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Please note: opinions in posts are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of HC Link or our funder.

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Facilitating a Priority-Setting Exercise

By Kim Hodgson, Community Consultant

This is the fifth blog post in a series on facilitation techniques and approaches that will be written by various HC Link staff over the next while.

Community groups and coalitions often request the services of an HC Link consultant to assist with strategic planning and priority setting. This is an exciting and often challenging activity for groups; they’re eager to deliberate and decide on where to put their energies, but at the same time, it’s easy for groups to become thoroughly muddled about what, in fact, they are comparing and ranking.

This is where a good facilitator can help you design a decision-making process that makes sense to your group, is transparent, and where decisions made can be justified and documented.

New partnerships and collaboratives may approach priority setting somewhat differently than those groups that have a long history and a list of initiatives and activities underway and completed. So where to start?

In the case of a new partnership trying to decide which activities support their newly crafted vision, mission and strategic directions, I always start the broader “buckets” – in this case the strategic directions or broad, overall objectives. It can be helpful to ask the group if there are particular strategic directions (i.e. communications, fundraising, partnership development etc.) that they feel are more important to focus on sooner than later. In some instances, the group will decide that there should be a particular emphasis on one or two, but more frequently, there’s agreement that all of the strategic directions need to be addressed.

In the case of existing partnerships that have a history of planning and implementing activities, it can be helpful to take stock of what’s working well or not, prior to generating ideas for future activities. This can be done through Appreciate Inquiry as outlined by Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition Executive Director Lorna McCue. This focuses the group’s attention on what is working well and what could be.

Generating Ideas

The next step is for the group to generate a list of activities that will support each of the strategic directions. Several methods or processes work well for generating these ideas, including the "1-1-2-4-all" exercise from Liberating Structures that Andrea Bodkin has written about previously in her blog on Priority Setting . The Appreciative Inquiry approach has this step built into its process.

Some groups like to generate activities by doing a mini-visioning exercise around the question: If we are successful in what we are doing in 3 years, what will be in place?” What do we need to do to get there? What activities need to be put into place? Are these activities the same activities that we are doing now? If not, what should we be doing?

Sometimes I have one group generate possible activities for one strategic direction, or sometimes everyone participates in a “free for all” – writing down any and all activities that come to mind. Regardless, the intent of this process is for the group to generate as many good ideas as possible.

The next step is to have participants present their ideas to the rest of the group, and visually group like ideas together. The group decides which strategic direction the activity supports, and we simply tape an index card or a piece of paper with the name of the activity under the relevant strategic direction.

In many cases, the group will come up with new ideas and activities that aren’t directly related to their current strategic directions or objectives. It’s important to capture these ideas in a way that shows that they are innovative, but don’t fit easily into previously agree upon areas of focus. The group can then decide if it’s worthwhile to broaden their objectives to include the suggested activity, or put it in a “parking lot” for consideration at a later time.

Determine how activities relate to each other

As ideas come forward, it’s common to find that one idea is a discrete activity within a larger activity i.e. “social media” and “webpage development” are components of a “communication plan.’’ In other cases, discrete activities support a common initiative (like “communication plan”) but one activity naturally occurs before another, e.g. development of key messages likely happens before writing media releases etc. The clearer a group can see how the possible activities relate to each other, the easier it is for them to do the final prioritizing. Otherwise, people are in the baffling predicament of having to compare, rank and choose from very different suggestions, e.g. "encourage more non-organized sports for youth 12 – 15 years" vs. “establish a Twitter account”.

Only when you have a the ideas/activities visually pieced together so that it makes sense to everyone should you proceed with having people cast their vote. I hope that by understanding these potentially confusing, “tricky parts” of priority setting that you’ll be able to carefully craft a priority setting exercise for your group that is logical, clear to all, and that ultimately gives the group clear direction for moving forward.

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Appreciative Inquiry

By Lorna McCue, OHCC
This is the fourth blog post in a series on facilitation techniques and approaches that will be written by various HC Link staff over the next while.

In recent years, HC Link consultants have increasingly been using an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach in working with community organizations, partnerships and networks. We find that it fits well with our overall Healthy Communities approach, which focusses on a creating a shared vision of a preferred future, developing asset-based strategies, and undertaking collective action. Whether we are working on governance, organizational development, strategic planning or policy development, AI principles can be brought into play with positive, energizing results.

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

AI is a powerful vehicle for setting in motion a wave of positive organizational change. It is based on a very simple premise: that organizations grow in the direction of what they focus their attention on.   The practice of AI is grounded in an exploration of questions that will uncover an organization’s best practices and innovations, and the conditions that allow it to thrive. It then applies these findings to the daily processes and practices of the organization’s work.

AI was developed in the mid 1980’s by David Cooperrider and his colleagues at Case Western Reserve University. Cooperrider saw that the traditional problem solving approaches did not lead to expanding human horizons and possibilities. He suggested that we need forms of inquiry and change that will help us discover what could be, rather than try to fix what is.  AI is based on the idea that organizational systems are not like machines that can be taken apart and fixed, but rather are social systems. As such, they are more like organisms, which are healthiest when they are focused on their positive life-giving characteristics, rather than their problematic aspects. Thus, AI seeks to “create processes of inquiry that will result in better, more effective, convivial, sustainable and vital social systems. It assumes this requires widespread engagement by those who will ultimately implement change.”

The initial set of principles for AI was that the inquiry should begin with appreciation, and be collaborative, provocative, and applicable. For many years Cooperrider resisted writing a “how to” book on AI, and encouraged people to be innovative in applying these principles, with the result that many different methodologies have been developed. However, he has since published a number of work books containing background information, examples, tools and resources, which are available or referenced on the Appreciative Inquiry Commons.

Assumptions of AI

  1. In every society, organization or group, something works.
  2. What we focus on becomes our reality.
  3. Reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple realities.
  4. The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way.
  5. People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the known).
  6. If we carry parts of the past forward, they should be what is best about the past.
  7. It is important to value differences.
  8. The language we use creates our reality.

Two Contrasting Approaches for Organizational Change

Deficit Based Thinking
(Organization has problems)

Leads to problem solving approach

Asset Based Thinking
(Organization has solutions)

Leads to Appreciative Inquiry Approach

What is wrong
  • How to fix the problem
  • Focused on the past
  • Analysis of facts and forces
  • Problem driven
  • Scarcity of resources
  • Resistance and withdrawal
What is right
  • How to build on the positive
  • Focused on the future
  • Development of relationships
  • Vision led
  • Abundance of resources
  • Energy and excitement

The Five “D” Process

AI is an ongoing, iterative cycle consisting of five phases: define, discovery, dream, design and destiny. The “define” phase is sometimes excluded, as it may happen only once within a particular AI process, while the other phases may be repeated several times. The following description of an AI process is based on a consultation provided to the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition by Michelle Chambers in 2007.

