Sunday, March 30, 2008

Haliburton Highlands Land Trust Organizational Development

F&A has been working with this local Land Conservancy agency for almost a year, helping with a number of aspects of organizational development.

HHLT, like many community organizations, was catapulted into existence by serendipty -- they were offered the gift of a large island with ecological significance, exactly what Land Trusts pray for. They build the organization around the specifics of the legacy, and as it became neatly tucked in for posterity, with management plans and funding strategies in place, they realized that the infrastructure of the organization was not well equipped to move forward. They successfully applied for an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to strengthen the organization, in particular by developing its capacity to engage and effectively use volunteers. They felt particularly unprepared to do fund-raising of the scope necessary to move forward -- it costs money to locate, assess and acquire land!

F&A started by developing a Power Point Presentation suitable for HHLT to use to do community education, orient volunteers and support fund-raising activities. We developed an e-bulletin to update members and others on a quarterly basis, and edited the first two editions. We recommended a protocol for recruiting, training and maintaining volunteers. We did an environmental scan to recommend a fund-raising event with capacity to become their 'signature' annual fund-raiser -- a spring Gala with auction of donated 'green' art and recreation (Haliburton's primary economic resources) as the primary revenue source. We prepared a data base of potential grant sources. We supported HHLT to take advantage of an offer from the provincial umbrella body, Ontario Land Trust Association, to participate -- for free -- in a strategic planning procedure that OLTA was piloting as a resource to its members.

As we near the end of our contract, our time is focussed on modelling how to plan and run a fund-raising Gala scheduled for May 31, 2008. HHLT needs to learn how to use the planning and the event to raise their profile in the community and to recruit new volunteers -- as well as reaching their earning target. This is a many-faceted undertaking, and we will leave HHLT with a How To Run a Gala Manual to guide them in future iterations. We have also created, in the course of the work, a number of specialized data bases that pull together contact information and other details about groups that share particular interests. For example, a local 'green business' data base supports effeciently contacting businesses in the area to buy ads in the Gala Programme.

We were interested to learn that while almost all the contact information you need can be found fairly easily on the internet, there is a distinct shortage of lists. The internet has White Pages, but not Yellow Pages. We pulled together a few Excel spreadsheets to organize information in a way that increases efficiency in making contact in several ways (telephone, snail mail, internet), and as a repository for anecdotal facts in a form that can be shared and build on over time. It can be adapted to support team work -- for example, I recorded advertising agreements on the green business spread-sheet and send it to the Treasurer so that he could track received and outstanding invoices to support the final Gala financial report. The Board could strengthen the connections by easily sending an e-mail (or for those few not on the 'net, make phone calls) to thank the advertisers and tell them about the success of the Gala. Whoever sells ads in next year's Gala Program can start with that list and build on it.

We will also give the Board assistance as needed to take the findings of the OLTA Strategic Planning exercise, when it become available, to develop a three-year development plan. This will include a workshop in grantsmanship.

One of the unanticipated outcomes of our work with HHLT was the creation of an environmental collaborative. In response to a potential funding opportunity that required collaboration among environmental groups, we organized a meeting of representatives from the dozen or so environmental organizations in our County. To our amazement, this group had never before met for the purpose of exploring the potential for collaborative work. The funding opportunity that was the raison d'etre for the meeting turned out not to be appropriate, but we convened a second meeting of the group at which the Haliburton Environmental Collaborative was birthed. It continues to meet monthly with great enthusiasm and optimism about its future value to all members.

F&A are not environmentalists -- we certainly learned a great deal about Species at Risk, environmental significance, and other biological and geological minutiae in the course of working with HHLT. However, we were well equipped to help the organization to position itself more centrally in the community, which is the secret to expanding membership and volunteerism, as well as spreading fund-raising across a broader population. Preaching to the choir isn't a good organizational technique. Organizations that grow know how to find common interests and speak a common language.

