Once again, I sit at my computer following an event and try to capture months of planning and an entire day's worth of presentations into one blog post. This task, as impossible as it always seems, is an integral part of my own learning process and helps me to consolidate what I've learned and, most importantly, how I can apply what I've learned to my work.
The event, Strengthening Collaborative Relationships: Building healthy communities together, was one of four "regional gatherings" that HC Link is planning and delivering in collaboration with regional partners across Ontario. This event was planned by the Northeast Healthy Communities Partnerships, with HC Link, to meet their needs and interests around working with municipal partners and decision-makers. The event was a strong collaborative between HC Link, the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit and the planning committee: Alison Dutkiewicz, Barb Eles, Melanie Davis, Janet Smale as well as Pam Patry from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
The purpose of the regional forum was to bring together people – like public health, municipal staff, recreation and community health providers, community partners and volunteers- that can influence the health of our communities to talk about how we can work together. Paul Young from HC Link, who is a health promoter and planner, led us through the bulk of the day and was joined by some amazing speakers from Northeast Ontario. The morning sessions were spent with Dr. Jim Chirico, Beverley Hillier, and Paul Young talking about municipalities: how they are structured, how to work with them, and the myriad of plans that guide them. In the afternoon, a wonderful panel of Stephanie Lefebvre, David Courtemanche, and Karen Beauchamp talked with Paul about how to frame health and health equity issues in ways that will resonate with the public and municipal decision-makers.
As is often the case (and frankly what, as an organizer, you hope for) a key theme emerged from the day: conversation conversation conversation! Don't rely on emails - actually meet each other. Take your planner for lunch! Go for a walk together! Get to know the municipal/city clerk. You don't even have to have a particular goal or issue in mind to start building a relationship, just focus on learning what each of you do. Chances are your municipal planner doesn't understand what public health does, and may not understand the role that community recreation plays and vice versa. By learning about one another's roles, mandates and priorities ways in which you can work together will emerge. Karen, a planner with Temiskaming Shores, reminded the audience that language can be a barrier. Public health, planning and other sectors use different words or sometimes the same words for different concepts. Karen emphasized that folks are not going to agree to something when they don't even know what it is.
I found the afternoon panel conversation about framing the policy issue to be really enlightening. Often, those of us who are passionate about health fall into the trap of thinking that if everyone around us just understands how important health is, they'll jump on board. It's our responsibility to frame the issues that are important to us (such as food security, health equity, age-friendly communities, etc) in a way that the decision-makers will respond to. Dave Courtemanche pointed out that many of the issues that each sector has are driven by the same root causes. Identify the priorities of council and investigate what they have in common with your own priorities.
It was a fantastic experience planning this forum for the Northeast Region. We were also able to livestream and record the forum. You can view the recordings here http://www.ustream.tv/channel/hc-link-reseau-cs.
Do you have any tips and strategies on working with municipalities? For municipal staff/decision-makers, what advice would you give those seeking to work with you? We'd love to share your thoughts!