Reframe a challenge into a positive topic of inquiry and choose questions for participants to ask each other that will include the whole organizational system.

Discover: “the Best of What Is”
Identify the organization’s best practices, life-giving forces or root causes of success. Participants pair up and interview each other to gain new insights into what drives the organization, what its capabilities are and what contributions its members can make to the world. Questions are usually focussed around why they were attracted to the organization, peak experiences and what they value about the organization. They then identify key themes and best practices for the organization.

Dream: “What Might Be”
Moving from pairs into small groups, create images of what life in the organization would look like if the organization’s best practices became the norm rather than the exception. Extrapolate from “the best of what is” to envision “what might be”. Don’t just focus on incremental changes (i.e. more of the same) but be provocative; create transformational images of the future. These “dreams” are grounded in what participants know to be their own and the system’s capabilities. Once the visual image is complete, write a macro provocative proposition; i.e. one or two statements that capture the essence of the “dream”.

Design: “What Should Be”
As a large group, identify the high-leverage changes the organization would have to make in its systems, processes, roles and metrics to support the “dream”. This phase is more than just breaking down the dream into short-term actions; it requires figuring out how to align our systems, process and structures with our dream. Move into small groups for further dialogue on how we can make this happen.

Destiny: “What Will Be”
Identify challenges, innovations and facilitating forces for the reconstruction of the organization. What projects or initiatives do we need in order to deliver on those action plans and achieve our end goal? Who will initiate the next steps?


The Power of AI

AI has become very popular over the past ten years, due to the positive response it has received from AI participants all over the world. The power of AI seems to be the result of a combination of attributes, including:

  • the focus on the positive
  • the emotional responses of people
  • a deeper sense of hopefulness and optimism
  • the grounding that AI has in the past
  • the clarity of the future direction
  • the engagement of the whole system
  • an underlying movement toward action

Using AI in Strategic Planning - SOAR

AI is an exciting alternative to traditional strategic planning approaches. Its engaging, strengths based approach to organizational change creates a climate in which participants can re-invent the organization so that it really works. As an alternative to an analysis of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT), Jackie Stavros developed the SOAR framework, which invites us to look at Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and (measurable) Results. SOAR doesn’t just involve senior leadership or the board of directors; it invites all involved in implementing the plan to participate and influence the planning process. Direct participation in the planning increases the quality and timeliness of goals being achieved. The organization will also be more resilient and adaptive to changes in the external and internal environment because its strengths, resources, skills and assets are well understood.

Evaluation of AI

Hundreds of significant appreciative inquiries have been documented and described at conferences, in journals and books, in the AI Practitioner (a quarterly magazine), and through the Appreciative Inquiry Commons (a website), including such diverse organizations as World Vision, the U.S. Navy and GTE/Verizon.

Empirical assessments of AI are limited, but are more plentiful than for most organizational change strategies. There is a growing body of longitudinal and critical research that is identifying moderating and mediating conditions that affect how AI is best done and under what conditions, opportunities and limitations. AI does not magically overcome any of the requirements for effective leadership, resourcing and skilled facilitation. However, given its extensive use over two decades and enthusiastic responses from participants, it has become a highly credible and highly valued approach.


Chambers & Associates. Appreciative Inquiry Overview; summary prepared for the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition. 2007

Gervase R. Bushe The Appreciative Inquiry Model in E.H. Kessler, (ed.) Encyclopedia of Management Theory, Sage Publications, 2013, pg. 1 of excerpt found at; accessed February 16, 2016

Gong Lucy. Appreciative Inquiry. Communication4Health accessed February 16, 2016

LeaderSkill Group: Appreciative Inquiry.; accessed February 16, 2016

McKenna, Catherine, Joanne Daykin, Bernard J Mohr and Tony Silbert. Strategic Planning with Appreciative Inquiry: Unleashing the Positive Potential to Soar. Innovation Partners, 2007.; accessed February 16, 2016

Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University. Appreciative Inquiry Commons, accessed February 16, 2016.

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Breaking The Ice: putting a little fun into working with groups

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

This is the third blog post in a series on facilitation techniques and approaches that will be written by various HC Link staff over the next little while. This particular segment focuses on ways to use icebreakers and active games when working with groups.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love icebreakers and games. I have dozens of them ready to go, ready to whip out at a minutes notice. I’m often asked not only to lead icebreakers at events, but also for help from others who must lead them. While icebreakers can be (and should be!) fun, they are not child’s play. It takes a bit of work to make icebreakers meaningful and well as fun. In this post I’ll talk about a few of the things to keep in mind when planning icebreakers and active games, and I’ll also list out a few of my favourites.

Be clear on the purpose. It’s critically important to think about the reason that you want to include icebreakers or active games into your community processes, meetings or events. Understanding the purpose of including these types of activity will help you to select the appropriate one. While fun is definitely one reason, an icebreaker can actually help to deepen the participant experience, introduce content, and even illustrate concepts. In my experience, I’ve found three basic categories of icebreakers and games. At the end of this post I’ll give some examples for each category:

  1. To get to know the group, or for individuals within the group to get to know each other
  2. Physical activity and fun!
  3. To introduce, demonstrate or apply concepts that will be explored in the meetings

Know the personality and preferences of the group. All groups- like all individuals- have personalities. Some groups are formal and like to get down to business, other groups like to have fun and enjoy experiential learning. It is very, very important to understand the personality and preferences of the group (and the personalities within it) when selecting your activities. For instance, I probably wouldn’t play Musical Chairs with a group of business leaders or executive directors, but there are groups that would enjoy it! To help with selecting the icebreaker, ask yourself:

  • Are you working with an established group, a newly created one, or individual participants who do not know each other? If they know each other, how well? What is the level of trust that exists? Are there any group dynamics that you should be aware of?
  • What is the participants’ previous level of experience with ice breakers and active games? Is this experience likely to be positive for them or will there be any resistance?

Always make it optional. There are icebreaker lovers, haters, and those who will participate without having strong feelings one way or the other. Forcing icebreaker-haters to participate will not convince them to love icebreakers (I know, I’ve tried). Make it very clear that no one has to participate in the activity. If the activity that you’ve selected is a very active one, also give other participation options to the group to allow those with different preferences or levels of activity to participate.