This was also our first local contract. It has been interesting to watch our friends and neighbours watch us put yet another hat on our heads in local interactions. As volunteers, our community knows Michael as a playwright and vigorous organizer / developer of the arts. Fay is seen as a not-for-profit administrator and advocate on social and children's issues. We are both recognized as creative in finding resources, both financial and human. All of these enriched our work with HHLT. Working with HHLT broadened our profile in the community. It's been a win/win -- as long as the Gala goes off smoothly!

Keys to Women's Health: Phase 2

Keys to Women's Health: Phase 2 is coming to a close with the end of the government fiscal year. Our role was the preparation of two Manuals, one to support dissemination of the findings of the first phase to participants and service providers, and the second to guide the Inclusion Researchers as they made the transition to facilitating Health Circles in each of the three study sites -- Downtown East Toronto, Sudbury, and Peel. This draft includes modifications introduced during the training of the Inclusion Researchers / Health Circle Facilitators in late January, which F&A designed and delivered.

This is very exciting work that we hope will lead to a third phase in which the methodology is rolled out across the province of Ontario. The first phase had women drawn from among the population under study, disadvantaged or marginalized women, in three different communities -- homeless or under-housed women in Downtown East Toronto, Aboriginal and other women served by a Women's Centre in Sudbury, and recent immigrants from South Asia -- trained as Inclusion Researchers. They organized and ran focus groups to collect data about what the women in their marginalized community knew and wanted to know about preventing stroke. The data was analyzed in conjunction with staff from the host agencies and members of the Provincial Advisory Committee (primarily senior health promotion and research experts), under the direction of Dr. Suzanne Jackson of University of Toronto's Centre for Health Promotion. This Phase was published and launched last spring. (see F&A main page for full report)

The findings gave the clear message that women preferred to learn about health in small discussion groups composed and led by women like themselves, and that they needed and wanted help to address life circumstances that limited their ability to make good health choices. Interestingly, the life circumstances they identified, similarly across all three sites, were what the health promotion world calls the Social Determinants of Health.

The second phase of the work, supported by the same partners, explored whether Inclusion Researchers or women like them, women chosen from among the population under study, could be effective as facilitators of discussion groups that helped participants identify and work together to address a group-selected Determinant of Health that got in the way of making good health decisions. The discussion focussed on stroke, but it is very clear that the methodology could equally well be applied to a number of other chronic conditions or illnesses.

The Inclusion Researchers / Facilitators, in conjunction with staff from their host agencies, first organized at least two events at which they shared the findings of the first Phase and introduced the second Phase. They were then trained by F&A to organize and run Health Circles, to become Facilitators instead of Researchers. F&A wrote and circulated a draft Training Manual before meeting in person for training in late January. The group included agency partners and Inclusion Researchers/ Facilitators from all three sites working together over 1 1/2 hard-working days. They made significant changes to the methodology and left confident that they were ready to set up and facilitate at least two groups in each site. They have subsequently done so, and the energy that has been unleashed is breath-taking. Each site has found its own particular application for the methodology going forward, but all have found it very powerful in engaging and working effectively with marginalized women in their service population. The full report, with independent evaluation, will be published soon -- watch for it here.

The marginalized pose a very serious problem for the health system. They are at increased risk to suffer from chronic illness but are notoriously hard to engage in traditional prevention, early intervention or effective treatment. The health system will continue to waste money and effort unless they find a more effective way of engaging with this population. We think this may be a leading edge approach to doing so.

Furthermore, because the Facilitators themselves are drawn from among the population, the approach quickly builds community capacity and competence. We are just beginning to see the side benefits over time from creating an employment trajectory, a career path, for the Inclusion Researchers / Facilitators. It is becoming evident in their individual lives (as their lives stabilize, they return to education, they get 'regular' employment), in the agencies that shired them (programming is energized, credibility is enhanced, collegial cooperation is strengthened), and in the communities from which they are drawn (a new sense of hope and empowerment). This is Community Based Research at its most potent.

We are very pleased to have been part of this work. We hope the methodology will find broad application.