenges with defining the policy problem. Our discussion focused around four main themes:

Language

Developing a shared and common language is important, particularly when working with a variety of stakeholders on policy development. One of our participants is working with community members, the police, landlords and service provides to develop a policy. I can imagine that such a diverse group would not only use different language, but might even use the same words to mean different things. Kim suggested drafting a glossary to create and define common terms to use throughout the policy development process. Developing a common agenda, part of the collective impact process, has useful tips for this step.

Evidence

A participant shared their experience of using evidence in the problem definition stage, by collecting data such as literature reviews, rapid reviews, community assessments etc and analyzing these data sources to identify the nature of the problem and identify potential policy solutions. This gave rise to an excellent question from another participant: Do you collect all of the evidence and then consult with stakeholders and the community, or do consult with stakeholders and the community and then collect the evidence that you need to support it?

I suggested trying to find the “sweet spot” between collecting evidence and working with the community. At HC Link, our definition of evidence includes not only published literature and population health data, it also includes lived experience and cultural knowledge. We view the experiences and input of the community and stakeholders as one source of evidence, rather than separate from it.

Another participant who does international development work in the area of maternal and child health shared that their organization does data collection and community engagement concurrently through two different departments.

Timing

Developing health public policy is one of those health promotion strategies where time seems to operate differently from the rest of our work! By that I mean the sheer length of time that it can take to develop, implement and evaluate a policy (often having to go back and repeat a step, or jump ahead when there is sudden media support around the issue, and go back again). Kim reminded us that we may have to work with the election cycle, and sometimes at different levels of government (each running on their own election cycle). And of course, carving out the time to work with partners and do policy work!

Knowledge Exchange Strategy

Kim’s takeaway from today’s peer sharing session was on the important of developing a knowledge exchange (KE) strategy that runs the entire length of the policy development process: planning, implementation and evaluation. We often stop to develop a KE strategy at certain points of the policy development process, when actually KE should be continued at each and every stage, in particular when the community and stakeholders are involved.

Resources mentioned during today’s peer sharing session

FOCUS ON: Relevance of the stages heuristic model for developing health public policies http://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/eRepository/Focus_On_Stages_Model_and_Policies.pdf

Are We Ready to Address Policy? Assessing and building readiness for policy work http://www.hclinkontario.ca/images/Are_We_Ready_To_Address_Policy.pdf

Tools from Healthy Living Niagara to track municipal decisions

http://healthylivingniagara.com/active-transportation/understanding-municipal-decision-makers/

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Comments 1

 
Kim Bergeron on Friday, 22 April 2016 12:50

Great summary of the discussion Andrea. It was helpful to have a focused conversation on defining the policy problem. Often there is not time to be so focused on one aspect of policy development so it was effective to have this opportunity to do so. Thank you to those who shared their stories, challenges and tools/resources. Well done!

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Great summary of the discussion Andrea. It was helpful to have a focused conversation on defining the policy problem. Often there is not time to be so focused on one aspect of policy development so it was effective to have this opportunity to do so. Thank you to those who shared their stories, challenges and tools/resources. Well done!