Debrief. In my opinion, this is a critical step and one that’s often missed. Having a debrief makes the difference between a game being fun and being a part of the learning/participatory experience. If the purpose of the activity is to have fun, you don’t have to debrief. If however you are using the activity to further the objective of the overall session, you will need to have a debrief with the full group.

Get to know you games

Group juggling: a fun way to get to know the names of people in your group. If your group already knows each other well, you can use favourite vacation destinations, summertime activities etc. instead of names. TIP: I found that using balloons works really well--easier to manage and less likely to injure people or the environment! Be sure to fully explain the safety features of this game to your group.

thats meThat’s Me!/ Have you ever……I often use one of these games if I’m doing a workshop with a large group and I want to get a sense of who people are, what they know, and what they want to get out of the session. Customize your questions according to what you want to find out about your group.


Inner/Outer Circle: Have your participants arrange themselves into two circles, one inside the other, so that participants are facing each other. Take 1 minute to talk with the person who is directly in front of you. Then they take one minute to talk to you. After each person in the pair has shared, the people in the outer circle shift 2 people to the left. You then repeat the exercise with your new partner, and so on. Sample questions/topics to discuss during the one minute interval (choose only one. Use the same question for each interaction). Sample questions:

  • What do you hope to get out of today?
  • What is a challenge that you’re currently experiencing in your work?
  • What do you LOVE about the work that you do?

Repeat about 5-8 times

Walk and Talk: Similar Very similar to Inner/Outer Circle, but rather than being in circles, play music and have people walk (or dance) around the room. When the music stops, participants find a person next to them and talk with that person, using the same types of questions as above.

Musical Chairs: This variation of musical chairs is a way for each individual to introduce themselves to the group. Arrange chairs in the center of the room. Make sure there are fewer chairs than people! Play music and have folks wander around the chairs. When the music stops, participants try to find a chair. Those left standing introduce themselves to the group, sharing their name and one other thing (eg what they love about their work, what they hope to get out of the day etc). Repeat until everyone has introduced themselves and there are no more chairs!

Physically active and fun games

Human Rock Paper Scissors: Rather than just using our hands to select rock, paper or scissors, participants use their bodies. It becomes a fun group activity when people begin in pairs, and the person who does not win the round stands behind the person that does. Each pair then plays against another pair, with the non-winners standing behind winners and so on, until eventually there two huge teams left. Hint: be sure that you can quickly and easily explain this activity (practise ahead of time) and you’ll want to review, or perhaps even post, the order of which beats what.

Musical Chairs: with or without the questions as described above!

Reflective activities

objectsThe Object Game: This is one of my absolute favourites. I’m not sure where it comes from (I was first introduced to it about 12 years ago by Nancy Dubois) but you can play it for a variety of purposes. It does make a great introduction piece, or you can use this as a way for participants and the group as a whole to reflect on their work.

  • Place a variety of miscellaneous, ordinary household/office objects on a table (be sure you have 1 for each person plus a few extras and try not to have too many repeats). Items like tape, salt and pepper shakers, a stapler, oven mitts, a lint roller, sticky notes, a coffee cup etc
  • As each person enters the room, have them select an object at random (usually people will pick the object that resonates with them in some way)
  • Sample questions:
    • Have each person introduce themselves and use the object to describe the work that they do.
    • Use the object to describe something that the group has accomplished over the last year, a barrier that’s been overcome
    • Use the object to describe a hope for the future or a vision for the group


Impromptu Networking: This is a variation of Walk and Talk that provides space for participants to start thinking big and creatively.

Looking for more ideas?

There is no shortage of icebreakers and active games thanks to the internet. The above is hardly a complete list but rather a collection of some of my favourites that I’ve done several times with groups. Here are a couple of websites with lots more options!

Do you have a favourite icebreaker or game you’d like to share? Use the comment box to tell us about it!

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Celebrate Bell Let’s Talk Day with a Framework for Positive Mental Health!

By Monica Nunes, CAMH


January 27th marks the sixth annual Bell Let’s Talk Day. On this day, for every text message, wireless and long distance call made by Bell Canada customers, as well as every tweet using #BellLetsTalk and every Facebook share of the Bell Let’s Talk Day image at, Bell will donate 5 cents to support Canadian mental health programs. Bell Let’s Talk Day has made it possible to discuss mental illness in a way that reduces stigma and gather funds to support an array of initiatives.


Bell Let’s Talk Day is also a time to reflect on mental health as a positive concept that is distinct from mental illness. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) defines mental health as “the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face”.  In line with this definition, PHAC just launched its Positive Mental Health Surveillance Indicator Framework (PMHSIF). This framework provides:

  • A picture of the state of positive mental health and its determinants in Canada.
  • A core set of indicators grouped by outcomes and four key domains: individual, family, community and society level determinants.
  • A link to a PMHSIF data tool that allows for pan-Canadian estimates and data breakdown for adults aged 18 and older by key demographic and socioeconomic variables for each of the measures within the Framework.
  • A structure for positive mental health surveillance data that will help inform mental health promotion programs and policies across the life course.  

Mental health is a multifaceted topic and the PMHSIF can be one tool to discuss the components of  positive mental health on Bell Let’s Talk Day! You can also check out the links below for other resources to inform your conversations.
CAMH Website:
CAMH will participate and support various events and activities to celebrate Bell Let’s Talk Day. You can also follow CAMH on Twitter @CAMHNews for related updates.

CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre Website:

CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre (CAMH HPRC) is Ontario's source for health promotion evidence regarding mental health and substance use. CAMH HPRC has a variety of resources on its website to support public health and allied health professionals to impact local and system-level practice, planning and policy around mental health promotion. 

Portico Network:

Supported by Bell Let’s Talk, CAMH recently launched Portico, an online interactive platform that connects health and community service providers to the latest clinical tools, resources and information about treating mental illness and addiction, and a Psychiatry in Primary Care app. 

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Harnessing Sports as a way to Decrease Substance Abuse in Youth

By Chidinma Nwakalor, Co-op student, Parent Action on Drugs

Youth involvement in sports is often seen as an avenue for positive youth development. Interestingly, the age at which participation in sports is highest among teenagers is also the age at which most teenagers will begin experimenting with substances. This, coupled with the fact that sport participation in school decreases the tendency of illicit substance use in youth, indicates an opportunity to harness sports as a way to decrease substance use among teenagers in Canada.

