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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Possible: When the Improbable becomes the Inevitable


Written by Lorna McCue, Executive Director, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition

I’ve just returned from a week-long Collective Impact Summit, hosted by Tamarack: An Institute for Community Engagement from Sept. 28 - Oct. 2, 2015. About 250 people from all over the world and many different walks of life gathered in Vancouver to learn and share their experiences about Collective Impact.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Collective impact, it is a process of bringing people together, in a structured way, to achieve social change. Five essential elements of collective impact have been identified: a common agenda; shared measurement; mutually reinforcing activities; continuous communication; and a strong backbone; i.e. an organization or team that orchestrates the work of the group. For more information about Collective Impact please see

The theme of the summit was “Possible: When the improbable becomes the inevitable”. I admit that I didn’t really “get it” when I first read this tag line, but its meaning became clearer as I heard some of the speakers explain how they used a collective impact process to create sufficient momentum to move improbable ideas to the point where their implementation became inevitable.


collectiveimpact2The summit was an extraordinary event, filled with a great many gifts for our minds, bodies and spirits. The organizing team designed an innovative format that enabled us to collectively co-create a fabulous learning experience, tailored to our own particular needs and aspirations.

Each day started with a plenary session, featuring a musician, poet and/or artist, followed by a keynote speaker and discussion. A variety of formats were used for break-out sessions; workshops, discussion panels, tools sessions, case study presentations and learning labs. The labs consisted of a group of participants who met once or twice each day to reflect on the presentations, synthesize and share our learning, and collectively generate new possibilities for our work and personal lives.

Other optional activities included early morning yoga, walks and discussion dinners. The Learning Commons, which was a “hub” for networking, arts, crafts and music, included a Learning Wall on which participants could post their where questions, insights and reflections. A major highlight of the summit was a celebration at the Musqueam Community Centre. We were given a tour of the grounds, entertained with drumming, dancing and singing, and enjoyed an authentic Coast Salish feast.

Here are some of the thoughts that I brought back from the summit:

  • Collective Impact (CI) practice is evolving and now we need to build the capacity (e.g.; skills, methods, tools and mental models) and create the ecology (e.g., networks, policies, resources, culture) to support it.
  •  CI requires an alignment of goals and resources, and minds that are open to doing things differently.
  •  We need to involve front line workers and “clients”, not just upper management and “decision-makers” in our CI initiatives.
  • Deep and durable changes in population level outcomes require changes in complex adaptive systems.
  • The development evaluation approach can strengthen adaptive responses. 
  • Many positive yet unintended benefits can result from a CI approach; it creates space and time for relationship development and learning about context, culture, root causes and assets.
  • Shared measurement is a powerful tool for story-telling and to test our “theory of change”.
  • Use of “best practices” discourages social innovation. 
  • 61 Canadian communities have developed plans to end homelessness.
  • Wolves in Yellowstone Park changed the river - see

All the presentation slide decks, summaries of each day and extensive resources have been posted at:

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The value of swapping stories

by Gillian Kranias, Bilinugal Health Promotion Consultant - Health Nexus

For seven years, I have pursued a keen interest to learn more about storytelling. Stories can help us to better communicate, mobilize community members, and advocate with political representatives.

This year, HC Link decided to emphasize storytelling presentations during our 2015 conference. We’ll see what kind of impacts we can make. In the meantime, here are some convincing arguments in favour of storytelling that I have come to appreciate over the years:

We’re wired to understand through story.

Before the development of written language, people relied on stories to transmit and remember information. With this in mind, it is no surprise how recent science now confirms (and explains how) our brains are wired to best assimilate information through stories. Much of this fascinating science is documented in Kendall Haven’s book Story Proof: The science behind the startling power of story.

Stories help communicate complex ideas and situations.

Indigenous traditions value stories in part because they recognize the importance of a wholistic approach. It is argued that certain pieces of information lose their original meaning if isolated from their larger story context. Of course, one isolated story will never communicate all the aspects of a situation. As such, we must listen to many stories (perhaps accompanied with some facts) to arrive at a better understanding of a complex situation.

Stories can motive us to action.

Because a good story evokes emotion, it can motivate us to seek out solutions despite a difficult situation, or to garner energy and time to move forward when our resources appeared depleted. Within community movements and collaborative initiatives “public narrative” is growing in popularity as a storytelling approach which inspires community engagement. To learn more on public narrative, check out this worksheet by Marshall Ganz: Telling Your Public Story: Self, Us, Now.

Within this blog post, I have not shared a single story. I suppose I am still working my way along my learning path to better engage the power of story. Regardless, if we happen to meet up at the HC Link conference, I am certain we will share some stories – which will offer a good source of motivation for me, and a great chance to move forward our collective thinking and efforts for more equitable, healthy communities.

See you in November!

To find out more about our conference and read a full list of our storytelling presentations visit our program page 

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Racial Justice Matters - Advocating for Racial Health Equity in Canada

Written by: Meena Bhardwaj, Eden Hagos, Navita Singh & Anjum Sultana

In the last year, you would be hard pressed to find someone who has not heard about the growing Black Lives Matter movement in the US. The organization and movement was sparked by the abhorrent frequency and fatality of police brutality against black people. Specifically, statistics shows that every 28 hours, a black person has been shot and killed by the police in the last few years. We’ve heard of the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland, and sadly the list goes on and on. Their deaths and of many others has sparked outrage, protests and a national conversation about police brutality against racialized people in the US.

Canada is often painted in stark contrast to the US. While the US is a melting pot, Canadians can pride themselves as being part of a cultural mosaic. The US forces assimilation, whereas the peace-loving Canadians just want to love and respect each other, and say sorry all the time, or so the stereotype goes. However, the issue of racism, police brutality, violence and subsequent inequities present are not issues that are constrained to the US solely but extend to our borders here in Canada as well. The deaths of Jermaine Carby in Brampton, and Sammy Yatim and Andrew Loku in Toronto at the hands of police violence demonstrate this. The thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada speaks to this.

However, these deaths do not happen in a vacuum. They are but one manifestation of systems of oppression that, on the basis of the colour of one’s skin, not only disadvantage certain groups but as a result lead to the privileging of other groups. This is a very key point - the disadvantage of some allows the advantage of others. We see this process play itself out over and over again - it happens in our schools, at work, in the marketplace, and yes, even in hospitals and in broader society as it relates to the health and wellbeing of racialized and indigenous people in this country. Yet, given the influence racism can have and has had on the social determinants of health and the health care system, we have seen surprisingly limited responses from the public health community when it comes to this dire issue in Canada. Racism is not exclusive to the US, it happens here too and is has very real impacts on the lived realities of people of colour.

