Engage October 2019 Newsletter

Dear friends of Engage,

So far, 2019 has been a monumental year in Engage’s journey! The following newsletter highlights our Quality of Life Initiative efforts and public engagement work over the past nine months, an update on Share Thanksgiving, global connections, staff changes, and a glimpse of what’s ahead. It also includes a tribute to our dear friend, the late Michael Chender. 

We’ll soon be releasing a new website where you’ll be able to better learn about us, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. We’ll also share ways you can get engaged, tools and resources for public engagement, our blog, and more! This is our first newsletter in quite some time, and we have a lot to share. Thank you to those who have newly signed up to receive updates and to our long-time friends alike for joining us on this journey. Here we go!

Nova Scotia Quality of Life Initiative 

We started the calendar year focused on connecting one-on-one with groups and individuals to make sure the Survey phase of the Initiative was well-designed and received. During this process, we learned about a Functional Economic Region map of Nova Scotia, developed by Statistics Canada, that indicates the general zones where people live, work and play. This learning encouraged us to take a more in-depth look at the sense of belonging and connection Nova Scotians feel to the areas in which they live. 

It soon became clear that the survey needed to collect data at the community level to have a meaningful impact for all Nova Scotians. To mobilise this vision, we were fortunate to establish a partnership with Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), and with the leadership of their campus principals, we formed nine regional cross-sectoral Local Leadership Teams. Raising survey awareness, driving survey participation, and mobilising outreach wouldn’t have been possible without the work of these groups. As we enter into the next phase of the initiative, we’ll continue to work with Local Leadership Teams to mobilise the data and encourage community action.

The Nova Scotia Quality of Life Survey received almost 13,000 responses, surpassing our goal of a ten percent response rate (8,000 survey responses).  According to our colleague, Bryan Smale, at the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), this is the most substantial data set ever collected through their approach. Pictured below is the number of survey responses by region.

Nearly 13,000 Nova Scotians have signalled that this is important work. We owe it to them to follow through on our promise to do something meaningful with their collective efforts. The CIW is collating and analysing the responses. Together we’ll dig into applications of the data, and strategies to ensure they are understandable, compelling and accessible. A first report will be created in the late fall of this year. In early 2020, we’ll work with stakeholders and regions to build capacity to mobilise the data at the local level. 

This initiative is a long game, and with your support, we’ll make it an exciting one! Feel free to email us with ongoing input, or go to the Take Action page to provide further feedback and to stay involved in the Initiative.

Public Engagement

Highlights of our public engagement efforts include a municipal engagement clinic in Truro and the One Cape Breton-Unama’ki Summit.

We continued to support the growth of relationships between community organisations, business leaders and other public leaders by hosting a hands-on public engagement clinic for mayors, councillors and staff in Truro for municipalities in the Northern Mainland in January.

The purpose of the clinic was to build capacity for public engagement by reinforcing basic principles, provide opportunities to share knowledge and tools, and to begin forming a learning network of engagement champions. Municipalities identified key issues they were facing, and we work-shopped collaborative and creative ideas to overcome those challenges.

In collaboration with Membertou First Nation and Cape Breton Partnership, we coordinated the second One Cape Breton-Unama’ki Summit in April. Attendees included mayors, wardens, chiefs and councillors from local communities around the Island, as well as leaders from business and academic institutions and youth. Participants discussed the future of the Island and strategised new ways for municipalities and Mi’kmaq communities to work together more closely. A spirited conversation from a panel of successful young Cape Bretoners was a highlight of the gathering.

Share Thanksgiving

After five years of coordinating a program that connected thousands of newcomers, international students and Nova Scotian families, the initiative has come to an end. Our organisation is still collaborating with people across Nova Scotia to make it a more vibrant, inclusive and welcoming place, but through different efforts.

Our focus now is predominantly on driving the Nova Scotia Quality of Life Initiative.  Amongst other things, this work gives us the potential to understand more deeply the daily lived experiences of our newcomers and many other Nova Scotians. 

We want to take a moment to thank partners of the initiative, newcomers, international students, and Nova Scotians who opened their homes who, like us, believed gathering and sharing a meal to be a vital part of building community. Share Thanksgiving wouldn’t have been such a success if it weren’t for all of those who supported and participated.

Global Connections

We’re encouraged that the Nova Scotia Quality of Life Initiative is receiving interest outside our province as a best practice for advancing wellbeing. Nancy Watson was invited to present on our work at a recent Community Indicators Consortium in Denver, Colorado.

Danny Graham was also invited to present at the Putting Well-being Metrix Into Policy Action workshop hosted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, France. The OECD is the leading global organisation advancing a wellbeing agenda, and they are known for their Better Life Index. Other jurisdictions featured at the workshop included New Zealand, Finland, Iceland, Wales and Scotland. 