A recent resource created by the Canadian Center for Substance Abuse (CCSA) suggests that youth participation in sport might be a useful way to prevent illicit drug use (eg. marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens and prescription pills) among youth. However, the report shows that the relationship between sports and substance use is variable. For example, in-school sport participation under the supervision of a coach was associated with decreased substance use overall, while in-school sport participation without a coach was associated with increased alcohol use but decreased use of marijuana and other illicit drugs such as cocaine. Furthermore, out-of-school sport participation was associated with an increased tendency to use marijuana among youth. These findings suggest that youth engagement in sports is best when it is within a school environment and under the supervision of a coach.

The review also recognized that youth who participated in sports were more likely to have better self-esteem, which is related to decreased use of alcohol and other substances among youth. Carefully designed sport programs in schools may be a good way to promote the protective effects of self-esteem for substance use in youth populations. Increasing consciousness and knowledge about the interplay of participation in sports and substance use is important to ensure that the full benefits of sport participation are realized and that the risks are reduced to a minimum.

The full resource created by the Canadian Center for Substance Use and the primary references can be found at

This post was also published on PAD’s website.

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Peer Sharing: The Wise Crowds* Technique

By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant with the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition

Note: This is the second blog post in a series on facilitation techniques and approaches that will be written by various HC Link staff over the next little while. This particular segment focuses on an approach to Peer Sharing, which allows you to draw on the wisdom of those around you.

wisecrowdsFollowing our bi-annual conference last November, we received numerous requests asking for more information on an activity that we facilitated during the Plenary Session on Day 2 called, Wise Crowds. This fun approach to collective problem-solving and networking went over very well with participants!

A Liberating Structure*

Wise Crowds is a technique that was developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless, who are the authors of a book and website called Liberating Structures . The purpose of the Wise Crowds technique is to:

  • Uncover solutions to common problems/challenges;
  • Tap into the intelligence of the diverse opinions available within a group;
  • Generate results without using “outside” expertise;
  • Actively build learning, mutual support, and make peer connections;
  • Refine one’s ability to give, receive, and ask for help;
  • Liberate the wisdom and creativity that exists across sectors and disciplines; and
  •  Create the conditions for unimagined solutions to emerge.


Wise Crowds enables you to engage a group of people in helping one another. You can use it with a large group (as we did with over 100 people at our conference), simultaneously with various small groups, or even with a group as few as four. In a short amount of time, individuals referred to as “clients”, ask for help and receive it from other group members. Each of these “consultations” draws on the knowledge and experience of those in the group, so that participants find solutions to real-life challenges, and also increase their capacity for problem-solving. (Lipmanowicz and McCandless, 2013;

HC Link Coordinator, Andrea Bodkin, and I both took a Liberating Structures training workshop where we had learnt the Wise Crowds technique. So we were eager to share it with others when it came time to pick an activity for the conference. Sarah Christie and the Physical Activity Resource Centre (PARC), who sponsored the session, also loved the idea of using it!

wisecrowds 1

 We Planned for Success

We determined ahead of time that the purpose of the session was to both facilitate networking, and to gather feedback and advice on the types of challenges that participants were experiencing. We knew that some participants would know each other but that most were likely strangers to one another. While we were aware that this was a one-time event, we were conscious that participants had the ability to make connections and develop longer term relationships. We also knew that people would be coming from different sectors, but that all of them would be interested in and/or working to create Healthy Communities (the common ground). Given that they were coming to our conference, we expected that most of them would be familiar with facilitated processes and have had a positive experience with them. Finally, we polled registrants in advance about their challenges and hopes for the conference – so we were aware of what topics and issues they wanted to discuss, as well as their areas of expertise.


We wanted to set things up so as to enable the greatest amount of information-sharing and draw upon the knowledge, experience and ideas of everyone in the room. Considering we were working with such a large group, we decided to identify the “clients” in advance. On Day 1 of the conference, we asked individuals to identify themselves and be prepared to briefly describe: a) a challenge that they were dealing with, and b) the advice or help that they were looking for from other participants. We explained that they would present their challenge in small groups and then listen as other group members provided suggestions and recommendations.

When the session began the next day, we clarified that anyone not acting as a client would be acting as a “consultant”. We asked the consultants to then draw on their skills and experiences from within their own communities and areas of work, so as to offer advice to the clients. One-by-one the clients posed their situations to their small groups, and then they moved onto other tables so as to further gain from the expertise that was located there. In this way, they were able to benefit from consultations at three different tables.

Not only did the “clients” receive suggestions and ideas for addressing their challenges, but the “consultants” also gained by learning from and connecting with the other consultants in the group. Therefore, everyone was engaged in benefitting from the know-how and inventiveness of those around them. To close the session, we ensured that there was time at the end of all of the consultations to both de-brief the activity and further allow participants time to connect with the people that they had just encountered.

Organizing for Variety

Like most great facilitation approaches this one was created based on ideas that came from others, and Lipmanowicz and McCandless (2013) make it clear that the Wise Crowds technique was actually inspired by Quaker Clearness Committees. They also provide all sorts of ideas for organizing the activity differently. In designing the session for our conference, we ourselves became aware of a whole host of ways that we could have used this technique.

For instance, instead of the clients moving from table-to- table, the consultants can do this – it encourages physical activity by more of the participants, and also allows the clients more time to reflect on the advice that they have just received. If you want more people in the entire group to be able to act as clients, and/or you need to be mindful of peoples’ ability to move, you can even arrange it so that no one has to change tables at all – you can set it up so that they just rotate who acts as the client at each table (i.e., three different people could each get to present their challenge to the same small group). This can also allow each of the small groups to focus on a particular topic or area of expertise like: working with youth, addressing issues in rural areas, building partnerships, etc. Also, if space, equipment or noise volume are issues, you do not have to use tables at all and need only have circles of chairs – this way people will likely lean inwards and huddle together like a sports team, which further encourages a sense of team work and makes connections. The possibilities are endless…

If you would like someone from HC Link to help facilitate this activity at one of your events, don’t hesitate to contact us!

* To learn more about using this technique, please visit: , or refer to the book: The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation. Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. Liberating Structures Press. Seattle, 2013.


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New Resource: First Steps to FLS Planning

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

One of the things that I get really excited about is the work we do in supporting communities and organizations in engaging Francophone communities and delivering French Language Services. In the course of my work, I regularly get to see people that are very passionate about this topic. However the difference with me is that I’m an Anglophone. So why do I feel so strongly about Francophones being able to access services in French?