In fact, an article in Maclean’s shows not only does Canada have a lot of work to do when it comes to institutional and systemic racism, it often has a worse record on the issue than the US. For instance, as the chart below indicates, on several economic, social and health indicators, Aboriginal Canadians suffer more than African-Americans. From unemployment, income levels, incarceration rates, infant mortality, and life expectancy, the situation is much worse in Canada than in the US. However, even more striking is the fact that there are such inequities present at all in either country which identifies itself as a developed nation.



This in large part is due to the legacy of residential schools, and the colonial project that resulted in the ‘cultural genocide’ of Aboriginal peoples in this country, and which the recent findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report reveal and examine in greater detail. We are not exempt from the historical legacies of colonialism and slavery that have institutionalized racist policies and practices into many systems like the criminal justice system, educational system, and yes, even our health care systems. The xenophobia that has influenced certain citizenship and immigration laws also has impacts on health, for example, as we’ve seen with cuts and restrictions to refugee health care in the last few years. The troubling part is that in Canada and elsewhere, when the issue of racism is raised, action is stalled because the conversation becomes narrowly fixated on the individual and interpersonal forms of racism. Microaggressions, slurs and explicit disdain of people based on the melanin content of their complexion should never be tolerated, and it has been found to have real impacts on the health of racialized people.

What we want to do is create a space within the public health community to broaden the scope of the conversation around racism to understand the ways in which it is a public health concern. In schools of public health across the country, students will come across the ‘social determinants of health’ or the ‘upstream’ factors affecting health. We want to explore and demonstrate the ways in which different forms of racism such as the interpersonal, the internalized, the institutional, impact the health and wellbeing of people of color in Canada are possibly the most ignored social determinant of health of all. We want to also have a frank discussion on the different pathways by which racism in society causes health inequities. Specifically, we want to talk how racism leads to pathways to health inequity such as inequitable access and distribution of economic and social determinants of health; targeted marketing of commodities that can harm health like alcohol, tobacco, drugs and food; and inadequate and inappropriate medical care, some of which have been outlined in quite some detail in presentations by the Wellesley Institute.

As we peel back the layers and start to identify the root cause of health disparities between racialized and non-racialized people in this country, we can begin to see how racism influences the aforementioned pathways and replicates social inequities in health outcomes as well. With the release of several publications such as the ‘First Peoples, Second Class Treatment’ report by the Wellesley Institute to the ‘Racialization and Health Inequities in Toronto’ report by Toronto Public Health, we know that racism and racial health inequities are a hidden and serious concern with detrimental consequences for all people in Canada. We must become proactive in our efforts to put an end to these injustices. Racial justice and racial health equity must become everyone’s concern. We must act with great urgency, dedication and vision. We hope through a conference such as ours, we will be able to build a platform where we can inspire meaningful action.

As professionals in this field, and as Dr. Mary Bassett, New York Health Commissioner, eloquently outlined in a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine, we can impact the issue of racism and racial health inequities in three ways: through critical research, through internal reform and by public advocacy. At the core of public health is a commitment to social justice and health equity and we believe this conference will serve as a catalyst for action so as to change the tide with respect to racial health inequities in this country.

As future public health professionals and leaders in the field, we believe it is imperative that we not only have a thorough understanding of the issue at hand but also begin the process of mapping out assets and developing possible solutions. We believe that racial health inequities are a public health concern and we must address the consequences of racism and its root causes. As you begin to read more about this conference, you will see that not only will it provide an avenue for discussion on this critical issue but it will be solutions-focused as well. The conference we are planning has the potential to truly shift the conversation in public health, and possibly other sectors as well by re-framing racism as a public health issue.

In this conference, we are hoping to start a conversation about the ways in which the public health sector can start to take a more active role on the issue of racism and racial health inequity in this country. In the weeks ahead, we will focus on each of our conference sub-themes to show that racism is indeed a public health area of concern. The sub-themes include: Aboriginal and Indigenous Health; Gaining Skills and Tools for Anti-Racism Research and Practice; Immigrant, Refugee & Newcomer Health; Environmental Racism and Built Environment; Racialized Health in the Digital Age; & Systemic and Institutional Racism.

We look forward to engaging on this critical topic with all of you! Let us know what you think or any ideas you’d like to share by sending us a message to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or via Facebook or Twitter. And of course, please do come out to the Dalla Lana School of Public Health on October 23 and October 24th to continue the conversation, discuss solutions and explore the leadership role the public health community can take on the issue of racism and racial health inequities in Canada.

For more details about our conference, check out our website at and stay tuned for details next week on how to purchase tickets!

Follow the Co-Chairs Meena Bhardwaj, Eden Hagos, Navita Singh, and Anjum Sultana on Twitter for more insights on public health issues. Be sure to follow our conference twitter account too:



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Dave Meslin - Breaking Down Barriers to Community Action

We are thrilled to have author and “Community Choreographer” Dave Meslin as our keynote speaker for this year’s biennial conference Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change.

Dave Meslin HiRes 2

Meslin has 15 years’ experience producing grassroots, non-partisan community campaigns designed to influence the public as well as decision-makers. As a writer, researcher, community organizer and trainer, his work focuses on public-space issues, built environment, active transportation, voting reform and democratic engagement. As a professional speaker, Dave shows through lessons learned from his experiences how he has managed to shift cultures of cynicism to cultures of engagement.

Dave Meslin’s Work

Meslin has been involved in several exciting projects over the past several years including a CBC Debate, Is Democracy Broken? And a CBC Documentary: Is Politics Broken?. His 2010 TED talk The Antidote to Apathy has over 1.4 million views and has been translated into 37 languages.

He is currently writing a book called "100 Remedies for a Broken Democracy", to be published by Penguin Canada. The book discusses “100 ways to renew our ailing democracy” and provides a roadmap for people to get involved in politics and civic issues.



Keynote Address - Breaking Down Barriers to Community Action

In his keynote address, Dave Meslin will discuss the barriers that keep people from taking part in their communities, even when they truly care, and explore how to overcome public apathy and create a culture of engagement. He will speak about how to open the doors to meaningful dialogue and participation, allowing us to collectively build communities we want to live in.

With anecdotes from the non-profit sector, the electoral scene and the vibrant world of community organizing, Dave will share stories and tips about effective communication, organizing and advocacy.

