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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Moving Ahead on Rural and Community Transportation: March 29th, 2016 Forum

By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant

On March 29th, 2016 HC Link partnered with the Rural Ontario Institute (ROI), Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition (OHCC) and Routes Connecting Communities to organize and host a forum for rural and community transportation stakeholders. Moving Ahead on Rural and Community Transportation was held to enable participants to share experiences and lessons learned, and help support peer-to-peer networking. Significant steps are being taken by many municipalities and other stakeholders to improve community transportation in rural areas around Ontario. Representatives from diverse organizations that are implementing community transportation initiatives were in attendance as over 100 people from across the province attended both in-person and online, via live-streaming/webinar.

Things kicked off with an exercise to provide opportunities for networking and to get to know who was in the room, and online. The majority of participants represented municipal and regional government, followed by the non-profit sector. Others working within the private and education sectors were also in attendance. Representatives attended from the following regions and districts:


• Haliburton

• Hastings

• Kawartha Lakes

• Kenora (Dryden)

• Lambton (Sarnia)

• Lanark

• Leeds and Grenville (Brockville)

• Lennox-Addington

• Muskoka 

• Niagara

• Norfolk

• Nipissing

• Northumberland

• Perth County (Stratford)

• Peterborough

• Simcoe

• Timiskaming

• Wellington/Waterloo

• York (Georgina)

A presentation was then given by Cathy Wilkinson from Routes Connecting Communities, which is a transportation provider serving the northern part of York Region. Their volunteer drivers use their own vehicles to provide available, accessible and affordable transportation to people who are restricted due to life circumstances such as financial hardship, health issues, and geographic, social or cultural isolation.

Cathy’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion with three other transportation service providers in the province, including: 1) Brad Smith from Ride Norfolk, 2) Heather Inwood-Montrose from The Rural Overland Utility Transit (TROUT), and 3) Rick Williams from Muskoka Extended Transit (MET). The panelists focused on sharing the challenges and successes that they have experienced in delivering public transit in their respective areas.

Next the Ministry of Transportation offered an overview of what Community Transportation (CT) is to them, and highlighted a few examples of initiatives that they are currently funding across the province. This is a $2 million, 2-year pilot grant program to provide financial assistance to Ontario municipalities for the development and implementation of community transportation initiatives. As part of the CT Program, 22 municipalities have undertaken projects to either start or expand collaborative projects in their regions. MTO representatives also announced that they will soon be supporting communities around the province with increased networking and engagement opportunities with respect to Community Transportation.

 Following lunch, participants broke into small groups to discuss five topics:

  1. Building Community Support - demonstrating the need and/or making the case for community transportation

  2. Collaboration & Partnership Building - managing different organizational mandates and moving forward

  3. Revenue Generation & Funding - using both traditional and innovative or creative approaches to generating funds

  4. Marketing & Promotion - of new and/or existing transportation services

  5. Technology - procuring vehicles, using integrated software, and other forms of technology

The day ended with a live streaming presentation by Caryn Souza from the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA). The CTAA consists of organizations and individuals who support mobility for all Americans regardless of where they live or work. Their membership includes community transit providers, public transit agencies, organizations providing health care and/or employment services, government, college and university planners, private bus companies, taxi operators, people concerned with the special mobility needs of those with disabilities, manufacturers and many other organizations who share a commitment to mobility. Caryn explained that there are many different programs that the CTAA is currently involved in, from mobility management to transit planning and ridesharing across the nation.

Overall, the day was full of information about Community Transportation in both Ontario and across the USA. Participants said that it was great to be in a room with others who have the same struggles as they do, and that they had the opportunity to learn from one another and as well as brainstorm solutions. Many said that they were able to foster connections with other people working on-the-ground and that they learned something that they will be able to apply in their own communities. HC Link was also pleased to have had the chance to help facilitate this group of passionate and committed people!

If you would like more information about this event, please contact Lisa Tolentino, Community Transportation Network Coordinator, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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Paving the Way: A peer sharing session on defining the policy problem

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

Knowledge Exchange Strategy

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

Resources mentioned during today’s peer sharing session

FOCUS ON: Relevance of the stages heuristic model for developing health public policies

Are We Ready to Address Policy? Assessing and building readiness for policy work

Tools from Healthy Living Niagara to track municipal decisions

Recent comment in this post
Kim Bergeron
Great summary of the discussion Andrea. It was helpful to have a focused conversation on defining the policy problem. Often there ... Read More
Friday, 22 April 2016 12:50
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1 Comment

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

By: Seher Shafiq, Parent Action on Drugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Resource - Strategic Planning: From mundane to meaningful

By Pam Kinzie, Consultant 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Dialogue mapping

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

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

  • Finding areas of agreement and building relationships from there

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

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

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



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

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

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

Watch the full 2 minute video interview below!