There are a few reasons- social justice, equity, legal reasons, I work in a bilingual organization and see the importance of it every day etc – all good reasons. My reason is a personal one. A few years ago, inspired by the work that I had been doing in the topic, I decided to take French classes to regain the French skills that I had learned as a child growing up in Quebec. Soon I was faced with the intense frustration that comes from knowing what I wanted to say, but not having the words to be able to say it French, and my own fears about being misunderstood and judged for my lack of ability in French.

I can’t imagine what that would be like when faced with a health or social services emergency, or even something as simple as trying to explain myself at a Services Ontario office in French…..My own personal experience hammered home the importance of Franco-Ontarians being able to access services in their own language.

That is what has inspired me to co-create – first with former colleague Estelle Duchon, and now with my colleague Patrick Delorme- a series of webinars and resources designed to boost the confidence and capacity of Anglophone organizations to engage with Francophone audiences and deliver French Language Services (FLS).

Our latest offering is a webinar presented in June and now a resource called First Steps to Planning French Language Services, available in both English and French. In the resources, Patrick and I outline the reasons for providing services in French, four steps to planning and delivering FLS, and a few key principles.

We hope that this resource- and our past resources such as “How to engage Francophones when you don’t speak French!”- will help you and your organization in your FLS efforts. We’d love to hear more about your experiences, and of course if we can provide support to you, please connect with us!

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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Blog Series on Facilitation - Introduction to Choosing a Facilitation Technique

By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant (with special thanks to Jeff Kohl, of the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, for sharing his notes and wisdom on the topic)

Due to the number of requests that we have received asking for more information on the Wise Crowds activity that we facilitated at our recent HC Link conference, we have decide to post a series of blogs on Facilitation Tools and Techniques over the coming months. By way of an introduction this will be the first post in the series and the next one will be on the Wise Crowds activity itself.

Facilitation is the art of guiding groups of people through processes to help them reach agreed upon goals in a manner that encourages participation, ownership and creativity from all involved, while fostering respect and trust. (David Sibbet, Principles of Facilitation: The Purpose and Potential of Leading Group Process. February, 2002.)

Plan for Success

As HC Link Consultants we often receive service requests for help in planning and facilitating community processes, meetings or events. Sometimes we are called upon to facilitate an event and are asked to use a particular technique because it was used somewhere else or at another time, and it worked really well. But in some cases, the technique or approach that is suggested is not always the ideal one to use under the circumstances. Therefore, we hope that this blog series will help you when you are considering a technique or sequence of techniques to use, given your specific situation and circumstances.

Facilitating group processes is not always as straight forward as it seems. We choose to use facilitation techniques based on a variety of things, including the current situation that exists within a community and the individuals or groups who will be participating. In order to plan for a successful meeting or event, we need to design the session to ensure that the facilitation approach or technique we use meets the goals and expectations of those involved. We have to consider what the overall purpose and desired outcomes are for the session. This requires not only speaking to those who are planning and organizing the event, but also gathering information on who will be participating and what sorts of things they will be looking for when they attend.

Ask a Series of Questions

Choosing the right approach, technique and tools means asking a series of questions to determine what is appropriate for the group and situation. In order to answer these questions, you also have to be sure to involve the right people in the planning process (i.e., those who are well-informed and/or have access to the necessary information). Among the questions that you should ask are the following:

  • What is the purpose of the facilitated session? For instance, is it for: sharing information; gathering information; getting feedback on something; and/or making decisions?
  • Is it a one-time event, or is it part of an ongoing process?
  • Are you working with an established group, a newly created one, or individual participants who do not know each other? If they know each other, how well? What is the level of trust that exists? Are there any group dynamics that you should be aware of?
  • What is the participants’ previous level of experience with facilitated processes? Is this experience likely to be positive for them or will there be any resistance?
  • Are there any other topics/issues you should consider?

Various Tools & Techniques

There are a variety of techniques that you can use depending on whether or not you want to gather information, create shared understanding, identify possible solutions, do priority setting, take action, and so on. As facilitators, we typically use and string together numerous techniques and approaches in a single session so as to meet a range of goals and objectives. Among the approaches that we use are the following:

  1. Ice Breakers - to allow people get to know each other and/or network
  2. Visioning - to generate ideas for the future
  3. World Café & Community Conversations - to explore current and pressing topics
  4. Open Space - when topics need to be identified by the participants themselves
  5. Appreciative Inquiry - to uncover unknown or hidden motivations
  6. Peer Sharing - to draw upon the wisdom in the room
  7. Asset-Based Community Mapping - to build upon what already exists
  8. Naming the Moment - to plan for political action
  9. Results-Based Accountability (RBA) - developing plans by starting with the desired outcome
  10. Grouping, Merging and/or Prioritizing Ideas - to assist strategic planning & decision-making

To assist you in learning more about a collection of facilitation approaches and techniques, HC Link staff will be making several blogs posts in the New Year. The next and second one in this series will be on the Liberating Structure Wise Crowds, as it was used at the Day 2 Plenary Session at our bi-annual conference on November 13th, 2015. So please stay tuned…

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Coming Together for Active Living in Kirkland Lake and Area

Guest Post by Kristin Berfelz, of the Physical Activity Resource Centre (PARC)

On Thursday November 26th, 2015 PARC (the Physical Activity Resource Centre) joined several community members from Kirkland Lake and surrounding area to discuss making active living the easy choice for everyone in the North end of Timiskaming district. The Timiskaming Health Unit hosted the event which was attended by community members of various ages, recreation staff, the local project manager for the Healthy Kids Community Challenge, local First Nations representatives, health unit staff, and even the mayor. Lisa Tolentino from HC Link facilitated the event using a technique called Open Space, which promotes open sharing and solution-based problem solving.

We started off the day getting to know who was there and then looked at some recent health data from the community (and surrounding area). Looking at where the community is and what they have was a great jumping off point to the discussion on where they want to go. A graphic tool used to facilitate the activity was a mural where attendees listed the assets that the community currently has (e.g. infrastructure, services, etc.), and the ones they would like to have. This ensured that everyone was on the same page for the day.



The group began by identifying the topics of greatest interest in the community related to physical activity and then broke into small groups to discuss barriers to physical activity opportunities, engaging the community (including those who aren’t currently active), and promoting what’s already available in Kirkland Lake. Each group discussed their topic, how to measure it, what the causes are, what options are available to address it and who the potential partners could be. After this information was gathered, a high level action plan was created to determine what can be done within the next 3-6 months to move forward on the solution(s).


Often in this field, we are encouraged to engage a variety of partners and this event was a testament to the value of doing so. Relationships were developed for future partnerships and outside of the box solutions were brainstormed by community members. For example, discussions around awareness of what is currently available sparked the idea of having a community notice board for anything from physical activity events and outings to garage sales. Having such a wide range of community members partake in the day was both motivating and enriching.

