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!

To view past blogs, please click on the home icon below left.

Connecting Through Stories: an exploration of relationships through art making and connection to the Land


An HC Link Regional Gathering: March 30, 2017
Baggage Building Arts Centre in Thunder Bay.

Written by Lorna McCue, HC Link/OHCC

Every two years, HC Link works with local community organizations and groups to plan and co-host regional gatherings across the province that respond to regional needs and issues. These gatherings support the development of cross-sectoral and diverse community partnerships by providing opportunities to engage stakeholders across the region in a community-building event.

In Thunder Bay, a connection was made by HC Link with Alana Forslund, Coordinator of the Community Arts & Heritage Project, which initiated a discussion about the role of the arts in a healthy community. She brought Carol Kajorinne, Public Programming Coordinator for the Art Galley of Thunder Bay into the conversation who, in turn, invited others to join in.

The gathering was co-sponsored by HC Link and the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, with the organizing group doing the bulk of the work to develop the program, promote it to prospective participants, recruit facilitators and procure the art materials.

Members of the regional gathering organizing group were:
• Lorna McCue, Ontario Healthy Communities, a member of HC Link
• Carol Kajorinne, Public Programming Coordinator, Art Galley of Thunder Bay
• Crystal Nielsen, Community Artist
• Michelle Richmond-Saravia, founder of beSuperior Consulting and representative of Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre’s Long Life Care Program
• Michelle Kolobutin, Community Clothing Assistance

In planning the gathering, the group agreed that racism against Indigenous people was a pressing issue in Thunder Bay, and felt there was a need for non-Indigenous people to gain a greater understanding of the historical impacts of colonization and residential schools. They saw the regional gathering as an opportunity to make a contribution to Article 63 of the Call to Actions contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Report, which calls for “building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect”, and to Article 83, which calls for “a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process”.

This event aimed to create intergenerational connections through art and story. It brought together more than 45 people, including about 20 Gr. 6 & 7 students from a neighbouring school, elders and seniors from the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre and Community Clothing Assistance, college students, artists, storytellers, and other community members. People from different cultures, from ages twelve to people in their eighties, were engaged in a creative process that combined sharing their stories with a collaborative weaving project, with a focus on learning and growth.

The event began with an opening smudge ceremony, led by Elder Diane Michano-Richmond. Michelle Richmond Saravia, of beSuperior Consulting, shared a story of her journey and invited other to share their stories throughout the day. One elder reminisced about his negative experience at a residential school.

Elder Diane Michano-Richmond    
Photo by Lorna McCue

Eleanor Albanese, a community-engaged artist, guided the collaborative weaving project. The participants were seated in groups of 6-8 around tables with a weaving frame and strips of cloth of a variety of colours and patterns. Eleanor laid out about a large number of pictures of a variety of subjects, such as people of different ages and races, different plants and animals and landscapes, along the windowsills that spanned the long room. She invited participants to go up, one table at a time, to view the pictures and select one to bring back to their table. Once seated again, they took turns explaining what they liked about the picture and what meaning it had for them. Many stories were shared in this way. Each person then took a marker and wrote meaningful words or drew a picture or symbol on a strip of cloth. They shared their words or symbols with others at their table, then, as a group, they worked on weaving the strips of cloth into the weaving frame.





A weaving created by a group of elders. Photo by Michelle Richmond Savaria

The group took a break for lunch, which was catered by Fox on the Run, a locally owned restaurant and catering service. Managing the lunch service was challenging, due to the narrow shape of the somewhat overcrowded room and the diversity of the participants regarding mobility, dietary needs and cultural considerations. However, with several helping hands from students and other helpers it all worked out.





Students explain the meaning of their weaving.  
Photo by Lorna McCue

When the groups completed their weavings, they showcased them at the front of the room and explained the meaning of some of the elements. There were many exclamations about the beauty of the weavings and a warm, positive mood was apparent at the close of the gathering.




Because of the diversity of the participants and varying literacy levels, it was decided not to have each participant complete an evaluation form, but to pose a series of reflective questions to the members of the organizing group. While there were some suggestions for improvements, all felt that the gathering was successful in meeting its objectives. As Eleanor Albanese said: “Community-engaged art making breaks down barriers of all kinds.” Other comments from the organization group included:

It was moving for me to see how people really did share their stories, and wove their stories together, both symbolically and literally.