A few key points from the interview:

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

For more on our conference, please see highlights below:

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

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Video Interview with David Courtemanche on what makes for effective advocacy

At our 2015 Conference Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change we were fortunate to sit down with keynote speaker David Courtemanche, leadership consultant, to ask for his views on what makes for effective advocacy and how policy change can impact health promotion.

In this interview, David talks with us about the skills that are often neglected in advocacy and how we can better develop these to become more effective advocates. He highlights that our perspective is a very big part of influencing change and encourages us to think about policy in terms of people taking action or taking a different direction. David goes on to demonstrate through an example, “the magical power of policy.”

Watch the full 4.5 minute video interview below!



A few key points from the interview:

  • “Advocacy is a process of influence.” It requires strong leadership and relationship skills because you need to connect with people in positions of influence that can affect change.
  • Advocacy training focuses a lot on how we speak and present, but skills that are necessary and often neglected include effective listening and trust building. We need these skills to better understand the people we are trying to work with.
  • People often view policy work as dry and boring, but when you understand how policy can affect the health of a community it becomes much more powerful.

For more on our conference, please see highlights below:

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

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Using “Visioning” as a Facilitation Technique

By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant

This is the seventh blog in a series on facilitation techniques and approaches written by HC Link staff. This post focuses on using guided visualization or “Visioning” to identify Healthy Community goals.

Visioning is considered a critical step in developing healthy communities and creating change. It is a creative way to bring community members with diverse perspectives together to develop a collective vision of a Healthy Community. Used in many sectors and spheres of life, from business to mental health and sports, this tool can be very effective in assisting with problem-solving, inspiring hope and building confidence. It is also a method for generating joint ownership and commitment for taking action toward achieving change.

In a community visioning session, the vision is often “expressed in pictorial form, using images and symbols to convey [an] ideal community” (pg. 4). It allows participants to travel beyond the current political, economic, social and/or environmental challenges being experienced, to articulating what they would like to see occur in the future. The result is an idea, dream, mental image or picture that is shared by many people living, working and playing in a community. (From the Ground Up: An Organizing Handbook for Healthy Communities, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition,

Visioning is different than traditional problem-solving in that it offers hope, encouragement and the possibility of fundamental change by generating a common goal. With traditional problem solving, a group can become bogged down in details and even disagree on how to define the problem. It also focuses on the negative, whereas visioning allows a group to move away from this toward something more positive. With visioning, passion and creative thinking are spawned, and people are given a greater sense of control. (The NGO Café, Global Development Resource Centre,

What is needed to hold a Healthy Communities Visioning Session?

This is a list of some key elements that will help to make any visioning session a success:

  • Involvement from a large number of people from a defined geographic area, community of interest and/or affiliation.
  • A diverse cross-section of people who are able to participate in a meaningful way (such as those who are marginalized and/or representative of various ages, incomes, abilities, etc.).
  • Multi-sector participation (e.g., from education, government, business, health, media).
  • A location that is familiar, inviting and physically accessible for participants.
  • Ideally, access to transportation, refreshments and childcare should be available or provided.

How do you facilitate a Visioning process?

There are various ways that you can facilitate a visioning session, depending on who is in attendance and the circumstances involved. Regardless of the situation, each one has the same premise, which is that participants are asked to envision the kind of community that they would like to be a part of in the future. The objective is to allow people to dream and collect as many ideas as possible; no concept is too small, big, or “out there” to be included.

The first step usually involves asking participants to make themselves comfortable and close their eyes. They are then asked to spend a few minutes quietly thinking their own thoughts. Sometimes a facilitator will take them on a hot air balloon ride above their community and into the future. Or they may be asked to simply go for a walk and imagine a newspaper headline 20 years from now. In each case, the facilitator will also ask them something along the lines of: "What would your community be like if you had the power to make it the way you wanted?”

Participants are then asked to formulate pictures in their minds as they travel through the physical space. The questions a facilitator asks can be both abstract and quite detailed. For instance, “How are buildings and public spaces arranged? What do they look like?” They might also be asked where people are, what they are doing, and how they are interacting. Questions could focus on topics like workplaces, transportation or the natural environment. In every instance the goal is to help participants actually “see” what they hope for.

This technique has been used in many real-life situations with great success!

Following this exercise, the facilitator will slowly bring participants back to the present day and into the room again, asking them to keep the features that they just saw in their minds. Then, in small groups, participants will be asked to talk about what they saw using key words or phrases that capture their image of a Healthy Community. The facilitator may even provide some guides or categories like housing, health care, crime rates, and/or public engagement.

In each case, group members will be asked to make short, clear and positive statements about how the community will be in the future. The statement will be in the present tense, like a newspaper headline. Statements may include things like: “There are lots of bike trails”; “You can walk safely at night” and “Transportation is efficient and affordable”. These statements will be generated until they run out of ideas or time.