PARC was pleased to have the chance to lead this energetic and committed group in a couple of physical activity breaks to help boost creativity, and of course add a little more fun to the day!


Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this day of solution focused sharing!

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The "Crushed Challenge"

by Suzanne Schwenger
On October 29 Gillian bravely volunteered to demonstrate an activity used by the Sudbury and District Health Unit (SDHU) to attract media attention and raise awareness about low-risk drinking guidelines.
Gillian - mocktail challenge
This activity was called the "Crushed Challenge", and was like a reality TV show where three contestants took a mystery ingredient (in this case ginger) and had to create a mocktail (non-alcoholic cocktail) which was then tasted by three judges!The mocktails were judged on appearance, originality, taste and best use of mystery ingredients.
Gillian's mocktail, called Spiky Cheer, came in a close second place.  We were all treated to a mocktail of our own in a special shot glass to measure alcohol portions.
Mocktail Measure
The presentation also demonstrated the 'Pour Challenge' and talked about a Pairings Event which paired mocktails with local fresh food at a restaurant. All three activities generated a lot of news media coverage--which was all part of the strategy.
Congrats to Gillian and way to go SDHU for innovative ways to raise awareness!
Health Nexus' Best Start Resource Centre also has a Mocktail resource: Mocktails for Mom, available in English and French. See Best Start’s Alcohol and Drugs page to download or to order.
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Wise Crowds Recap

Guest post by Shannon Hitchman

On Friday, November 13th, 2015, 12 people attending the Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change conference were given a unique opportunity called Wise Crowds: Finding innovative solutions for community change. The basic idea is that these people were to share a problem that exists for them with groups of around eight to ten people. These people were to ask clarification questions first, then the presenter was to turn around and the people around the table were to provide their solutions.

I was one of the people who volunteered to share my problem. I felt as though this activity was beneficial and eye opening in a number of ways. The presenter gained access to solutions that may not have occurred to someone who was looking at the problem through the lens of a professional or one who possessed prior knowledge of it. It allowed the participants a look into a field that may not be their own, and to unleash their creativity for this field within a time frame. For both parties, it broke down barriers of stereotypes, considering the presenter could not see who was providing each solution.

Thank you for this opportunity!

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Conference Recap - A Northern Perspective

Guest post by Michèle Lajeunesse, Community Health Promotion Coordinator, Marathon Family Health Team
As I have only been working in the field of health promotion for about six month, the HC Link Conference was a great learning experience for me. I especially enjoyed learning about community engagement and collective ownership, community hubs and the Circle of Health tool. I also appreciated the storytelling and presentations that included tips on developing health promotion programs in rural communities. We have many barriers to face in rural Northern Ontario; therefore I enjoyed learning from the experiences of other health professionals who face similar barriers. By working together, I truly believe that we can make a difference in our communities!
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Reflections on the HC Link Conference

Guest post by Leanne Prendergast,  Founder & President of the Love Our Lives Organization

When I first received the good news that I had been awarded the HC Link conference bursary, I was excited yet nervous. You see I had never been to a HC Link Conference and I had no idea what to expect. But as soon as I walked in, the first thing that put a smile on my face and made me feel at home was the beautifully set out food on the breakfast table. From that moment, I knew that I would really enjoy the conference. Dave Meslin gave an amazing and humorous speech that woke me up out of my tiredness because after all it was morning time. But his humour and personality did not feel as if I was in a lectured but rather I felt he was having a conversation with me on a one on one personal level.

The workshops were absolutely well structured and gave room for interactive conversation and a space to give advice and get advice from others who were attending the workshops. There was a great variety of workshops to attend that were all unique and diverse which gave those who attended the option of getting very different perspectives on how to engage people and not just in a nice, politically correct way, but rather in an exciting innovative and effective way! The food throughout the 2 day session was amazing, because every time I thought I had eaten enough, there was more to have. The food was very accommodating and healthy (especially to those of us who do not eat meat) and allowed us to still think actively and feel energized even after being served a ‘5 course meal’.

There are many things that I would love to share about the conference; however, this would not be a blog, but rather an academic essay. So I will mention one last point that resonated in my mind throughout the 2 day conference. Dave Meslin said that we often times want to be diverse and make sure we have everyone represented at our tables (not talking about food table), however we need to start thinking about being a part of the tables that other people have created that mean as much to them as our table means to us, and through this we can bring about true change within our community, it’s all about collaboration! And so in summary, the HC Link conference was an amazing experience which has taught me the importance of engagement and community!

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Leveraging Social Media to Promote Real-Time Knowledge Exchange

HC Link’s 2015 Conference Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change was a great success overall, it was well organized, featured engaging speakers, and provided ample opportunities for networking. We ramped up our social media campaign both in the weeks leading up to the event and at the conference and we were excited to have our biggest social media presence yet!

With the help of our Social Media SWAT team we were trending on Twitter just an hour into the conference. The first morning we scored the #3 spot in Toronto and the #6 spot in Canada. Our conference hashtag was #Link4HC – there were 613 Original Tweets, 823 Retweets and 43 @mentions using the hashtag.
















How we did it – Tips for leveraging social media at an event

In order to create a great social media presence we enlisted the help of a Social Media SWAT Team. This is an idea we stole from the Association of Ontario Health Care Centres conference. Our SWAT Team was made up of social media savvy staff and communications staff from our partner organizations. We asked the team to tweet in the weeks leading up to the conference, contribute blog posts, and live tweet throughout the event.

The SWAT Team

Just asking people to tweet may not have been successful – we also gave the team all the tools they needed to be able to tweet while still enjoying the conference.

  • Each member got a Social Media Package with sample tweets, the handles of all of the presenters, and media that they could include in their tweets or share with their networks.
  • We held a 30 minute conference call a week before the conference to get everyone up to speed. 
  • We ask each member what sessions they would like to attend and assigned each participant to workshops so that our SWAT team was represented at each workshop.

Participant & speakers engagement 

In addition to the SWAT Team we also used some other strategies to make social media at the conference a success.

  • Included the French and English hashtag on all conference promotion
  • Sent sample tweets out whenever we released new conference information
  • Sent sample tweets and other info to our presenters and asked them to contribute to the conversation 
  • Held a Twitter chat with our keynote speakers as guests the month before the conference 
  •  Put tent cards with the hashtag on all of the conference tables
  • Retweeted participant’s tweets and thanked them for being involved 

We also used free online tools like Storify and Hashtracking to collect data on our impact.