For the seniors and Elders, it provided a creative and social opportunity. The youth had the opportunity to share and hear stories through art making as well as devour some nurturing food. I heard some profound stories come out of the youth! I feel that no matter the age, everyone had a valid and meaningful story to share.

For something like this to be successful, it takes a high level of experience in community-engaged arts and also cultural knowledge; it takes humility; it takes a group of people all working together with a common goal; it takes a spirit of helping each other and helping the participants feel both welcomed into a space and comfortable in the space; it takes hot tea and coffee, and food to share!  It takes courage and a positive view of the future, as well as acknowledgement of the pain of the past (in the instance of residential schools and our history.)   In other words, it takes tremendous thought and planning.  And even though things did not go perfectly, in my view, it was a special day.  And, of course, there is always room to grow and learn. 

For those interested in viewing the “Connecting Through Stories” weavings, they will be on exhibit at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery Community Room from May 9-24.



Thank you for your generous support throughout organizing this wonderful event. It’s been a pleasure working with you and OHCC/HC Link.

Carol Kajorinne and the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

1820 Hits

OHCC and Developmental Evaluation

Lorna McCue, Executive Director, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition (OHCC)

The Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, a member organization of HC Link, recently sent three OHCC Board members and the Executive Director to a workshop on Developmental Evaluation (DE), provided by Innoweave, to learn more about this approach and its suitability for their Healthy Food Program.

This workshop was facilitated by Jamie Gamble of Imprint Consulting, who has designed and delivered consulting projects in evaluation, strategy, and organizational change over the past decade. He has written a Developmental Evaluation Primer for this series of workshops.

The workshop was designed for teams of 3-4 leaders of an organization to learn together about developmental evaluation and work together to develop a plan to undertake a developmental evaluation for a specific program.

Prior to attending the workshop, participants were invited to view a pre-recorded webinar online, and were given a link to view or download the slides.


Developmental Evaluation is an evaluation approach that supports innovation by providing close to real time feedback on activities, which facilitates continuous development. It is particularly useful in guiding adaptation within complex environments, and is a useful approach to evaluating Collective Impact initiatives. The evaluation methods and tools aren’t necessarily different than those used in a more traditional evaluation, but how they are used is quite different. The evaluation activities are undertaken in a more flexible, team-oriented, user-friendly way, and are geared to on-going learning and development. Data is collected more frequently, the process of interpretation and generating recommendations is timely, new issues are explored as they are identified, and the program design and the evaluation measure may be altered during the evaluation time frame.

The OHCC team decided to plan for a DE of its Healthy Food program. Since 2003 OHCC has worked with partners to support the development of sustainable local food systems and increase community food security within Ontario communities. Recent planning sessions have led to the alignment of OHCC’s food-related resources and activities under one Healthy Food program. The goal of this program is to engage communities in assessing and developing their local food system and build capacity for local solutions to hunger, including emergency services, capacity building programs, access to land and facilities for gardening and food re-distribution and system change initiatives. Our current work in this area includes providing consultation and learning activities through HC Link, to build the capacity of community food programs, and supporting FoodNet Ontario, a provincial network of individuals and organizations working towards sustainable local food systems and community food security.

During this workshop, the OHCC team focussed on exploring the scope of the evaluation process, the risks entailed in undertaking a DE instead of a more traditional evaluation approach and the evaluation methods that would be appropriate for this program. All team members agreed that DE was a good fit for this program, but that further work was needed in program design before a DE could be undertaken. They also expressed their appreciation for the training they received in DE and may have opportunities to apply the concepts to other programs in which they are involved.

2086 Hits

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.

3743 Hits

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.


2462 Hits

Possible: When the Improbable becomes the Inevitable


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

2459 Hits

Collective Impact: A way to build community together

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

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

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

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

Learn more about this year's summit 

Recent comment in this post
Nancy Dubois
Collective Impact is a very popular approach these days supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Innoweave. There is fund... Read More
Thursday, 09 July 2015 21:12
2262 Hits
1 Comment