Q: You’ve delivered this training in India and Africa. Can you describe those experiences?
A: Yes - India, Ghana and Sierra Leone. Well the work in India was very exciting because it was the first time we had gone overseas with this. We worked with the staff, volunteers and board members of the Association for Social and Health Advancement. We worked for three days to help them create their own assessment tool. After that we went to a very remote rural area and worked with a group of semi-literate women. The ASHA staff and volunteers we had trained did the process and it was phenomenal.
Q: So, now you’ll offer that here at the Coady Institute for the first time?
A: Yes, I had been including it in the course on health and development, but just over a few days. What we realized was that people don’t necessarily have the skills to carry on the process, so with the certificate, we’ll add the adult basic education principles and skills to help facilitate the process.
Q: How is the certificate program structured?
A: What we’re going to do is go through the PATH process (People Assessing Their Health), by using various activities to get them thinking about health in the broad sense. They will develop their own tool and we will assess some kind of program or policy. And, as I said, we will also concentrate on facilitation skills so when they go back they are well equipped to carry this out themselves.
Q: So these assessments seem like a very social process, involving people of varied backgrounds?
A: Yes, absolutely, depending on where it is and how much involvement you want to have. For example, we did it in Antigonish, when it was based on 57 focus groups that were done around the town and county. Now they’ve just recently done it over a one-year period in Paq’tnkek, a First Nation community just outside of town. They had many different groups do the storytelling and then came together to develop the tool. Ideally you want to involve all the various diverse groups in a community.
Q: How would you define a typical applicant who would be interested in this course?
A: I would think anyone involved in community development or health promotion would find this very beneficial. It could be a number of women’s organizations coming together, for example. A ‘community’ can be defined in many different ways. We’ve worked with groups that are doing promotion for women with low incomes or health promotion or community economic development. So it’s really broad. It’s important to think of health in a broad sense, because people get so caught up in health as solely illness, disease, nurses, and etcetera. This is all about people involved in the community and who are committed to working with each other toward a common goal.
Q: Can you give an example of real-world problems that this course addresses?
A: It certainly raises the awareness and critical-thinking skills of people so they are able to look at their community from a broad perspective. So many of us are caught in our own little silos. This training helps us identify all of those things from a broad perspective, to identify things that are contributing to, or taking away from the health of their communities.
For example, in Antigonish, transportation is a huge issue. When they do a vision of a healthy community they can see what has to be done to get to that vision. Let’s say government is going to bring in a new policy. The community can look at it with their tool, do the assessment and say ‘yes, it’s beneficial this way, but there are negative impacts here and here. So what can we do to make this policy better?’ And you can do that for any project or program.
Q: So there must be training about advocacy in the certificate program, to help people reach those who make decisions?
A: Yes, we’re learning about this. In the mid-1990s when this started, it was simply to raise awareness. Now we use the tool and the process strictly as an advocacy measure.
Recently I worked with two small groups around Antigonish where there was talk of closing their local schools . And we went through the process to assess what the impact would be on the health of their community if their school closed. We didn’t look at the benefits, because this group wanted to keep their school open. They were very surprised to find all the different ways that the school benefited their community that they hadn’t even thought about. It was a very systematic way of helping them. So they can use that information to go ahead and advocate.
And recently in Ghana, when I did the process there, they took it to communities where there are mining companies planning to invest. They used this, and found out it would have this and this and this effect, so they went to company officials and got them to address some of their concerns. So yes, it’s definitely an advocacy tool.
Q: Anything else you would like to share about the Community-Driven Health Impact Assessment certificate?
A: It’s just such a passion. I feel it’s a wonderful opportunity. It’s adult education and community development that come together, and it’s such a participatory process. You can’t do it any other way. People get so engaged and empowered. I just think that everybody who finds out about the course, and its goal of addressing the overall health of their community, would be thrilled to learn more about it.
For information about the Community-Driven Health Impact Assessment Certificate, click here.