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Nine Keys for Success in Engaging Francophones… Even When You Don’t Speak French

HC Link has been a leader in working with Francophone groups and delivering services in French since its beginnings in 2009. More recently, we have begun to develop services and supports to build the capacity of community groups, networks and organizations to meaningfully engage Francophones in their community - even if they don’t speak French. In our recent resource on this topic, we created a list of nine keys for success and this article provides a more detailed look at incorporating these keys into your work. While this article was written with the Francophone community in mind, many of these tips and strategies would apply to working with or engaging many other populations.

It is important to understand the context and environments of Francophones in your community, such as the history of Francophones in Canada and Ontario, where Francophones in your community are located, and any history (positive or not) that your organization/group has in working with Francophones. One such context is that there is no single ‘Francophone community’. Franco-Ontarians have language in common but come from diverse cultures, religions, values and experiences and therefore it’s important to take into account the different cultures of the participants when developing your engagement strategy.

Develop clear goals for your community engagement strategy and define the target groups according to those goals. For instance, do you need to reach the general Francophone public, or is it more appropriate to work with established groups or organizations? As in any community engagement strategy, it’s important to involve Francophones in each step of the process rather than view the engagement as an ‘add-on’ or consult with the group after critical decisions have been made. Consider how the Francophone community can be involved in scoping, needs assessment, planning and evaluation activities. Report back to the Francophone community following the engagement/consultation and be clear about how their participation affected outcomes.

While there is much you can do to work with and engage Francophones even if you don’t speak the language, at some point you will need the assistance of a French-speaking individual to work with Francophone communities. It’s true that many Francophones do speak English, and yet the results of your consultative process may be richer if people can participate, share and express themselves in their first language. Having a coordinator or facilitator who speaks fluent French will facilitate this process.

Many of us who are used to sell-out crowds at our events may be disappointed with small turnouts at French events. Remind yourself that since the Francophone population makes up 4.8% of Ontario’s population, it’s understandable that attendance numbers will be lower! Start with the number of people you have and regard your first few events as stepping stones to establishing a long-standing relationship with Francophones in your community. One strategy that can help you reach Francophones is to advertise in French in Francophone media. You can also create or strengthen relationships with Francophone organizations and groups that have connections to Francophones in your community. Developing the capacity of your organization to be a viable potential partner on various francophone projects will increase your chances of success.


What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone working with a Francophone community for the first time?

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Webinar Recap: How to Engage Francophones: when you don't speak French!

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link Coordinator

Supporting our clients in engaging their Francophone communities is an area that HC Link has been working in for the past several years. We've delivered several webinars and produced many resources – in both languages – on the topic. But this week, Estelle Duchon and I delivered a webinar with a slightly different spin: how do you engage Francophones in your community work when you don't speak the language?

For many people working in the areas of community-based planning, health promotion and healthy communities, we want to fully engage and work with all of the people who live, work and play in our community. When it comes to working with the Francophone community many feel that this can only be done if we are fluent in French. In our 90 minute webinar, Estelle laid out three easy steps to engage Francophones regardless of your French capacity.

Step One: Examine Your Motives: be very clear about the purpose and objectives for your engagement strategy, and also have a plan in place for what you will do with the results. The Francophone community has, in many cases, been consulted often with sometimes invisible results. By properly identifying what you want to accomplish you'll be able to put the appropriate plans in place. You'll also be able to clearly communicate what you are doing, why, and what will happen as result of participation. In this way, you'll be able to manage expectations.

Step Two: Understand Francophone Contexts in Ontario, your community and your organization: Before beginning an engagement strategy with Francophone communities (or any community for that matter) it's critical to understand the history and contexts of that community. For instance one of our participants remarked that she didn't realize that many Francophones in Ontario are new Canadians from 29 of the world's countries that speak French. This can have huge implications regarding culture and beliefs. It's also important to investigate the history of your organization's past engagement strategies (if any) as these can colour (positively or negatively) future participant's expectations.

Step Three: Find people to work with: For many of us who don't have the capacity or comfort to work in French, this step is really key. Are there colleugues in your organization or networks that have the capacity to liaise with communities in French? Also investigate existing networks and initiatives that you could partner with. Take the time to establish a trust relationship with new partners as well as with the communities themselves.

We had terrific audience participation in this webinar thanks to HC Link's new webinar platform which includes a chat board. In fact, 78% of evaluation respondents rated opportunities for participation as excellent! Participants shared ideas for engaging Francophones and also shared what their organizations are doing to boost French capacity in the workforce. Unfortunately due to some technical challenges we weren't able to record the webinar, but the slides have been posted for you on our website.

 This blog post just gives you a smattering of the information that Estelle and I presented – there is lots more out there, including in these resources:

Working Together with Francophones: Understanding the Context and Promising Practices

Working Together with Francophones @ a Glance Part 1: Understanding the Context

Working Together with Francophones @ a Glance Part 2: Legislation and Institutional Support

Community Engagement @ a Glance

Have you experienced successes or challenges in engaging Francophone communities in your work? Please leave us a comment and tell us about it!

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