Case Study 01. A needs assessment and capacity building initiative in the context of cannabis legalization.

The Opportunity

The Canadian Public Health Association felt that the introduction of Federal Bills C-45 (Cannabis Act) and C-46 (Act to Amend the Criminal Code) was a good time to help health and social service providers think about how they currently talk about cannabis with the people they serve, how that might change if cannabis was legal, and what support might be needed to bridge the gap and take a public health approach. In order to generate capacity building tools informed by the realities of those doing the work today, CPHA wanted to have conversations with people working in communities across each and every province and territory across the country.

The Ask

Canada is a very large and diverse country - the experience of people working and living in one region can be vastly different than the experience in another. GC was asked to design a method to engage health and social service providers across dozens of communities such that the findings could be brought together at a national level to inform a capacity building strategy, yet also allow for differentiation from community to community. Given the investment required to bring so many people together in so many different places, we were also asked to maximize returns by creating a double barrelled participant experience including education as well as data collection. Done and done!

GC travelled with CPHA to 23 communities to consult with health and social service providers from 76 communities across Canada

GC travelled with CPHA to 23 communities to consult with health and social service providers from 76 communities across Canada

The facilitators of the event were knowledgeable and engaging, which created an environment in which the participants were encouraged to be involved in the conversation. It was great to have a variety of voices from a wide range of health and social services.
— Host Organization in Calgary, Alberta

The Approach

It was important to ensure people from all sorts of professions including police and first responders, education professionals, mental health workers, addiction workers, women's health workers, family service workers, researchers, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and others could equally have a voice in these sessions. We used a variety of methods to collect as much data as possible in the precious time we had in each community including small group discussions, large group discussion with live transcription, individual reflections with worksheets and table group discussion with worksheets. Given the "hot" (and socially complex) topic we were coming to discuss with folks, it was equally important that the content we provided be able to hold up to the most scrutinizing participant. So in working with a team of national public health and cannabis experts we created robust learning materials that would bring participants together with a shared understanding of cannabis products and methods of consumption, the current state of the research evidence as well as regulatory approaches taken in jurisdictions outside of Canada that have legalized and in some cases commercialized cannabis.

The length of time for the session was long enough and the resources provided were very helpful. The facilitators were very well informed and presented materials in a methodical and organized manner. If this was our first forum, we would have run out of time. Good work!
— Host Organization in Yellowknife and Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories
Participant Package for 'A Public Health Approach to Cannabis' Health and Social Service Provider Consultation

Participant Package for 'A Public Health Approach to Cannabis' Health and Social Service Provider Consultation

These efforts resulted in a workshop that could be delivered in as little as 4 hours or as many as 8 hours, as desired by the community, yet consistently meet CPHA's desired objectives including to: 

  1. Assess the current knowledge of health and social service providers related to cannabis and the current response to cannabis among health and social services providers in their community; and
  2. Enhance knowledge related to cannabis (e.g. products, methods of consumption), local prevalence of use statistics, and harm reduction and health promotion concepts as they relate to cannabis.
Facilitation Guide for 'A Public Health Approach to Cannabis' Health and Social Service Provider Consultation

Facilitation Guide for 'A Public Health Approach to Cannabis' Health and Social Service Provider Consultation

Stick-handling such a diverse group of professionals, on a contentious topic, who have not worked together before, in a one-time-only community event requires extremely sophisticated facilitation.

To ensure we were always up to the job, regardless of what hotel we stayed in the night before, we also create a Facilitator Package with a detailed plan, associated customized materials for each session and designed it such that we could collect our own design-related insights and reflections along the way for ongoing improvement. Participant Packages were also created to ensure people could arrive and relax into the experience, rather than carry the burden of note taking or remembering the instructions from 3 slides back. 

Having such a large number of people from varying industry backgrounds and a wide range of experience created excellent dialogue and a wealth of information that complemented the power point presentation. Participants commented on the flexibility of the facilitators and their willingness to be flexible, yet guiding the flow of discussion and disseminating information. The design of the consultation was appropriate for the participants to explore and enhanced the quality of discussions. The facilitator’s knowledge related to cannabis use, the identification of the capacity gaps of service, and presentation of existing data to inform service delivery, and organizational and community capacity building strategies was fantastic.
— Host Organization in Winnipeg, Manitoba

The Results

We worked hard to create an engagement experience for hundreds of Canadians where they could leave having learned something useful for their work, as well as being assured they had the opportunity to contribute their professional and lived experience to CPHA in a meaningful way. Turns out, we did just that.

The evaluation data (collected by a third party) showed that participants:

  • Found the dialogue relevant to their work (97%)
  • All components of the day were found to be useful (95%)
  • Indicated that participating in the session was a good use of their time (80%)

One in four participants left with a changed perspective!

The session had a statistically significant positive effect on:

  • The level of awareness and knowledge on cannabis issues
  • Understanding that there is a need to measure cannabis consumption in their community
  • Awareness of available programs and services
  • Knowledge on where to find information to address knowledge gaps
  • Understanding that there is a need for cannabis health promotion and harm reduction messaging in their community

Since the community consultation, the evaluation has identified that participants have continued to think and talk about cannabis issues. Now if only we had our own third party evaluator to capture and report on how much we learned from these conversations. It was truly a privilege to connect with so many Canadians, working to support people coast to coast to coast.

We wrapped up what we learned from health and social service providers across Canada on the topic of cannabis into a fulsome report to be published shortly by CPHA. We'll link to it when it's hot off the press!

The facilitators were very culturally sensitive and presented information in a comprehensive manner. The consultation really enabled us to get moving and start implementing tools, so short term we are creating a working committee to look into the pros and cons of legalization and then also create and implement tools and posters and materials to create awareness with community members. We are also looking into joining cannabis to the currently existing alcohol addictions training that exist for front-line workers.
— Host Organization in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik region of Québec

The Publications

Reports for each of the community consultations can be found on the Canadian Public Health Association website here. A cross-community report is also in progress and we will link to it once published.