These will be read aloud as a large group and then members will be asked to highlight the major differences between the present and the future that they have created. People may express that some things are impossible to achieve. The facilitator will remind them that 50 years ago it was difficult to imagine some of the changes that have taken place today, such as the existence of the internet, and that anything could be possible.

When today's problems seem overwhelming, visioning presents an opportunity to move beyond them and focus on a positive idea of the future.

Next the facilitator will work with the group to gather elements of the vision under common themes, and find areas of consensus. These vision statements could then be made into a list of ideas or even presented in a graphic form. Some communities have had the ability to hire an illustrator to draw images as participants spoke, such as the one below from Haldimand-Norfolk. Maps, photos and other images can also be added after the fact.


Simply articulating a vision can be a powerful tool for making a Healthy Community a reality. The next step after any visioning process is to develop a plan to achieve that vision. In Healthy Communities processes, visioning is usually followed by community-wide priority-setting and decision-making.

If you would like help hosting a Healthy Communities Visioning session in your community, be sure to request a service from HC Link!


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Peer-led health promotion interventions: The importance of collaborative, multi-sectoral approaches

By Seher Shafiq, Parent Action on Drugs

On March 7th 2016, Parent Action on Drugs (PAD) and HC Link hosted a webinar titled “Effective peer programming on substance use for the transitional years”. Peer education is defined as “the teaching or sharing of health information, values and behaviours between individuals with shared characteristics”.

To my knowledge, PAD has the longest standing peer education programs (in the area of substance use) in all of Canada! The numbers don’t lie: over the past 30 years, PAD’s peer education programs have reached 3000 classes, trained 10,000 peer educators, and had approximately 90,000 youth involved overall. Having done a backgrounder on peer education effectiveness before the webinar, I was excited to hear the diverse, real life experiences from our webinar presenters.

Suzanne Witt-Foley (Consultant, PAD/HC Link) and Patricia Scott-Jeoffroy (Consultant, PAD/HC Link) opened the webinar by noting that it’s important for educators to focus on ‘health literacy’, and that PAD’s Challenges, Beliefs and Changes (CBC) program has information that is balanced, accurate and promotes skills practice. Patricia did an overview of PAD’s peer education programs, recognizing that the Masonic Foundation of Ontario has provided almost 30 years of support to these programs.

Next up was a panel presentation from diverse voices that have been involved in the CBC program. Both Allison Haldenby (Guidance Counsellor, East Elgin Secondary School) and Jacky Allan (Public Health Nurse, Elgin-St. Thomas Public Health Department) emphasized the importance of a collaborative approach to coordinating a peer education in schools, and discussed how they worked with school nurses, public health units, elementary schools, high schools, and students to organize, promote and deliver the CBC program.

As a Youth Addictions Counsellor at the Canadian Mental Health Association of Muskoka Parry Sound, Brittany Cober provided an interesting mental health perspective. Brittany mentioned that she often notices the youth in peer education programs form an “automatic bond with each other” in a way that they don’t with adults, and this is what makes peer education programs so successful. Brittany was speaking anecdotally from her own personal experience, but I couldn’t help but think how similar her experience was to the research on peer education effectiveness. For example, a 2009 study on peer education found that “peer educators were...seen as very credible by the majority of the participants...with the experimental group significantly more likely to find the peer educator more credible than the control group”.

The most interesting part of this webinar was that the audience was able to hear from two students who participated in the CBC program for three years: Jack Gaudette and Kennedie Close from East Elgin Secondary. Jack shared a powerful story about how he was “pushed around” in elementary school and was worried about starting high school. However, high school wasn’t what he expected – in a good way! Being involved in the peer education program helped both Jack and Kennedie “fit in”, get involved, and have fun. Jack and Kennedie keep participating in the program each year because it’s “been a blast every year”, and I’m sure their enthusiasm motivates other students to join the program. Having helped develop PAD’s youth engagement model as part of our strategic plan, I was particularly happy to see that youth voices were represented in this webinar!

Overall, it was a great webinar that illustrated the importance of taking a collaborative, multi-sectoral approach to a preventative health intervention. With drug policy staying high on our new government’s policy agenda, I am sure PAD’s peer education programs will be even more important moving forward.

Webinar slides and recording


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1-2-4-all: Engage everyone in group conversation

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

This is the sixth blog post in a series on facilitation techniques and approaches written by HC Link staff. This post focuses on a particular Liberating Structure technique called 1-2-4-all.

1-2-4-all is one of my favourite Liberating Structures. It’s a great technique to ensure that everyone is able to participate and have their ideas heard. Used to gather ideas and information from the group, 1-2-4-all can be used for a variety of purposes from priority setting to strategic planning to brainstorming. In this post I’ll describe the technique itself, and how it can be used in a variety of ways.

What is 1-2-4-all?