Register online for Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change

Want to find out more about Dave Meslin? Check out his blog - Mez Dispenser and website - PigeonHat Industries

Follow Dave on Twitter - @meslin

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Thinking about Mental Health Promotion during Mental Illness Awareness Week

October 4-10 2015 marks Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW). MIAW is a time to reflect on, and discuss, how mental illness and substance use disorders may have an impact on our lives and communities. Part of these discussions might focus on sharing personal experiences of struggle, hope and recovery. MIAW is also an important time to consider the central role that mental health plays in our lives.

Mental health is increasingly known as something more than the absence of mental illness. The Public Health Agency of Canada describes mental health as "the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity." In this way, mental health is a concept that relates to our ability to manage life in ways that help us cope with stressors and reach our goals. Just like our physical health, we all have mental health. Mental health also requires an inclusive environment where we feel safe and are accepted for our differences. A safe and inclusive environment creates space for us to feel good about ourselves so we can develop positive emotional, spiritual and mental health and reach our full potential. Mental health is something we can all work to promote in ourselves and in our communities.

The CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre recently created a video about mental health promotion. The Public Health Agency of Canada defines mental health promotion as “the process of enhancing the capacity of individuals and communities to take control over their lives and improve their mental health. By working to increase self-esteem, coping skills, social support and well-being in all individuals and communities, mental health promotion empowers people and communities to interact with their environments in ways that enhance emotional and spiritual strength. It is an approach that fosters individual resilience and promotes socially supportive environments”.



With this definition in mind, the video outlines the importance of promoting mental health in everyone, even those who may be struggling with mental illness or a substance use disorder. The video shares a fictional story about a woman named Tara who, despite having a diagnosis of mental illness, has good mental health. Although, Tara has been diagnosed with depression – a potentially severe mental illness - her illness is now under control. Tara is on medication and she sees her therapist regularly. She likes her job, feels capable of completing her work, and is able to eat right, sleep well and exercise. She feels comfortable and respected in the places where she lives and works and she feels like the people in her life love her and understand her. By enhancing individual well-being and creating conditions where individuals are safe and respected we can work to promote mental health for everyone.

For more information on MIAW, visit the CAMH MIAW Event Page where you can also learn about in-person and social media events to participate in this week!

You can also learn more about mental health promotion resources and the CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre here: 



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Racism and Health Blog Series

Blog Series 

We are excited to announce a blog series on Racism and Health written by students at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. The upcoming 8th Annual Dalla Lana Student-Led Conference at the University of Toronto happening on October 23rd and October 24th, 2015 is titled 'Racial Justice Matters: Advocating for Racial Health Equity'. 

To kick off our blog series we have an excerpt from an article written by Anjum Sultana, a Public Health Policy Fellow, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and one of the co-chairs of the conference. This article was recently featued in the OHPE Bulletin

Racial Justice Matters: Why Racism is a Public Health Issue 

By Anjum Sultana @anjumsultana 

When it comes to the issue of racism and population health, the public health sector has a critical role to play in not only health services and the social determinants of health, but as Camara Jones and others put it, on the social determinants of equity. In a recent commentary ( in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Mary Bassett, the New York Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene, delineates three specific ways in which public health can act - through critical research, through internal inform and through public advocacy. These three distinct actions map out very nicely with recommendations and avenues of change public health can act on in the domains of research, practice and advocacy to mitigate and eradicate racial health inequities in Canada.

Research: The Need for Race-Based Data and Targeted Research Questions

One of the greatest challenges in addressing racial health inequities is the lack of targeted research to find out exactly how racial health inequities play out in Canada and usually other measures – such as immigrant status – are used as a proxy. One technique that could be used within research is to start to collect race-based data as it pertains to health. Our neighbours to the south have decades of data to show the pervasiveness of racial health inequities and we need to follow suit, especially as we are starting to become a more diverse nation. It is not enough to stop at just using the ‘race’ variable but this must be expanded in research methodology to start to measure the impacts of ‘racism’ as well. The tendency to focus on the ‘race’ variable without understanding the context of how particular races are treated differently, has resulted in negative health outcomes, should there be any, becoming attributed to belonging to a racial group. This happens as opposed to attribution to the lived realities and experiences of being a member in that society that may have several manifestations of internalized interpersonal and institutional racism.

To read the full article visit the OHPE website - 



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Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play

Last winter, in the midst of a particularly frigid deep freeze, I had the opportunity to comment on a draft Position Statement circulated by Shawna Babcock of KidActive on the role and risks of "Active Outdoor Play. I was so excited about what I was reading. I had visions of printing it off, and running it down to our local Board of Education office, waving it in front of any administrator who would listen.

While I'm normally not that impassioned by policy statements, I was this time. For the last several weeks, in the grips of an unrelenting cold winter, the students at our local school were prohibited from playing on the "back field" at break, due to the risk of slipping on the ice. Three times that week, I drove past our school when kids were on their recess. I had expected to see a flurry of winter wonderland activity: snowfort building, sliding on snowpants, broomball maybe. Instead I saw hundreds of bundled up students, standing around like unhappy penguins trying to keep warm.

When I inquired as to why they weren't allowed to play in the playground in the snow, I learned of a board-wide policy intended to protect students from slipping on the ice and hurting themselves. My immediate thought (which I didn't actually say) was "Gee - that's ironic. I spend good money every year making sure my kid does slip on the ice . It's called hockey, and yes I know it's different because he wears a helmet. " The point was made. I got the intent, but that old school Mom in me was screaming "Are you kidding?? Let's just thrown them their iPods and a pack of smokes and hope for the best." There had to be a better way.

I suggested parents could sign a waiver, I attempted to sign my child out at break and allow them to go a nearby park to build forts or play hockey. None of my workarounds were going to work - from the school's perspective. But now, here in my hot little hand, were cold, hard facts, also known evidence and research, to back up my position.

Snippets of facts with footnotes to support them:

  • "Canadian children are eight times more likely to die as a passenger in a motor vehicle than from being hit by a vehicle when outside on foot or on a bike."

  • " When children spend more time in front of screens they are more likely to be exposed to cyber-predators and violence, and eat unhealthy snacks."

The Position Statement

The position statement gave recommendations to set us on a different path (an evidence-informed track by the way) that would result in happier, fitter (and warmer) students.

Here's what the experts had to say:

Educators and Caregivers: Regularly embrace the outdoors for learning, socialization and physical activity opportunities, in various weather conditions—including rain and snow. Risky active play is an important part of childhood and should not be eliminated from the school yard or childcare centre.

