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Our Health Our Future – A National Dialogue on Healthy Weights Dialogue Report

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2. Engagement Approach

Our Health Our Future was a pan-Canadian conversation that brought together citizens, including adults and youth, communities, industry and other stakeholders, from every region to share their ideas about how to address the challenges related to healthy weights for children.

To facilitate this broad dialogue, FPT governments, through the Canadian Public Health Network, designed a multi-stream engagement strategy that used a complementary set of tools to foster conversation and gather feedback. This approach provided different ways for Canadians to get involved and participate.

This chapter describes the strategic engagement approaches used to gather Canadians’ ideas about healthy weights: in-person events, online engagement and social media.

Project Timeline

Participating FPT governments envisioned a national dialogue on healthy weights in 2010. Specific plans for what would become the Our Health Our Future engagement were finalized in early 2011, with the intention to launch a national dialogue that would span several months.

Our Health Our Future, officially launched on March 7, 2011, was followed by six months of dialogue across Canada, through in-person events, online conversations and social media engagement.

Engagement Strategy

The strategy for engaging Canadians was based on three participation channels:

Participation Channel Rationale for Use
In-Person Events Small group dialogues allowed groups of participants to explore the issues around obesity in detail, and to work together to identify individual and joint actions to reduce childhood obesity.
Online A website and online participation tools allowed simple access for Canadians to connect, share ideas and post their views.
Social Media With over 16 million Canadians on Facebook, social media allowed people to add their voices to the conversation and share their ideas with friends, followers and other participants on Facebook and Twitter.
In-Person-Events
  • Federal / Provincial / Territorial Stakeholders
  • Youth
  • Caregivers
  • Industry
  • Aboriginal Organizations
  • NGOs, Researchers
Online
  • Idea Forum
  • Submissions
  • Conversation Guide
  • Program Information
Social Media
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Topics for Discussion

Through these various methods, Our Health Our Future fostered a dialogue on the strategies outlined in the FPT Framework for Action.

Drawing upon the Framework and its strategies for promoting healthy weights, four topics for discussion were identified. The objective was to gather ideas and recommendations on how each of these strategies could be achieved.

Discussion Topics Detail
Taking Early Action Ways to make social and physical environments supportive of physical activity and healthy eating
Creating Supportive Environments Measures to identify obesity risks in children early
Improving Availability and Accessibility to Nutritious Foods Ideas for increasing the availability and accessibility of nutritious foods
Decreasing the Marketing to Children of Food High in Fat, Sugar and/or Sodium Ways to reduce the marketing of high fat, sugar, and/or sodium to children

While most dialogues dealt with all four topics, some sessions worked with fewer topics. For example, Taking Early Action was seen to be more relevant for health professionals and not discussed at youth events.

In-Person Events

Our Health Our Future brought selected groups of participants together for a series of in-person dialogues. The lists of invited participants were developed by FPT governments and stakeholder groups to attract a range of relevant audiences on the issue of childhood obesity. A total of 20 dialogues took place across Canada between March and September 2011, each involving 20-50 participants. Subsets of these dialogues focused on bringing specific groups of participants together for a facilitated conversation. These groups were:

Target Audience Group Description
Academics and Researchers (A&R) Professional researchers studying childhood obesity, healthy weights and child health.
Non-Profit Health Care Organizations (NGOs) Canadian non-profit organizations active in the area of child health through research, service delivery and/or advocacy.
Health Care Practitioners Canadian health care workers who provide various health services to children, youth and families – including physicians, nurses, and allied health professionals.
Provincial and Territorial Stakeholders Groups and individuals actively involved in childhood health including public health workers, advocacy organizations, service delivery organizations and other interested residents. Invited participants were selected by individual provincial and territorial organizations based on their own stakeholder networks.
Youth Groups of young people aged 13-18. Youth events were organized in partnership with YMCA-YWCA organizations and engaged young people active in YMCA-YWCA programs.
Caregivers Individuals who provide care to children and youth, including parents, other family members and professional caregivers.
Aboriginal Peoples Members of Canada’s diverse Aboriginal communities including First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
Industry Representatives from Canada’s business community in food and beverage, health, retail, advertising, financial services, entertainment, urban planning and fitness industries.
Media Representatives from various print and broadcast organizations and industry associations.

Each dialogue was designed to allow participants to learn about the complex issues surrounding childhood obesity, reflect on possible actions for addressing the challenge, and discuss their ideas and experiences with others. The dialogues also provided a forum for sharing best practices across jurisdictions and identifying opportunities for collaboration.