Social media as a tool for knowledge exchange 


We produced six live blog posts, written by myself and HC Link Coordinator Andrea Bodkin during plenary sessions and workshops. The live tweets and blog posts created an online platform for those interested in social action and health promotion to discuss issues relevant issues with each other. For example the use of the popular term “Social Determinants of Health” came up the first morning and by using the popular hashtag #SDoH we were able to bring this question to the broader public health community.



Live tweeting also let health promoters and community members not at the conference follow the conversation and share in the key takeaways. We were able to share insightful strategies and facts with a large audience.



Want to see all the conference tweets? We have archived them using Storify 

Want to see all the conference tweets? We have archived them using Storify

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Recapping the HC Link Conference - A Grad Student Perspective

Guest post by Karen Nelson, PhD Student – School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph

Last week I was able to attend the HC Link Conference thanks to a generous bursary from HC Link. As a PhD student it is not often that I get the opportunity to interact with professionals working on implementing programs in my area of interest outside of an academic environment so I was excited to do so. My goal for this conference was to learn more about current initiatives that have been, or are currently taking place, in Ontario communities, specifically in relation to my dissertation topic of childhood obesity and the built environment in rural communities. The conference not only helped me to achieve this goal, but also provided me with new ideas to explore as I further my research.

Aside from my main goal of gathering information related to my research, I was also able to attend several amazing presentations and participating in engaging discussions. Highlights from the conference for me included:

Active Outdoor Play Position Statement: Nature, Risk and Well-being

Led by Shawna Babcock of KidActive and Marlene Power of Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, this workshop highlighted evidence supporting the position statement on active outdoor play. In this workshop we discussed some of our personal memories of play (which most of us recall as being outside and in nature) and some common barriers to outdoor active play for children. The presenters discussed the idea of ‘nature as a prescription for health’ as well as the importance of recognizing healthy built environments and access to nature as determinants of health – both of which fuel my own research interests.


The second morning had us participate in an interactive session that helped to provide innovative solutions to challenges addressed by other conference participants. One of the questions posed to our group was on how to engage the unusual suspects – a key concern for many who see the same ‘suspects’ on an ongoing basis. The responses at my table were great and many of them I plan to apply to my own research going forward.

Healthy Community Design: Active Community Toolkit for Reviewing Development Plans

This presentation, delivered by Kim Bergeron and Bernie McCall, provided a background and overview as to how public health practitioners can make recommendations on land use planning decisions to ensure they promote healthy active communities. As a student looking at the built environment and health, this was definitely a highlight for me – especially being able to meet Kim – whose work I have been following for a while!

Overall I enjoyed each keynote, workshop and interactive session I attended. I look forward to attending again next year!

I would like to thank HC Link for providing me a bursary to attend this conference.


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Evaluation Day: A New Approach to the Annual HC Link Staff Survey


Every year the HC Link Evaluation Committee asks all HC Link staff to participate in a survey about HC Link. This involves approximately 20 individuals from three collaborating organizations; Health Nexus Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition and Parent Action on Drugs. The survey serves a number of purposes; e.g. assessing the level of staff satisfaction with HC Link’s operations, sharing perspectives on community needs and interests, gaining information and insight about emerging trends and receiving valuable suggestions for new program directions and professional development activities. While in past years the survey has had good response rates with generally positive results, this year we decided to try something new.

During our June 1, 2015 evaluation committee meeting, we discussed a number of goals we wanted to achieve through the staff survey, in addition to those listed above; i, e.

  • Identify ways to the increase the effectiveness of HC Link services;
  • Improve our ability to prepare for and respond to anticipated changes/trends;
  • Build on the results of the last staff survey to promote continual improvement in the staff’s work experience; and
  • Engage staff in a meaningful way in the process.

After some brainstorming, we developed a mixed format that we hoped would make completing the staff survey an interesting and enjoyable experience, as well as produce meaningful results. Several components were involved:

1. Evaluation Day: We set September 15, 2015 as Evaluation Day and sent a communiqué to all HC Link staff explaining our plan. We asked staff to schedule time on September 15th for two activities: i) engage in a discussion with another HC Link staff member from a different organization and ii) complete an online survey individually. We liked the idea of presenting the survey as an “event”, and hoped it would thus receive more attention and maybe even pique some interest.

2. Follow up from 2014 Survey: We sent a number of documents to the staff prior to September 15th, including the results of last year’s staff survey, a summary of the suggestions and concerns that staff had raised and a report on actions that had been taken to address them. The review of the last survey provided an opportunity to continue some of the conversations that were started through the 2014 survey, and also demonstrated that participating in the staff survey can stimulate

3. Paired Discussions: Four open-ended questions from the online survey were included in the package that was sent to staff prior to Evaluation Day, along with an assigned list of staff pairs. We tried to pair up staff from different organizations, and those with more experience with those that were newer to HC Link. The staff were asked to arrange a mutually agreeable time for a 30 minute discussion of the questions before they completed the survey. We hypothesized that the individuals’ responses to the survey would be fuller and richer if they first discussed them with a colleague. It also created an opportunity for them just to get acquainted, as many HC Link staff have little contact with each other. We thought that this might lead to staff learning more about other areas of work within HC Link and creating a stronger sense of cohesion.

4. Online Survey: Following the conversation with their colleague, staff completed an online survey on their own. We invited them to be creative and reflective in their responses, and advised them that their responses would be anonymous.

5. Report: Another commitment the Evaluation Committee made was to report the results to the staff in a “creative and informative” way. At their October 2015 meeting, the Evaluation Committee reviewed the results of the survey. The response rate was 95%; compared with 60% from the previous staff survey. 15 of the 19 respondents (78%) had discussed the questions with a colleague prior to completing the online survey. The results indicated a high level of satisfaction with the operation of HC Link and generated many ideas, suggestions and insights. The Evaluation Committee is currently developing a report that will provide recommendations for consideration by various HC Link committees and managers, and are working on an infographic that will highlight the main themes.

The Evaluation Committee was very pleased with the results of this process, and are looking forward to continuing discussions about how to continuously improve HC Link for the benefit of both clients and staff. We would love to hear from other staff about their experience as participants in this survey, as well as from anyone else who would like to comment or ask a question.

Please log in to post your comments on this page.


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A cool tool for reviewing development plans

Reporting live from HC Link’s biannual conference Linking for Healthy Communities!

There is strong evidence that community design encourages- or discourages- physical activity. We need to plan and design our communities in ways that increase physical activity opportunities. Public and community health can play a role by assessing development plans to ensure that they do meet the physical activity needs of your community.