Schools and Municipalities: Examine existing policies and by-laws and reconsider those that pose a barrier to a ctive outdoor play.

Provincial and Municipal Governments: Work together to create an environment where Public Entities are protected from frivolous lawsuits over minor injuries related to normal and healthy outdoor risky active play.

The report ends with this great question: In an era of schoolyard ball bans and debates about safe tobogganing, have we as a society lost the appropriate balance between keeping children healthy and active and protecting them from serious harm? If we make too many rules about what they can and can’t do, will we hinder their natural ability to develop and learn? If we make injury prevention the ultimate goal of outdoor play spaces, will they be any fun? Are children safer sitting on the couch instead of playing actively outside?

The full report is available in both English and French at:

Workshop on active play at our upcoming conference!

Active Outdoor Play Position Statement: Nature, risk & children's well-being

Presenters: Shawna Babcock, KidActive @KidActiveCanada 

Marlene Power, Child and Nature Alliance of Canada @cnalliance

Join us to learn about the history, evidence and expertise that contributed to the development of the Active Outdoor Play Position Statement. We will share insights, stories, tools and evidence-based approaches to support the connection between healthy child development and nature, risk and active outdoor play.


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SFPY in French: A delicate balance between cultural adaptations and program fidelity

Last year, PAD and Health Nexus (two members of HC Link) received funding from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to adapt the Strengthening Families for Parents and Youth (SFPY) program for Francophone communities across Ontario. The project, titled “Strengthening Francophone Youth and Families” (SFYF), includes consultations with Francophone organizations across Ontario, a Francophone Advisory Committee, and pilots of SFPY in French. The collaboration between Health Nexus and Parent Action on Drugs has so far been very successful, and the project findings are currently in the process of being disseminated across Ontario.

When done properly, cultural adaptations of family-based programs can help recruit and meaningfully engage participants, with increased participant retention of up to 40%. However, the process of cultural adaptation of a family-based program requires a delicate balance between making changes to the curriculum while maintaining program fidelity to ensure that the positive outcomes of the program are not compromised.

The SFPY program is an evidence-based, best practice program for youth aged 12-16 that has shown positive results in 21 outcome areas. SFPY is a shortened, adapted version of the 14-week Strengthening Families program by Dr. Karol Kumpfer of the University of Utah. Since SFPY was already adapted and shortened by PAD once, further adapting it to a Francophone audience was a daunting task.

Here are some of the major steps involved in culturally adapting a family skills program, which PAD and Health Nexus incorporated when adapting the SFPY program for a Francophone audience:

  1. Create a cultural adaptation advisory team to help determine how to balance the needs of the community with fidelity to the program.
  2. Translate and adapt the program curriculum to French language and culture (for example, use ideas/concepts that are more familiar or meaningful to that particular community).
  3. Translate monitoring and evaluation tools, and then measure baseline data on targeted outcomes to compare with outcomes after program completion.
  4. Ensure a strong monitoring component, which includes attendance records, feedback from program participants, fidelity to the original program, and successes/challenges.
  5. Evaluate the adaptation and incorporate lessons learned into the program to further improve it.

Interested in learning more? Sylvie Boulet (the project's coordinator at Health Nexus) will be delving deeper into this topic in a workshop titled “Applying Evidence-Based Strategies to Adapt a Program in French” at this year’s HC Link Conference. The conference theme this year is Linking for Health Communities: Action for Change. Register for the conference.

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Setting Priorities: How do we decide what to do?

Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

As soon as I hear the term “priority setting” my mind jumps to the tools or processes we can use to determine priorities. Dot-mocracy, anyone? But in doing some research on this topic to prepare for an upcoming consultation, I was reminded that there are a few more things that go into priority-setting than simply picking out the options that sound good.

Why set priorities?

First of all, setting priorities allows us to focus our efforts on what we can realistically achieve that will have impact. Otherwise, all issues seem important and we end up overworked, under resourced and run the risk of not accomplishing our goals.

In my opinion, a very critical step here is to make sure that you have a solid sense of what it is the group wants achieve together. It could be a vision statement, a goal, a mandate or a strategic priority- it doesn’t matter too much what you call it- it matters that the group has agreed on some kind of a statement of purpose that answers the question “what is it that we want to ACHIEVE as a result of our work?” This statement becomes an important touchstone that should help guide you in all decision-making moving forward.

At the prioritizing stage in the process, the community group/organization has already engaged in some research and planning conversations, and has identified or brainstormed a range of options for activities, initiatives or programs to pursue. Now it’s time to move from “blue sky thinking” to what the group can realistically achieve together.

How do we set priorities?

This excellent article from Health Promotion Capacity Building Services (HPCB) at Public Health Ontario (formerly THCU) outlines a simple, 3 step process for setting priorities BEFORE you begin:

  1. Identify criteria on which to compare options
  2. Select processes to vote/score/rank
  3. Clarify roles/ processes to make the final choice

Identify criteria

As a group, determine what criteria you’ll use to compare options and make decisions about what initiatives/activities/programs the group will move forward with. For example:

Fit with mandate/vision Urgency
Resources required Feasibility
Impact Reach
Importance Community need

This step allows us to identify how we’ll know what’s important. Otherwise we risk using the “ooooh sparkly thing!” method of prioritizing, which means we drop whatever we’re doing in favour of the new, shiny thing.

Select process to vote

Once you have your criteria, it’s time to talk tools. The tool you select will depend on the nature of your work, the type of group you’re working with and the time you have for the exercise.

Dotmocracy is a multi-voting technique. In its simplest form, you provide participants with one to three dots (usually stickers) and invite them to place a dot beside their top one to three options.

Paired comparisons is a snapshot process to be used with small to mid-sized groups to help narrow options further after dotmocracy.

Quadrant analysis is useful if you have two clear criteria upon which to make a decision (for example, effort and impact), and those two criteria can be qualified in a dichotomous way (for example, high versus low). The use of specific criteria means it is a slightly more rigorous and time-consuming method than the two previously described methods.

Grid analysis is useful when you must or might have to defend your program decisions with ample evidence. Also known as a decision matrix analysis, it is a great process for when you have many criteria.

Clarify roles/processes

At some point in time (hopefully, at the end of this process) the group is going to make a decision about how to move forward. It’s important to outline - before you actually begin your decision-making process - the roles and expectations of the group. For example, is the group making the decision, or are they making a recommendation that is going to another power authority? Is there someone in the group that has decision-making power?