Small breakout groups were used at each dialogue to help maximize the opportunity for everyone to contribute to discussion. For each policy area, groups of participants were asked the following questions:

  1. What do you see as the most important action(s) that would help advance this goal?
  2. Who would need to take the lead or be the champion for your action(s) to be implemented?
  3. What could we measure (indicators) in order to monitor and report on progress?

Groups were provided with table worksheets to record their actions and ideas, and to help guide their discussions. Following the small group discussions, all of the participants reconvened into a plenary dialogue, which helped identify any points of agreement or disagreement between participants in the room.

Throughout the dialogues, keypad questions were used to get a deeper sense of the perspectives being represented at each event. Typically, participants were asked to provide relevant demographic information, determine how important each policy area in the Framework for Action was in addressing childhood obesity, and identify the extent to which they could impact each policy area in their professional lives.

The following table indicates the in-person events conducted for Our Health Our Future, including the contributing participants.

Listing of Our Health Our Future In-Person Events
Contributors Location
National NGO:
Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC) Montreal, QC
Childhood Obesity Network (CON) Ottawa, ON
Provincial/ Territorial Stakeholders Charlottetown, PE
Saskatoon, SK
Winnipeg, MB
Whitehorse, YT
Yellowknife, NT
Youth Vancouver, BC
Toronto, ON
Iqaluit, NU
Port Coquitlam, BC
St. John’s, NL
After School Programmers/ Caregivers Vancouver, BC
Toronto, ON
Industry Ottawa, ON
National Aboriginal Organization: Aklavik, NT
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK)
National Inuit Committee on Health
National Aboriginal Organization: Saskatoon, SK
Métis National Council (MNC)
National Health Committee
National Aboriginal Organization: Ottawa, ON
Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
Media Toronto, ON

Online Engagement

Our Health Our Future’s online engagement channel used a set of web-based tools to allow participants from across Canada to share ideas and engage in a conversation about promoting healthy weights. These were governed by terms of use and guidelines for appropriate participation.

An interactive, bilingual website was created at www.OurHealthOurFuture.gc.caExternal Link as a “hub” for participants to learn more about the issues around childhood obesity and submit their ideas and comments. The website included the Idea Forum and Submissions Area, as well as a page with instructions on how to participate. Supporting pages offered background information on the Our Health Our Future project and other government initiatives to promote healthy weights, and a series of facts on various aspects of childhood obesity, healthy weights, diet and physical activity. Several pages on the engagement website also described the terms of use and guidelines for appropriate participation.

Figure 2. An image of the Our Health Our Future engagement website homepage:

Fostering Greater Awareness of Obesity

In addition to gathering the views of Canadians, a further objective of the engagement website was to foster greater awareness and understanding of obesity, its impact on Canadians, and what Canada’s FPT governments are already doing to respond to this public health challenge. The website contained a suite of learning resources for participants including relevant policy documents, showcases of government initiatives, and facts about obesity.

Participants could read the Framework for Action document, which formed the basis for the engagement.

Figure 3. Image of the Resources section of the website:

Additionally, a section of the website allowed visitors to view FPT government actions related to healthy weights, using an interactive map of Canada.

Idea Forum

The engagement website featured two tools to gather views from participants. The Idea Forum tool was an interactive discussion area where participants posted their ideas for promoting healthy weights, and responded to other people’s ideas. With the ability to vote ideas "up" or "down", the Idea Forum allows the participant community to work together to identify their preferred ideas, ending with a ranked list of relative priorities for action.

Figure 4. An image of the Idea Forum Page: Youth Ideas Section

The Idea Forum also helped broaden the discussion by allowing participants to comment on ideas posted by other people, and share their own ideas with others who had yet to join the conversation using Facebook, Twitter and email.

Figure 5. An image of a sample idea and some of the comments posted in response:

In many cases, original ideas posted by participants received a large number of response comments, and generated a thoughtful dialogue on the strengths and weaknesses of the ideas, in addition to possible refinements. People added their own experiences through comments, adding a “real world” dimension and helping participants understand other people’s perspectives on obesity.

Submissions Area

In addition to the interactive Idea Forum, the Our Health Our Future website also allowed individuals and organizations to post direct submissions to FPT governments on the engagement topics. The Submissions Area allows participants to post more formal responses that cut across one or more of the discussion topics, through either a plain text submission or a document attachment.

