A New Community of Learning and Practice

Jan. 17, 2017 in Articles

An exciting new type of leadership in healthy communities is emerging in BC thanks to BCHC’s innovative PlanH Growing Impact program. The inaugural cohort encourages teams from four BC local governments to learn from each other through a series of facilitated dialogues. Together, as a community of learning and practice, they are building a shared understanding of how to address the complex issues involved with building healthy communities.

The Community of Learning and Practice (COLP) is a unique component of the Growing Impact initiative because it is a chance for participants to talk to peers in other communities undertaking similar processes to tackle complex problems. In early 2016, four BC communities were selected after a rigorous application process for the new Growing Impact program. 

Growing Impact is a learning and leadership initiative that builds healthy communities. It provides a package of services designed to build capacity and accelerate the work of BC communities. The package includes an intensive two-day applied learning session, coaching, funding and the COLP.

 “The COLP is a space to come together and take what we’re learning in Growing Impact to the next level,” says Stacy Barter, BCHC Community Engagement and Learning Specialist and one of the facilitators for the COLP sessions. “It is a mechanism for bringing all the communities together as one larger cohort and share across the province.”

The leadership teams are dedicated to working collaboratively on improving the conditions for health and well-being within their own communities in issue areas such as food security, air-shed protection, and healthy public policy.

The participating communities are the District of Squamish, Cowichan Valley Regional District, City of Surrey and the City of Kelowna. A small leadership team from each community is participating in the COLP sessions. The teams represent a mix of sectors depending on the issue they are working on. Each includes a local government and health authority representative because of the ability for those sectors to impact the community conditions that affect health and well-being.

“The Growing Impact participants have seen limitations to approaches that communities and organizations have taken to improve health and well-being in the past,” says Barter. “They see the importance of embracing collaboration across sectors to improve community health outcomes”.

Participants quickly started asking what are the tools, approaches and practices that can be replicated or can be transferred to other places.

The communities were selected based on having certain conditions in place including a strong multi-sectoral strategic leadership team. The leadership teams are dedicated to working collaboratively on improving the conditions for health and well-being within their own communities in issue areas such as food security, air-shed protection, and healthy public policy. 

Although communities may be tackling distinct topics they recognize similar needs in how to work across sectors and separate issues. One participant reflected, “I appreciated hearing from the other groups around the province. While our projects are quite different - it was enlightening to hear the similarities among us.”


Facilitated Dialogue

The teams dial into a teleconference line and use an online webinar platform for their sessions. They reflect on their work happening locally and share a broader perspective of the processes underway with the other cohorts province-wide.

 “Participants quickly started asking what are the tools, approaches and practices that can be replicated or can be transferred to other places.” explains Barter. Participants in the COLP dialogues describe the tools they are finding useful. One group shared the effectiveness of an 'Influence Mapping' tool. Another community started looking at how they might use this approach in their work. Two other communities are sharing their best thinking around integrating health policies into official planning processes.

A Common Language

These peers see the benefit of sharing ideas and working together to build healthy communities across the province.

One participant said, “Ït has been most useful to witness and better understand how the different communities are applying the growing impact concepts and tools in their work, especially in how they are testing and incorporating the adaptive learning pieces as they go forward.”

All participants in the Growing Impact program have attended the intensive Growing Impact in-person applied learning session. These sessions focused on building five main capacities; systems thinking, multi-sectoral collaboration, adaptive learning and action, and transformational leadership.

The in-person learning sessions also introduced possible approaches to building capacity. As a result, all COLP participants have a shared understanding and common language of the capacities and approaches which allows for deeper learning during the virtual COLP sessions.

 “I found the sessions helpful to frame our challenges and have other groups respond with how they have been managing those challenges,” said a COLP participant.

The end of the first phase of Growing Impact support wrapped up in early January 2017. Participating communities will have an opportunity to apply for continued support through PlanH.


The PlanH program supports local government engagement and partnerships across sectors for creating healthier communities. Recognizing that community policy, plans, and decisions affect health and well-being, PlanH provides learning opportunities, resources, and leading-edge practices for collaborative local action.

PlanH, implemented by BC Healthy Communities Society, facilitates local government learning, partnership development and planning for healthier communities where we live, learn, work and play.  Working together with health authorities, UBCM and the Ministry of Health, PlanH supports Healthy Families BC, the Province’s health promotion strategy.