Go forth and make decisions

Now that you have your vision, you’ve identified options and you’ve determined how to identify your priorities, you can go forth and start to make decisions as a group. Warning: this can be a slightly messy process. Acknowledge that this can be tricky, and create an open space for people to share their opinions and ideas. Having an external and neutral facilitator can be very helpful.

Good luck!


Setting Community Priorities Presentation. HC Link 2010

Priority Setting- Four methods for getting to what’s important. OHPE Feature article 2010

Priority Setting Process Checklist. PHO 2011

Focus on What’s Important. County Health Rankings & Roadmaps

Do you have tools, resources and/or experiences to share? Use the comment box to tell us your ideas!

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Election Talk – Why Health and Wealth are Inextricably Linked

A recent Ipsos poll asked Canadians what issue areas they felt party leaders should have a very clear plan on. Unsurprisingly, party leaders’ plans for the economy was a top issue that Canadians said they would consider before casting their ballot, but tied for second were “creating jobs” and “addressing the problems facing Canada’s health system”.

Although the economy scored first in the poll, and healthcare second, the two are inextricably linked. This week, the Toronto Star published a great opinion piece by Alex Munter about the importance of considering healthcare and economy together in the context of an upcoming federal election. We all know that healthcare has significant costs on government spending, but some of the points Munter made really made me realize that healthcare policy really is a bigger issue than party leaders are giving credit for.

Munter argues there are “worrisome signs that this generation might become sicker adults, not healthier, than us”. For example, if current trends continue, obesity, mental illness, and premature births will cost Canada $35.5 billion, $423 billion, and $27.8 billion over the next 10-20 years, respectively. I knew that mental health in Canada was a growing concern, but I had no idea that it has the potential to cost the country a whopping $423 billion. If 70% of today’s children really will be overweight or obese adults by 2040, then we are headed for trouble.

The return on investment for prioritizing healthcare is huge – preventing or delaying the onset of chronic illnesses saves time parents spend on caring for sick children, while promoting higher productivity and lower absenteeism. Further, as healthy youth age into healthy adults, they will be able to remain independent longer if they maintain strong health.

Just as investing in early childhood education has been proven to benefit the economy, a long-term investment in young people’s health today means preventing illnesses and saving tax dollars tomorrow.
With less than 60 days left until Election Day, it will be interesting to see if and how healthcare is presented during the election campaign…

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Fentanyl – A Deadly Drug on the Rise in Canada

A new bulletin published by the Canadian Community Epidemiology on Drug Use on August 11th 2015 reports that deaths from Fentanyl have been rising since 2009 across Canada.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate that is being used increasingly by both recreational and habitual drug users. It is a painkiller in patch form that is prescribed by doctors to patients in severe pain or post-surgery. It is estimated to be 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Doctors generally only prescribe the drug to cancer or chronic pain patients who have previously been treated with other opioids, as they have developed a tolerance to less potent opioids. For patients who have never taken opioids it can be very dangerous.

The drug is used in its original form by drug users, either by chewing the patches or scraping off the drug to smoke or inject it. The drug is also frequently mixed into other drugs being sold on the street such as heroin or cocaine or oxycodone. It is possibly best known as a substitution/imitation of OxyContin.

Fentanyl finds its way into the hands of user via two pathways – through diversion of pharmaceutical products and through importation of illicit pharmaceutical grade Fentanyl or fentanyl like compounds in powder form.

Recent Deaths

With the high cost and decreasing availability of OxyContin Fentanyl is being sold in a pill format and marketed as OxyContin. On August 1st a 17 year old boy died after taking Fentanyl he thought was OxyContin. A young couple in North Vancouver who were recreational users died in July 2015 after inhaling the drug. In injection drug users it is also dangerous; it is cut with heroin, unbeknownst to users, dramatically increasing the potency and risk. According to local police fentanyl was blamed for 16 overdose deaths on Sunday August 9th in Vancouver.

Deaths from 2009 – 2014

CCENDU Bulletin Deaths Involving Fentanyl in Canada, 2009–2014 reports that there were at least 655 deaths between 2009 – 2014 where Fentanyl was the cause or a contributing factor. In addition there were 1019 drug overdose deaths where Fentanyl was cited in the autopsy toxicology report. These results mean that one Canadian is dying of a Fentanyl overdose every three days.

Possible Solutions

The Vancouver Costal Health started the Know Your Source campaign aimed at educating recreational users about the risks of Fentanyl and teaching tips to prevent over dose. There is also a great solution – the drug Naloxone is an opioid antagonist and can be used to reverse the effects of overdose. The drug is easily administered by a doctor, family member or even a passerby.

This drug has the potential to save hundreds of lives and has been used for several years in the US but has been met with opposition in Canada and has not been widely adopted. A recent report Prescription for Life from the Municipal Drug Strategy Co-ordinator’s Network of Ontario urged the government to improve opioid safety and reduce deaths by expanding access to Naloxone. Ontario has had one pilot program that distributed to a limited number of ‘take home kits’ but the drug is not readily accessible. The Network recommends that the drug should be available to all Ontarians at risk for overdose and potential ‘Good Samaritans’ such as parents or friends. It should also be available to workers at in shelters, withdrawal management centers, addiction treatment centers and primary health care settings.


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Baby Boomers Are Reaching Retirement – How Will It Impact Senior Poverty?

As Canadian baby boomers reach retirement, how many of these soon-to-be seniors are financially prepared? Born between 1946 and 1965, baby boomers make up 29% of the Canadian population. Many of them have already retired and the youngest of them will reach retirement age in the next 15 years. By 2030 22% of the Canadian population will be over 65.

Canadians are living longer due to advances in medical care and overall quality of life. While returns on stock investments have been poor over the past 12 years and many Canadians many need to work past 65, most Canadians will not fall into poverty as they reach retirement. A new McKinsey report, Building on Canada’s Strong Retirement Readiness, states that 77% of households will be able to maintain their standard of living after retirement. While this is fantastic news and puts Canada well above many other developed countries, this still leaves 23% of households at risk of falling into poverty.

It should be noted this report does not take into account the amount of income it will take seniors to live comfortably in retirement. Some seniors will be relying solely on Guaranteed Income Supplements (GIS), Old Age Security (OAS), and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

Who is At Risk?

Two main groups are at risk – middle-high income earners who have not planned and saved for retirement by contributing to RRSPs and personal saving accounts and low-income earners, who have not been able to contribute to RRSP or personal savings and will reply solely on their government pension. Many lower-income and middle income families have not been able to adequately save for retirement. Reasoning behind this include an increasingly consumer lifestyle, labour market inequalities, and changes in family-structure (i.e. many single-parent families).

