Policy & Advocacy

How CHCs are advancing advocacy and public policy through the release of local wellbeing reports

"Through my work with the people involved with the Canadian Index of Wellbeing what became apparent right from the onset was the primary raison d'etre of this tool was to engage citizens to help shape policy development aimed at advancing public policy consistent with the values espoused by CHCs, and in particular, equity." - Jack McCarthy, Executive Director, Somerset West CHC

In the fall of 2014, six Ottawa Community Health Centres and seven Community Health Resource Centres teamed up to release Bridging the Gap, a first-of-its-kind report card on the wellbeing of the city. Using all eight CIW domains, the report connects the dots between the health of the people living in the city and the factors that influence their quality of life.

Launched in the lead up to the region's municipal elections, the report was designed to inform voters and policy makers. It did just that and made media headlines. The report continues to serve as both a source for media discourse and as a primer for city staff as it highlights both gaps in service - in the form of policy recommendations - and what the community is already doing to effect change by featuring successful initiatives.

Why was it significant?

Bridging the Gap: The Ottawa Community Wellbeing Report 2014 represents a significant milestone for our sector in so far as the Ottawa Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres were the first group of CHCs to apply the Canadian Index of Wellbeing as it was originally conceived; namely, as a tool to help shape public policy in an unapologetic, coherent and meaningful way.

In addition to using the CIW as a framework to advance public policy, the Ottawa Report performed several other important functions; not the least of which was to really profile some of the excellent community work performed by their member agencies, such as Making Votes Count which played a really pivotal role throughout the process.

How did they do it?

Bridging the Gap: The Report Format
  1. 1. Educate people about the CIW by giving a primer on the research and evaluation framework
  2. 2. Capture wellbeing in their communities by providing stats per each domain coupled with live video interviews
  3. 3. Showcase the good work that is happening by promoting the work of their partners
  4. 4. Conclude with key policy recommendations to advance healthy public policy

Beyond policy recommendations, the report contains a detailed look at wellbeing indicators that are part of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing's (CIW) measurement framework.

"When you look at the CIW indicators for Ottawa you find a disturbing divide," says Jack McCarthy, Executive Director of Somerset West Community Health Centre. "There some indicators that show a city of great prosperity, but there are many others that reveal the city needs to do a better job improving health and wellbeing."

For example:
1. Poverty rates sit at nearly 12 per cent even though the city has the highest median income in Canada.
2. Suicide is a leading cause of death for people ages 20-44.

And compared to other metropolitan areas in Ontario, people living in Ottawa have the lowest rates of feeling attached to the place where they live. To show actions that can be taken at the community level to address these issues, Bridging the Gap highlights a wide range of community initiatives mounted by the Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres.

"The stories in this report show that community-based organizations can build people's ability to deal with tough challenges," says Hussein Samhat, program ambassador for Pathways to Education, a program delivered by Pinecrest-Queensway CHC. "If it wasn't for the support I received through the Pathways program, I would still be living in a shelter."

However, the CHRC emphasized, municipal leaders must do their part by introducing healthier public policy to ease the stress on people that damages their physical and mental wellbeing.

"In the end, decisions made by our elected leaders are biggest determinant of health," said Jack McCarthy. "That's why it's so important for people to cast their vote in the municipal elections this November and support policies that will start closing the great health and wellbeing divide in this city."

The success of the Ottawa Report has prompted other communities to follow suit. Vaughan CHC is currently assembling its own Community Wellbeing Report based on the CIW framework using the Ottawa Wellbeing Report as a template. The initiative has lead Vaughan CHC to build brand new partnerships that include municipalities, school boards, and other local agencies who are working together to advance community health policy. The report is scheduled for release in fall 2015.

For details about the Bridging the Gap launch event and to read the report, click here.

To read the Q&A with Jack McCarthy, Executive Director of Somerset West Community Health Centre about the Bridging the Gap report, click here.