As I mentioned, the primary purpose of 1-2-4-all is to gather information from a group of people. The exercise begins with a very broad and open ended question so that the information that we gather from participants is not directed in any way. The strength of 1-2-4-all is that everyone is engaged in the conversation (even people who don’t normally participate in group conversation), and then when the groups become larger (4 and all) themes can emerge. Ideas and solutions come from the participants in the conversation, which facilitates buy-in.

This exercise is meant to be done rapidly. As a facilitator, it’s important to explain that so that participants share their ideas briefly and stay focused on the precise question. The exercise unfolds in this way:

  • 1 - The facilitator asks the question to the group. Each person has a couple of minutes to reflect on the question and write down their thoughts on a cue card (2 mins)

  • 2 - Next participants get into pairs and discuss their thoughts (2 mins)

  • 4 - Each pair joins with another pair to talk their ideas (4 mins)

  • All- The large group comes back together to report back on their ideas (8-12 mins)

More detailed instructions on 1-2-4-all can be found on the Liberating Structures website.

How to use 1-2-4-all

1-2-4-all is an extremely flexible technique. It can be used to gather input from the group on which of a series of options they prefer, to brainstorm ideas on next steps for the group, to establish a vision for the group, to identify strategic directions etc. Recently I used this technique in focus groups to determine the types of planning tools that people needed in order to accomplish their work. Most often, I use 1-2-4-all to facilitate strategic planning sessions.

I start with a very broad question, usually something like “What are the possibilities for this group?” I have found that by the end of two to three hours, we have all of the content for a strategic plan that can then be discussed and refined. Usually I’ll give each group of 4 a piece of flipchart paper to document their ideas. I then break the “all” portion down into two sections: the first is for each group to report back on their ideas. Then I give the group a break (mealtime is perfect but a coffee break will do) and I then theme all of the ideas and begin to slot the information into the different component of a strategic plan. For example, individual reflections tend to work out to be vision and mission statements, reflections from pairs tend to be objectives or strategic directions, and when people get into groups of 4 they tend to get more specific and action-oriented. I use sticky notes for this portion (colour coding the different components) so that it’s easy to move things around and it’s easy to understand. After the break, I present the information back to the group to validate it, and then we begin to actually move things around and make decisions about how to proceed.

Defining the question

It’s important to spend time in defining the precise question for the 1-2-4-all exercise. Generally speaking a broad question work best- and you may also need some prompts to illustrate the question for your group. For example, for the exercise I mentioned to identify planning tools, I used the question “What is the ONE thing that you need in order to be able to accomplish your work?” (other than more time and staffing resources). The prompt that I used was “I wish I had something that helped me to do.....” For the strategic planning question “What are the possibilities for this group?” I use prompts such as “what could we accomplish if we worked together?” or “if we could make anything happen, what would it be?”

I’ve found it helpful to write the question on a flip chart or power point to keep it front and center as the groups work on it.

Learn more about it!

The Liberating Structures website contains detailed instructions for 1-2-4-all (as well as a variety of other techniques).

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An Introduction to Engaging in the Review of your Official Plan - A Webinar Follow-up

By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant

On February 24, 2016, Community Planning Consultant Kate Hall and I presented the second webinar in a series on Civic Engagement. During this session we provided two examples of how we have been engaged in reviewing and providing input into Official Plans (OPs) to support the creation of Healthy Communities. At the very end of the webinar we received a great question, and I think that others will benefit from the answer, so I have decided to include it here...

Q: In your experience, how much of the feedback given to them do municipalities incorporate? In other words, how many pages is an ideal submission?

From our experience here in Haliburton County (and also judging from the submissions that we have seen from elsewhere), we think that something in the 5-10 page range for each topic area is manageable, but that it is really the "format" in which comments are provided that is important. For example, an easy to read chart that includes the policy statement from the current OP, along with the recommendation that you are making (i.e., the suggested change or addition), as well as the rationale from the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) will greatly help those who are receiving the submission to make sense of things.

In addition to the Rural and Urban Checklists by Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Healthy Communities (that we referred to during the webinar and which can be used as templates), I have attached a sample submission here for you to view. It is what was submitted by the Communities In Action Committee (CIA) to the County of Haliburton in April 2015 regarding the incorporation of active transportation policies into their Official Plan. As you will see, in addition to the chart, general comments were provided in the form of a preface, as well as some terms for definition.

Finally, the length of a submission will also depend on the municipality and the complexity of the additions/changes that you desire. For instance, if an OP currently has little or no reference to a topic, then more detail will likely be required. For further assistance with reviewing an Official Plan in your area, feel free to contact HC Link to request a service.

Materials and recording from this webinar

Materials and recording from webinar 1 in series: Engaging Citizens for Healthy Communities: Current Challenges and Approaches

Registration is still open for the third webinar in the series: Inclusive Civic Engagement.


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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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