Women are particularly vulnerable

A new study by economists Curtis and Rybczynski, 2015 found that many female baby boomers are not ready for retirement. Many baby boomer women have a higher education and entered the work force after school but took time off to raise children. This created a rising labour supply but not an increase in demand, resulting in lower wages. Low-wages and their M-shaped career pattern mean that many women have very little retirement savings. These women are left relying on their husband’s petition meaning that divorce or the death of their spouse could leave them at risk of poverty.

According to a report  by the OECD,  senior poverty is increasing in Canada, and the most vulnerable group are single women, especially those who are widowed or divorced.

Senior Poverty

Compared with other OECD countries Canada still has one of the lowest rates of senior poverty but there has been an increase in the past few years. The OECD explains the reason for the disparity in income levels seen in Canadian seniors –

Incomes from capital, including private pensions, represent a larger share: around 42% – well above the OECD average of 18%. As private pensions are mainly concentrated among workers with higher earnings, the growing importance of private provision in the next decades may lead to higher income inequality among the elderly (OEDC, 2013).

A report by Statistics Canada using from the new Canada Income Survey (CIS) shows that 12.1% of seniors 65 and older are living below the poverty line, the rate for single seniors is 28%.

There are significant social safety nets in place for seniors in Canada, which is great – however it is debateable whether they are sufficient to keep seniors out of poverty.

Here is a breakdown of the programs: 

Guaranteed Income Supplements (GIS) – supplement available to low-income seniors

Old Age Security (OAS) – guaranteed pension paid monthly by the government to individuals over the age of 65 who meet the residency requirements. You do not need to have ever worked to receive this.

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) – Government pension plan that is contributed to by employees throughout the lifetime.

If a single individual were to receive the maximum GIS and OAS payments their monthly allowance would be - $1330.80. This is the reason 28% single seniors are living in poverty.

Policy Changes

CARP, a seniors advocacy organization, has called on financial ministers to make policy changes that will increase retirement security and reduce pension reform.

  • Creating a national supplementary Universal Pension Plan (UPP) with reliable, predictable benefits.
  • Eliminate mandatory minimum withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs).
  • Replace OAS and GIS benefits that will be due to increasing OAS eligibility age.
  • Support single seniors, with particular regard to older women, with an equivalent to spousal allowance for single seniors in financial need.
  • Help low-income workers make pension contributions.
  • Consider a national Guaranteed Minimum Income to reduce poverty and replace multiple, complex, administratively expensive welfare programs.
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Racism & Mental Health - Why Andrew Loku's Shooting Matters to Health Promoters

Guest post by Anjum Sultana - MPH Student at UofT's Dalla Lana School of Public Health 


What does it say about Toronto when politicians care more about‪ #‎DeadRaccoonTO than a police shooting?
On July 5th 2015, Andrew Loku, a father of five and an immigrant from South Sudan, was undergoing a mental health crisis when within 2 minutes of police interaction, he was fatally shot by the Toronto Police Service at his apartment building. The same apartment building that has units subsidized by the Canadian Mental Health Association for folks suffering from mental illness.

This is not just some one-off accident or unfortunate incident. Since 1988, over 50% of the deaths by Toronto Police Service of those experiencing a mental health crisis have been Black males. Over the past 26 years, 73% of those in mental distress killed by Toronto Police Service have been non-white. The statistics are staggering yet nothing is being done, the lack of public outrage is deafening.

It's time people wake up and take notice and understand that racism is an issue here in Canada as well. It is in all of our best interests to actively push our public servants to take a race-based lens when creating policy and when people have been vociferously advocating for recommendations, like the African Canadian Legal Clinic, you support them wholeheartedly and take active steps to amplify the voices of others.

Too often we stay in our 'issue bubbles' and fail to see how things are connected and the least we can do to demonstrate our solidarity is to show up - come to the vigil, donate to the fundraiser, discuss these issues with your friends and family, put it on your social media, actually engage in these issues. By not doing so, your silence speaks volumes and tells others, your fellow friends and colleagues that their struggle and fight to survive and be seen in this world, doesn't matter. Don't do that - do something. Show up.

If you have the capacity to, please support Andrew's family and help pay for his funeral. Canadian Mental Health Association and Across Boundaries has set up a funding campaign, so please support!


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Is Full Reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples Even Possible?

Let me start by saying this: I am embarrassed that I indirectly benefit from the oppression of our country’s indigenous people.

As many know, just over a month ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) published a scathing report about the impact of 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children that were forced to attend residential schools for over a century. The TRC found that the practice of residential schools amounted to “cultural genocide”, whereby the Canadian government intentionally destroyed the social and political structures and practices of Canada’s indigenous peoples in an effort to assimilate them. The list of policies by the government which allowed this to happen can be found in the TRC Report’s summary.

Reading about the physical, mental and sexual abuse of residential schools is painful - in some residential schools, the death rate was up to 75%.

What’s even more painful is this colonial history has meant that poverty, unemployment, abuse, and poor health are all rampant in Aboriginal communities today. Aboriginal families have over double the unemployment rate compared to non-Aboriginal families, and over half of First Nations children living off reserve live in low-income families. It comes as no surprise that low-income and inadequate housing is a risk factor that is linked to poor mental health and a disproportionately high number of Aboriginal children in the child welfare system.

Aboriginal people are also almost 9 times more likely than other Canadians to end up in the criminal justice system. As of last month, over one third of all women in prison are Aboriginal, while Aboriginals represent a tiny 4% of the overall Canadian female population. For First Nations children, this has significant implications, as the majority of Aboriginal inmates are parents, and often single parents.

In designing health-related interventions for Aboriginal communities, it is important to keep in mind the historical impact of colonization and trauma. Meaningful engagement with Aboriginal communities requires processes to be Aboriginal-led, where Aboriginal communities have decision-making authority. It is also important to recognize holistic approaches rooted in Aboriginal culture, which hold that, “Aboriginal people live and grow in families and communities with needs that span the full spectrum of spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional realms”. These are just a few of the recommendations I have found online, and I encourage anyone who is designing a health intervention for the Aboriginal community to consult with all relevant stakeholders on the best way to do so.

The report Open Hearts, Open Minds by the Best Start Resource Centre at Health Nexus notes the importance of ‘cultural safety’, which “recognizes power imbalances, political ideals and de-colonization efforts. It involves an understanding that the cultural values of the client are affected by their political past”. I think this is the most important aspect of working in Aboriginal communities – recognizing past traumas and putting Aboriginal stakeholders in a decision-making capacity.