Unlike the posts in the Idea Forum, submissions were not open to public comment. Rather, the intent was to ensure that formal responses from individuals and stakeholder organizations were made public in a transparent manner.

A set of guidelines established parameters for these formal responses, including the requirement for an executive summary and a limit of 3,000 words (approximately ten pages) to ensure that governments could review all submissions with the analysis resources available.

The tool was designed to allow participants to enter and send their submissions to the Our Health Our Future project team quickly and easily. Once received, all responses were reviewed by project team members to ensure the content met the site’s terms of use, and approved submissions were typically posted within 24 hours of receipt.

Participants could read any submission, executive summary, and attachments posted on the Our Health Our Future website.

The Submissions Area complemented the dialogue-based Idea Forum by gathering more detailed contributions from experts and individual Canadians. Their responses often included advanced research and analysis on child health, bringing forward important perspectives for consideration by participating FPT governments.

Figure 6. An image of a sample submission from a stakeholder organization:

Social Media

While the Our Health Our Future website provided a forum for Canadians to convene to start a shared dialogue about healthy weights, social media provided another channel for the engagement project to join existing conversations about childhood obesity where they were already taking place – on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.

At its heart, social media is about community; technology provides virtual spaces where people with shared experiences, perspectives, or values can exchange knowledge and information, and collaborate to help each other.

Our Health Our Future incorporated a social media engagement channel to foster and support a dialogue across Canada’s digital communities of youth, parents, researchers, advocates, social service professionals and others who have an interest in or passion for healthy weights and child health. An online presence for Our Health Our Future was created on two leading platforms. Facebook was used to reach a broad base of Canadians, including youth and parents. Twitter was used to bring together networks of thought leaders, researchers and stakeholder organizations who exchange news and perspectives on childhood obesity.

Facebook

With over 16 million Canadian members, Facebook is the most-used social networking tool in the country. Although best known for enabling interactions between friends or personal networks, organizations and specific “causes” are increasingly using Facebook to build and engage their own communities of supporters, customers and or champions. Building these communities strengthens relationships between the organization or initiative and the people who care about it the most.

Our Health Our Future used Facebook to build a community of Canadians who shared an interest in promoting healthy weights, and engage members of that community in a shared dialogue about the most effective ways to do this.

A customized Our Health Our Future presence was created on Facebook, consisting of a set of pages to build its community and facilitate the exchange of ideas between members. This process started when new visitors arrived and decide to “like” the page and, in doing so, join the community of participants involved. The Idea Forum from the main Our Health Our Future website was integrated into Facebook, allowing Facebook users to easily vote, post, comment and share ideas.

Figure 7. An image of the Our Health Our Future Welcome and Idea Forum on Facebook:

In addition to the Idea Forum, Facebook fans could post messages or links on the Our Health Our Future wall, and respond the open- or closed-ended discussion questions posted regularly by the moderation team. Participants would frequently “like” moderator status updates, or post comments in response to facts or discussion questions. Polling questions were also used to measure participant reactions to leading idea posts in the forum.

A community of interest was built around the project both through peer-to-peer recommendations and “viral” recruitment, as well as through an advertising campaign on Facebook itself.

Figure 8. An image of the Our Health Our Future wall with posts and discussion questions:

Twitter

Twitter is a leading social networking platform for learning and information sharing across professional communities of interest. Users post messages and engage in short dialogue through 140-characters public notes or “tweets.”

To allow the engagement of participants in either language based on their preference, two Our Health Our Future presences were created on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Healthy_WeightsExternal Link and www.twitter.com/Poids_SanteExternal Link.

Figure 9. An image of the Our Health Our Future Twitter presence (English):

A community was formed around Our Health Our Future, thanks in part to stakeholder organizations such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation and causes such as “Canada’s Healthiest Province” which recommended to their followers and communities that they become part of the dialogue on healthy weights. At the end of the active engagement phase, the English Our Health Our Future presence had over 200 followers including physicians and other health professionals, clinical researchers, stakeholder organizations and interested Canadians.

The dialogue on Twitter was fostered through active online facilitation by the Our Health Our Future project team who posted discussion questions to initiate conversations with and among followers and participants. Participant messages, responses, and ideas were recorded and analyzed to form part of the overall key findings from the engagement project.

Our Health Our Future’s social media presences allowed participants across Canada to join the conversations about healthy weights and involve their friends, “followers” and members of their broader social networks in the dialogue. Participants on Twitter and Facebook posted ideas that complemented those gathered through the online engagement website and the in-person events.

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