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Public engagement key to community health plans

Public engagement is so important to Cumberland County’s community health boards, but getting people to participate is not always easy.
Public engagement is so important to Cumberland County’s community health boards, but getting people to participate is not always easy. - Submitted

Community health with Colleen Dowe

Public engagement has been described as a process that brings people together to address issues of common importance, to solve shared problems and to bring about positive social change.   This definition is also an apt description of the work of the community health boards, particularly when we are developing our community health plans. 

As CHBs, one of our roles is to serve as the eyes, ears and voice of our communities and our community health plan guides our work so it is important that we are informed by the public. To develop our most recent health plan, which runs from November 2016 to November 2019, we surveyed the community using both electronic and paper formats and we hosted 12 community conversations. 

We received 422 responses to the survey and had over 190 participants attend our community conversations. The community health plan and our priorities were developed based on this community feedback.  

While in the process of engaging the community we learned that engagement, information sharing and community connections were some of the things people wanted more of. We heard many felt there was often a lack of communication. People were unaware of programs and opportunities. They wanted to be heard and they wanted to be connected to the resources in their communities. They told us more community engagement, more connection between organizations and residents and more community conversations are required to understand what supports people want and in turn to connect people to those supports. Respondents said “people don’t feel heard.”

Over the past couple of years there have been several examples of public engagement in our communities. The Town of Amherst has hosted several meetings, focus groups and offered surveys on the Recreation Master Plan, Walkability, and Active Transportation. 

The Municipality of Cumberland County hosted discussions and open houses around the county looking for input on land use and by-laws. 

The Cumberland Child Advocacy Society hosted a launch for the Vital Signs document.  All of these examples of reaching out included social media invitations, traditional media coverage, and email invitations to community stakeholders, yet all were poorly attended.  

Using traditional media, social media, flyers and pamphlets doesn’t seem to be working. We continuously see low response rates for surveys and often poor attendance at meetings. It has been suggested more creativity is needed to get the word out and engage the entire community.  

Our Cumberland County CHBs have made increasing community engagement and positive relationships a priority. 

We are committed to convening diverse community groups to build, develop, nurture and maintain partnerships to identify common interests and collaborate in the goal of improving the health of our community. We will continue to encourage people to share their input and help influence policy and yet it is not an easy task. How do we connect with people who don’t want to participate? We need creative and innovative thinkers who are interested in improving the health of our community to step up and join us.

We are excited to announce we will be presenting wellness grants to several community groups and sharing an update on our Community Health Plan on Jan. 16 beginning at 6 p.m. at the Community Credit Union Business Innovation Centre, Amherst.  

Dr. John Ross will be our guest speaker offering his view on A Different Perspective on Health Care.  Please mark your calendars, everyone is welcome and we would love to see a big crowd.

All three of our boards currently have vacancies and we are looking for people who are interested in improving the health of our community to step up and join us.

SOAR - Bill Schurman and Linda Cloney, co-chairs; SPAR - Terri Ashley and Trudy Weir co-chairs; Pugwash and Area - Joyce Gray, chair.

For more information about the boards or to learn how you can become a member please contact or 902-397-0376.


Colleen Dowe is the co-ordinator of community health boards in Cumberland County.

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