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Resource Profile: Engaging Marginalized Communities: Honouring Voices and Empowering Change

This blog is one of a series profiling some of HC Link’s “oldie but goodie” resources from the past several years.

Several years ago, we partnered with the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO) to profile work they had been doing to engage marginalized communities within local Healthy Communities Partnership activities. engagingmargThe resulting resource, Engaging Marginalized Communities: Honouring Voices and Empowering Changeby Rishia Burke, has become a bit of a touchstone for me and the work I do with populations and communities across Ontario. Published in 2011 in English and in French, the resource summarizes the project, the engagement techniques used, and provides insights into the benefits and challenges of engaging populations who feel marginalized. 

The first lesson that I keep from this resource is the use of the term “marginalized”. Often in health promotion, we have cautions about the words that we use to talk about specific populations and communities. I often refer to the resource Let’s Talk: Populations and the power of language, which explains that the words we use to talk about communities (such as marginalized, at-risk, racialized etc) can have power implications for those who use the words as well as those who are being described. Rishia approached her work in Halton Region with that same lens: she was uncomfortable using the term “marginalized” until she understood that the community responded to this word: they wanted to be called marginalized because that’s how they felt: on the margins. Outside, excluded.

In my HC Link work I talk about building trust relationships a lot. What Rishia reminds me is that with some groups, building trust can take longer. With populations that have little power, feel like they are not heard or respected, and feel isolated, building trust before proceeding in any kind of engagement is critical. Rishia recommends going to where the people you are trying to reach are: in her case, Rishia went to food banks and chatted with those waiting in line. She went to community barbeques and coffee shops. Rishia shared information with those she was developing relationships: she talked about her own childhood, her parenting experiences, and her project. This is in stark opposition to our habit of inviting communities to our spaces, where they may not feel safe, where they may not be able to easily travel to, where they feel or fear they may not be welcomed.

The SPNO project recommends these key steps to engaging marginalized communities:

steps 2 engage marg

I hope you’ll be able to apply the learnings in this resource as I have. And if this topic is of interest to you, come to our November conference Linking for Healthy Communities: With everyone, for everyone where we will reflect, learn and share about equity, diversity and working across difference. 

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