While health interventions may improve outcomes in Aboriginal communities, the TRC Report details 94 “Calls to Action” to help the process of reconciliation. Even if we fulfill those 94 recommendations to redress the legacy of residential schools, will that make up for the dire situation of our indigenous peoples today? Clearly, we have a long way to go.

“Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem. It is a Canadian problem and involves all of us.”
– Justice Murray Sinclair, TRC Chairman


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Collective Impact: A way to build community together

By Heather Keam, Community Animator, The Learning Centre, Tamarack

I have been working in the field of community engagement for many years and I thought that I knew it all...that was until I attended the Collective Impact Summit in Toronto 2014 and realized that I have a lot to learn.

Collective Impact is not just a way of doing community engagement, it’s a foundation on how to do it. We are so used to building community and then asking people to live, work and play in them. It is time that we stop building and start having conversations on what is community, who is community and how can we do it together. This is not an easy task and won’t happen overnight.

I attended the Collective Impact Summit last year in Toronto and was inspired to do my work differently, to have conversations, to look at my community as a whole and not just pieces of it. There was almost 300 people from across the world who attended the summit and in those 5 days I learned more than in my 13 years doing community engagement. This event changed me professionally and is a must event for 2015 and worth every penny!!I would recommend this conference to everyone who is trying to make won’t be disappointed.

Learn more about this year's summit 

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Faith-based Organizations Working Together to Combat Poverty

Faith-based groups have a long history of charitable work providing for the needs of those less fortunate. Historically, faith-based groups provided for the basic needs of those living in poverty and filling gaps in service delivery by running food banks, homeless shelters and community programs. Toronto’s Yonge Street Mission has been serving the poor since 1896 and now provides a variety of programs including services for homeless youth, supportive housing and community building. Holy Blossom Temple has been involved in social action since the mid 1800’s including advocacy, education, and direct services. The Muslim Welfare Centre provides services to those in need both in Canada and internationally. Programs include Halal Food and Essential Item Baskets, The Regent Park Lunch Program and Project Ramadan, a volunteer led group that provides families in need with food for a month.

Now numerous religious groups are coming together to combat poverty. Faith in the City, a multi-faith symposium for faith communities was held on April 30th 2015 at Toronto City Hall. Faith in the City began in 2013 and brings together faith leaders and city officials to encourage faith communities to work across boundaries with each other and with the City to address social issues. This year’s symposium was focused on poverty reduction, with a specific emphasis on child poverty. The result was Faith Communities’ Charter and Action Plan on Poverty Reduction. The action plan urges City Counsel to address:

1. Employment and Income Security
2. Affordable Housing
3. Affordable Transit
4. Access to Services
5. Food Security
6. Fair and Sustainable Taxation

Click here to read the full action plan.

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CCSA Releases Report on Cannabis Use in Youth

Cannabis is the most commonly used drug among Canadian youth, aged 15-24, and our previous work has revealed that many of these young people think that cannabis is natural and safe. Our latest report delivers a response to these findings and will be used to dispel this type of misinformation.  On June 17th, CCSA released the sixth issue in its signature Substance Abuse in Canada series, The Effects of Cannabis Use during Adolescence.  This report, compiled by well-known and respected experts in this field,

  • provides evidence that marijuana is not a benign substance

  • explains that regular cannabis use seriously disrupts the developing brain and is related to
    • poor academic performance and deficits in attention and memorysignificantly increased risk of motor vehicle collisions

    • significantly increased risk of motor vehicle collisions
    • experiencing psychotic symptoms and developing schizophrenia
  • reveals that cannabis can be addictive
  • discusses how primary care providers are optimally placed to screen youth for problematic cannabis use
  • outlines that therapies that focus on psychological well-being have resulted in reductions in cannabis use among youth as compared to use before treatment

To make informed decisions about cannabis use, youth and their support systems need to be aware of both the neurological and behavioural effects of cannabis.

Did you know cannabis could cause these harms, and even be addictive? Do your young clients? Do you have the information or resources to identify, treat, or refer youth with a cannabis use disorder? What would help you use this information?

Check out the report in short or the full technical report, if you would like to learn more about how cannabis affects a youth’s brain and the impacts on cognition, behaviour, driving abilities mental health, addiction and treatment options.

Contact me to chat about how you could use the findings in the report in your work - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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Webinar Recap: First Steps to FLS Planning

Recently HC Link presented the latest webinar in its French Language Services (FLS) Capacity Building series. We have delivered a number of these, on topics such as creating a bilingual organizational culture, recruiting and retaining bilingual staff, and engaging Francophone communities. While we’ve heard that this information is helpful, we’ve also heard that organizations need to get a better sense of where to START when planning FLS. To that end, we developed a new webinar called “First Steps to Planning French Language Services”, and will release a resource on the same topic later this summer.

Planning to deliver FLS can seem overwhelming, particularly if your organization is new to working in French/with Francophone communities. One of the important overarching principles to keep in mind is that you can start small, and grow delivery of French services over time. It’s also critical to work closely with partner organizations (be they Anglophone, bilingual or Francophone) who have close relationships with Francophone communities and deliver services in French.

Keeping those two things in mind, here are a few of the necessary steps to keep in mind as you begin your FLS journey. These steps will be expanded on in our upcoming resource on this topic.

FLS Planning Graphic

First Steps in FLS Planning Slides | Recording

Helpful Resources from HC Link

This new resource, Getting Started With……Planning French Language Services lists all of HC Link’s existing resources on FLS and engaging and working with Francophones.

Helpful Resources from our Members and Partners

HR Support Kit: Pathway to Bilingual Services developed by Risfssso

Moving towards a bilingual organization developed by Health Nexus and Reflet Salveo

Ontario 400 Website celebrating 400 of Francophone presence in Ontario



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Partnership Webinar Series Recap

On April 23rd, May 7th and May 28th, HC Link delivered three webinars as part of a series on Collaborative Partnerships. Hosted by HC Link’s Kim Hodgson and Gillian Kranias, every webinar offered the audience a mix of stories from the field, a bit of theory, and tips and tricks to optimize successful collaborative partnerships.

Each part covered one or more of the activities found in figure 1. These six activities work together with the model to create successful partnerships.