In 2013, the Middlesex-London Health Unit developed a toolkit as an outcome of an active communities project. In today’s workshop, Bernie McCall from MLHU and Kim Bergeron, the writer of the toolkit, provided an overview of the toolkit and provided an opportunity for participants to apply some of its steps. The toolkit provides a standardized approach to assessing the 3 main types of development plans: area plans (for neighbourhoods or districts), subdivision plans (for subdivisions!) and site plans (for a single parcel of land).

Excitingly, many of the folks in the workshop had already read and/or applied the toolkit in their community work. Future plans for the toolkit include case studies and validating it to determine its effectiveness. I hope that we hear more about this excellent resource and how it’s being used! Check out #Link4HC to read more about this workshop.

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Live Blog - Using the CIW in Community Health Centres

Live Blog from the workshop - Community Vitality & Belonging: Measuring what matters with the Canadian Index of Wellbeing

Today I participated in an informative workshop co-presented by Heidi Schaeffer from the Association of Ontario Health Centres and Jenilee Cook from the Woodstock and Area Community Health Centre. The workshop provided an overview of the CIW and it’s application within the Community Health Centres (CHCs).

Community Health Centers across Ontario collected stories from clients on what was important to them. Community Vitality and Belonging were strong themes that emerged. They decided to use the CIW to measure what matters.

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) came of work done by foundations in the 1990 is now housed at the University of Waterloo. The University continues to research, knowledge share and continually develop the tool. They defined wellbeing based on 8 domains - democratic engagement, community vitality, education, environment, healthy populations, leisure and culture, living standard and use of time.

Be Well survey

The AOHD created the Be Well Provincial Survey to measure all CIW domains with a focus on Community Vitality plus some socio-demographic questions. The results will inform community healthy and wellbeing indicators at the provincial level.


Interesting facts

• As the GDP has risen since 94 the CIW has also risen but not at the same rate.
• Currently there is no equity lens for the CIW but AOHC is working on developing one.
• Bridging the Gap Report found that there is a growing inequality in Ottawa. It made allowed them to make some policy asks on affordable housing, food security, public transit and equity and employment.

An On the Ground Example – Oxford County

“It’s not about what we do, it’s about how we do it.” - Jenilee Cook

Jenilee spoke about the Harwood Model which emphases the importance of outward thinking rather that inward thinking –

  • Activity vs. Action
  • Programs vs. People
  • My Organization vs. My Community
  • Charity vs. Change
  • Feeling Good vs. Doing Good

She also spoke to Oxford County Community Members about what was important to them and they said belonging! That started created creating opportunities for people to belong in the community including the “Smile and Say Hello Movement” and “Agents of Community Change”.

Some tactics they used to propel the iniiative included - 

  •  Included Secret Change Agent Hotline
  • Poster Round
  • Community Facebook Page
  • World Smile Day 
  • Candy Gram Pot Luck
  • Share a Chair on Your Front Lawn 
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Powerful Statistics + Emotional Stories: My One Thing

Reporting live from HC Link’s biannual conference Linking for Healthy Communities!

This morning’s keynote speaker was David Courtemanche from Leading Minds Inc. David is the perfect person to talk to us about policy change as he not only has a background in community work and the not-for-profit word, he is also a former politician. In that way he bridges both worlds, or in his words, he knows the dark side.

David encouraged us to try to come away from his presentation with ONE Thing that we can take back to our organizations. I think our Twitter hashtag from the conference #Link4HC captures the many points that David touched on, so I’m going to blog about my ONE Thing and that is this:


Powerful Statistics + Emotional Stories

As Dave Meslin talked about in his keynote presentation yesterday, we often are reliant on our charts and reports and graphs to make our arguments for us. David Courtemanche often finds that health advocates feel that just brigning forward information will lead to change. He told us the story of a group of local Sudbury activists who were working to make public spaces in Sudbury smoke free, including the local hockey arena. The group had research, studies, made deputations and presentations. What turned the argument into a successful council decision however was a 10 year old boy who spoke after all of the deputees had finished their presentations. He told the council that he loved hockey and that he really wanted to see the Sudbury Wolves play at the local arena, but as an asthma sufferer, he couldn’t enter the arena as the second hand smoke made him sick.

The next day, it was the story of the 10 year old with asthma that made the local papers. Not the stacks of reports and the pie charts.

The following week council passed a smoke-free bylaw, making public spaces in Sudbury- restaurants, buildings, and yes the arena- smoke free.

Yesterday Dave Meslin gave us several examples of campaigns that turned numbers into stories that captured the attention of the media.

This is the ONE Thing that I’ll be taking forward with me as I return to my desk on Monday: how can I pair my stats and numbers with stories to bring emotion, attention and change?


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Recapping Dave Meslin's Keynote Address - Breaking Down Barriers to Community Action

Today we kicked off Day One of Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change with an engaging and exciting keynote address from Community Choreographer Dave Meslin. Dave spent 15 years on the ground as a community organizer and is now teaching Canadians how to build a culture of community engagement and avoid public apathy.Dave shared great personal stories, which illustrated his aptitude for change, from demanding to hold roses in his high school grad photo to initiatives he has been involved with like his Downtown De-Fence Project.

Public Spaces

Dave talked about the importance of community spaces. Dundas Square and the Gardener are covered with advertisements that don’t represent the diversity of Toronto well; we shouldn't let advertisers decorate public spaces. We need to take ownership over these spaces & make them our own. If people were more engaged in policymaking we wouldn’t see public spaces that look like Yonge and Dundas! Public spaces can also have a significant impact on mental health, body image and distracted driving.

Getting People Involved in Policy Change

Dave says we won’t engage the public in policy change if it is boring and dry! By making politics fun and engaging we can reach more community members. Another strategy is getting people to take ownership of their community by getting them involved in initiatives like community gardens. People take care of things they own– their homes, their bodies, and their cars. If we can get community members to take ownership over they communities they will be more engaged in policy change.

Here are some great tips Dave gave for engaging communities in change 

  • Fun engagement and collective ownership are key
  • Break the fourth wall! Get involved in politics! 
  • When politician does something good, recognize them! We always complain when things go bad, recognize the good too. 
  • We need to teach politics and democracy early on to allow people to be engaged 
  • Have faith that you can make change!

What do read more about Dave? Check out Andrea Bodkin’s 2013 blog post The World Is Your Co-Op

Continue to follow the conversation on Twitter throughout the conference - #Link4HC and be sure to follow Dave Meslin @meslin 

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