Key findings: A Profile of Promising Practices from Canada and Abroad

Change management theorists note that successful strategic initiatives address several critical factors: forming a powerful guiding coalition, making the issue significant, and articulating a clear implementation pathway. These themes also emerged from the key informant interviews for this report:

Cultivate effective partnerships

  • At the outset:
    • Identify local strengths and capacity.
    • Send invitations to participate from the Mayor's Office, or similar authority. This can add credibility to the project.
    • Include all major stakeholders from the outset to make sure that the right partners are at the table. It is important to seek partners who will enhance the program with their knowledge and diverse perspectives.
    • Focus on the purpose of partnerships by encouraging everyone around the table to discuss their issues and ways of working together to address these.
  • During the project definition and development phase:
    • Build programs around your partners' other program priorities and objectives. Linking with those who are already taking action can help to ensure the success of the project.
    • Nurture your partnerships, taking care to understand the objectives of each partner. The different perspectives of both health and planning professionals need to be appreciated and validated.
    • Keep your partnership goals and objectives transparent. Strong community engagement will increase support for implementation as well as for the initial planning.
    • Establish champions early on (either individuals or groups).
    • Assign specific roles to project partners. It may be helpful to use a "Task Force" model where partners choose their role to play and level of involvement.
  • Ongoing:
    • Use the relationships developed in each project to advance your health promotion agenda, for example through invitations to other planning venues.
    • Nurture your relationships - keep up with people you have worked with, even through an informal e-mail or a coffee chat. Remember that developing trusting relationships takes time. By maintaining these relationships you can work with these partners for future programs.

Build commitment about the importance of the work

  • For all project participants:
    • Establish early on that the project belongs to the community. A community-driven and community-owned project is more likely to be sustainable over the long term. Partners can strengthen connections to the community through extensive public engagement. At the same time, public education builds community support which helps to mobilize political leadership.
    • Engage a senior-level champion as this raises the priority and credibility of the project. It is imperative for each participating organization to have their senior management team on board.
    • Make presentations to local boards and community groups – this can help to spread the word quickly.
  • For project leaders or staff:
    • Encourage provincial government officials (elected and staff) to make the project a priority.
    • Develop well-researched background reports to create credibility for the project, increasing buy-in at the municipal level.
    • Build a business case to gain support from senior management, and tailor your message to show each group "what is in it for them."
    • Adapt your communications to suit your audience. Frame public health messages for different sectors (e.g., planners, developers, residents), in a language that they can use.
    • Consider funding sources early in the project. Most of the projects profiled in this report were well received, with little or no resistance. For many, the biggest challenge was securing funding.
    • Ground your work in existing literature to build credibility with stakeholders.
    • Produce a formal report. At the municipal level, a report can help establish long-term thinking early on and helps build support from all levels of stakeholders.
  • For health professionals:
    • Get involved early in the stakeholder process – do not wait until the end to make a contribution. Being engaged early means there is an opportunity to embed health promotion concepts into the project rather than commenting after the main ideas have been developed.
    • Contribute health data to the project. Select data that a planner can use to make a compelling case for a healthier built environment.
    • Link human health benefits with other benefits of healthy built environments such as lower vehicle emissions, reduced traffic infrastructure costs, and increased tourism. This perspective can help engage a wider variety of stakeholders.

Maintain a focus on end results throughout implementation

  • Start with small-scale projects and build from these. Pilot projects can inspire confidence, bring visibility, and generate excitement about a larger-scale vision. For instance, engaging community members in a walkabout can bring home the message about specific opportunities for improvement. Other pilot projects could include a healthy environment audit, or a "walkability" or "bikeability" study.
  • Make the time to build a strong foundation, especially when you are forming partnerships across sectors. However, be sure to balance process (consultation and networking) with action that moves you ahead towards the project goals.
  • Set short-term goals within a longer-range plan; incremental goals accumulate over time.
  • Use realistic goals and timelines to build partner confidence. Partners are more likely to remain engaged if they not only feel listened to but can also see tangible milestones achieved along the way.
  • Expect that uptake of project findings and recommendations will take time.
  • Work with short timelines if you have dedicated champions who understand the project and its goals.
  • Expect different solutions for rural locations since they have different needs and priorities. For instance, with resources usually limited, it is especially important to build on partners’ existing staff, facilities and capacities.
  • Be strategic as you use the media to help get the word out – ensure they understand the big picture and how each stage of the project contributes to larger goals.
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