Overall, a major lesson to be learnt from the series is that there is no one-size-fits-all model to follow for partnerships. Even though hosts offered a model (figure 1), each activity is very adaptable and flexible to the unique needs of collaborative partnerships. Collaboration between organizations and community members vary depending on the nature and scope of the project. However, here are some key elements to keep in mind throughout every collaborative partnership that were highlighted in almost every webinar:

  • Communicate: this is key. In each webinar, all speakers spoke about the importance of communication. It is vital for all parties in collaborative partnerships to communicate their vision, expectations and their level of involvement in a project. Without clear and continuous communication, collaborative partnerships can become challenging and inefficient. Therefore, make sure to share with your partners your thoughts right from the start and throughout the collaboration in order to avoid future issues.
  • Listen: while communicating your perceptions is important, being on the receiving end is also essential. Listening is important throughout all collaborative partnership activities. You need to be able to listen to your partners when connecting, creating a common vision and fostering understanding. You need to listen to the community when figuring out what are the priority needs and where you should focus future efforts, as well as what is working and what isn’t of the current projects being carried out. As much as speaking up about your own thoughts and ideas is important, being open to receiving those of others are as equally crucial for successful collaborations.
  • Flexibility and adaptability: Not all partners in collaboration will have the same perceptions, expertise, resources and levels of involvement. This is why communication and listening is so important! Every partner needs to be understanding and flexible of other partners’ position in the collaboration. Doing so will avoid hurdles and unexpected loads of work.
  • Self-reflect: this key element was brought up several times throughout speakers discussions during the webinars. Self-reflection is not only important during the evaluation part of partnerships, but at the start and throughout. It is important to self-reflect on the position you want to take in collaboration at the start of a partnership and while preparing the work plan. It is important to self-reflect on the progression of the collaboration once the project is implemented. It is important to self-reflect on the deliverables of the collaboration at the end, and on future directions. Self-reflection should be integrated in all parts of the collaboration!
  • Commit: commitment from all parties of the collaboration is essential for the success of the partnership. All partners need to stay committed to the project to ensure success. This is where communication, listening and self-reflection are important players. Each partner needs to understand their own level of commitment within the collaboration and communicate these to other partners. Each partners needs to listen to other partners on these matters. By doing these, it will ensure that all partners are comfortable with their roles and levels of involvement, and ensure that each partner will stay committed to the partnership and the project.
  • Celebrate: while only the third webinar touched upon celebration in greater depth, every story from the field shared some form of celebration that they did towards a collaborative partnership project. Whether it was simply cheering the success of their collaboration or telling the audience of a gathering of the community to celebrate a project, celebrating the positives of collaboration was incorporated by all members. So remember, celebrate your successes, whether big or small!

 Learn more, listen to the webinars and access the resources!

Part 1: The Genius of Partnerships: New relationships & diverse perspectives within a common vision

Guest Speakers:
Joanne Dubois, Community Developer at Grand River Community Health Centre
Stephanie Glyon, works with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and is the Regional Implementation Coordinator with the Durham Service Collaborative

Part 2: An Eye on the Vision, an Eye on the Road: Working together for Change

Guest Speakers
Amy Mak, public health nurse at the Middlesex-London Heath Unit
Jane Harrington, Injury prevention specialist at the London Health Sciences Centre.

Part 3: Thinking Back, Moving Forward: Celebrate and Evaluate…to Renew

Guest speakers:
 Denise Bishop-Earle, works with Art Starts and is Co-Chair for the Lawrence Heights Inter-Organizational Network (LHION)
Owen Hinds, Pathways to Education at Unison Health and Community Services, and is a steering committee member for the LHION


Also check out our revised resource on Parternship Development


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Webinar Recap: YouthREX’s 10 Ways to Meaningfully Engage Underrepresented Youth

On May 28th, YouthREX hosted a webinar titled “10 Ways to Meaningfully Engage Underrepresented Youth”. It was a great learning event that included perspectives from service providers, social enterprises (such as Spoke N’ Heard), academia, and of course, youth!

Without further ado, here are YouthREX’s top 10 tips for meaningfully engaging underrepresented youth:

  1. Let youth self-identify. Labels like “marginalized”, “at-risk”, “vulnerable” can be strong words, and these labels are all circumstantial.

  2. One-off consultations with youth don’t create youth leaders. We need to embed youth in decision making, advising and brainstorming processes.

  3. Create the sandbox from the get-go. Give youth creative freedom to express themselves       

  4. Recognize your power and their power. Three powers are always at play – personal, local, and global. Power can come in the form of speaking English, being Caucasian, living in a developed country, and how you carry yourself. Be aware of micro-aggressions
  5. Experience is not a form of payment. Compensate youth for their time (ex. Public transit, food, snacks). Don’t expect young people have the time and resources to commit to meetings.

  6. Silence is a part of the conversation. Sometimes young people only speak when ask or are prompted to. So, ask for youth contributions. It can be intimidating to bring new ideas when you are the only young person in the room.

  7. Make all resources known. Marginalized youth may not always feel safe because of various forms of violence they have experienced in the past. Make them aware of the available resources before they have to ask, so it’s as safe a space as possible to work optimally. For example, tell youth if you will be paying for lunch or subway fare.

  8. Give a job title to youth who are involved in your organization. This clarifies responsibilities and helps youth in future jobs if they are able to say exactly what they did while working with you.

  9. Get to know the youth’s interest and goals. If they enjoy what they are doing, they will offer more to the organization.

  10. Appreciate and foster their intangibles. Marginalization prompts skills that may not be tangible, such as a distinct world view, knowledge of neighborhood experience, youth perspective, or creativity they may have developed due to lack of resources.

The second part of the webinar focused on an academic perspective on youth engagement, and was presented by Rebecca Houwer. Rebecca has produced a model of youth engagement on promising, evidence based practices to build leadership capacity of marginalized youth. She noted that structurally marginalized youth want opportunities to be part of their communities and have access to share in the work of addressing root causes of marginalization. When developing models for youth engagement, there is a danger of reproducing a patriarchal, euro-centric, adult-centric model that is exclusionary. Youth engagement needs to focus on skill development that moves young individuals, and although we may aim for a collaborative approach to leadership development, we also need to integrate personal and social development needs. Equally as important, Rebecca noted that it is important to contextualize programs within youths’ individual, cultural, political and gendered experiences. Lastly, I found it interesting that Rebecca mentioned the need to cultivate 21st century skills when working with youth, such as collaboration, innovation, and participatory practices, among others. With the world of work changing, developing these skills is crucial.

Overall, it was a great webinar jam packed with tons of resources and information. I’m definitely looking forward to attending YouthREX’s next webinar! 

You can watch a recording of the webinar here 


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