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Planning for Health
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Planning for Health

I. Plan for collaboration

To achieve healthy built environment goals, public health units must work closely with other municipal departments, including transportation, planning and environment. Building successful collaborations requires internal resources from both leadership and staff. 

Initiating and strengthening collaborations with municipal departments and with external partners requires negotiations at a senior level. Public health practitioners point to strong senior leadership within their health units as key to success, in particular for setting the vision of what collaborations could look like, and a willingness to bring their influence to the table. Strong relationships at a senior level are particularly critical when input is required on a tight timeline. 

Collaboration also requires the allocation of staff resources, in terms of time spent meeting with different departments and responding to the needs of partners in a way that demonstrates the ‘value add’ of a health lens. In the public health sphere, there are many competing priorities—vision and direction are required from senior management for staff to devote focused energy to built environment work

Collaboration across sectors requires a significant investment of staff resources, and staff capacity was one of the top three challenges to built environment work identified in the survey of Ontario public health units. With competing health priorities and limited resources, it can be difficult to prioritize healthy built environment work.

Collaborating across sectors requires not only an investment of staff time, but also demands new skills from a staff team. In addition to professional development and training (discussed further below), public health units have addressed this skill gap through hiring practices. They have sought out candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds (planning, environment, and transportation as well as public health) to create a diverse team. They have created policy advisor positions dedicated to identifying opportunities for public health input, and they have cross-appointed staff with municipal planning departments at the local and regional level. 

• Four of the seven of health units who participated in the focus groups identified a strong vision and leadership from senior management as critical to the success of their built environment initiatives.

• One health unit reported creating a specific Policy Adviser position who sits on inter-sectoral working groups (for example, the regional active transportation committee), attends council meetings, and reads the council meeting minutes of all local municipalities to identify windows of opportunity for input. They bring these opportunities back to the team for follow up.

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