The Scottish Government, in particular, is comprehensively tackling these priorities. See their National Performance Framework and listen to an inspiring Ted Talk from their First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, here


We’ve said goodbye to team members without whom this year’s work wouldn’t have been possible. We want to acknowledge the significant contributions of Michael Flood and Nancy Watson. Michael is pursuing a Master’s in Social Policy and Social Innovation, and Nancy is back with the Nova Scotia Government as the Quality of Life Lead. Nancy was our first employee, and her vision and strategic insights contributed enormously to the foundation and direction of Engage.

With goodbyes came a few hellos and a welcome back. Claire Parsons and Tami Clarke joined our team this year, and we welcomed back Hailey Vidler after completing her Master’s in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability. 

You can view our staff page here.

Remembering Michael Chender

Engage Nova Scotia lost one of its closest friends and inspirations this summer. Michael Chender was a visionary, a pioneer, and an intellectual force of nature.

His relentless dedication to understanding complex systems and reimagining a world that’s more loving and connected was astonishing. He was instrumental in establishing Engage Nova Scotia and was our first (generous) donor. He was also the driving force behind the founding of Authentic Leadership In Action (ALIA), Envision Halifax and the Wayside Initiative.

To learn more about Wayside and their upcoming programs on Collaboration and Conflict and Mindfulness and Wellbeing, visit waysideinitiative.ca.

Looking Ahead

Our work with the Nova Scotia Quality of Life Initiative continues to be our top priority. Soon we’ll share a treasure trove of data about the day-to-day lives of Nova Scotians from one tip of the province to the other. What we do with that information represents a huge opportunity. If you’d like to be part of a team working to find creative ways to use the data, please contact us directly.

To view our current websites, please visit engagenovascotia.ca and nsqualityoflife.ca. To stay connected, you can also us follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

With gratitude,

The Engage Team

Collaboration: The call of our time

Engage N.S. working to build connections, trust through public engagement

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump being elected. For many of us Canadians we remain as bewildered today as we did a year ago.

It’s common for we Canadians to mock our American cousins — or 50 per cent of them — for being duped by the “untruths” of their new president. We are indignant that so many of them want to destroy Obamacare that, in spirit, is so Canadian — eh. And why can’t they just give up their guns in the wake of so many tragic shootings?

I have American relatives who love Trump, hate Obamacare and own handguns. We barbecue, talk sports, love our children and enjoy each other’s company.

They are good-hearted people — some born in Atlantic Canada. We trust each other to be there for crises, anniversaries, funerals and weddings, but that’s where the trust ends. We have lost our ability to discuss politics, climate change and many of the most important challenges facing our world.

So what gives? Is this a U.S.-Canada thing? Partly yes, and mostly no. Let’s start with the concept of trust.

The Edelman Trust Barometer shows that, globally, trust is plummeting — in government, media, business and non-governmental organizations. Only 15 per cent of 33,000 people surveyed in 28 countries believe the system is working, while 52 per cent believe it is not — 32 per cent are uncertain. This continues a dramatic decline that started with the global financial crisis.

Closer to home, the 2017 Barometer, as well as Ekos Research, points to a Canada that can no longer count itself immune from the global trends of imploding trust and rising populism.

While we have important attitudinal differences from Americans, we mostly have similarities. Pollster Frank Graves tracks these trends and wonders whether the Canadian establishment — tone-deaf to the popularity of the likes of Rob Ford or Don Cherry — remains out of touch.

Well-educated opinion leaders are complaining about us entering a “post-truth” era, but should we be paying more attention to a “post-trust” era?

Trust is one of the secrets to societal happiness and well-being, according to renowned Canadian researcher John Helliwell. It is the glue for communication and collaboration, and the mortar for economic success and improved quality of life.

Much has been written in the last two years about why the world got fragmented and disoriented (e.g. economic inequality, polarizing social media, declining “social/moral fabric”), and what’s needed for a reset (e.g. a different economic framework, a new political paradigm, a public engagement renaissance).

The distortions and disruptions of many media and the internet in particular, have been massive. Our grandparents wouldn’t recognize the often-toxic echo-chambers of Facebook and Twitter. They couldn’t imagine surfing endless TV channels, blogs and websites from our lonely La-Z-Boy to find opinions that only reinforce our narrow perspectives.

The call of our time is to open our minds wider and discover what those least like us might have to teach us.

At its core, this gets personal. It requires us to accept each other — especially when we disagree — and connect in tough conversations.

Pick your wicked Nova Scotia problem: racism, clear cutting, economic dependence, size of government, inequality, youth outmigration, voter apathy or real estate development. None of them are quickly fixable. They can only be resolved at the speed of trust.

The Ivany Report said, “Overcoming the psychological barriers of division, distrust and discouragement may be just as important as raising capital, producing new products or finding new markets.”

Our organization, Engage Nova Scotia, has been working with Nova Scotia communities to build trust through better public engagement because we believe it’s harder to distrust someone “up close.” Attitudes are formed in families and communities, and global change starts there.

In the last two months for example we have collaborated on workshops with 16 municipalities to build understanding about the importance of public engagement. These municipalities and others are building capacity to host better public meetings and close the “trust gap” amongst sceptical citizens, ambitious community organizations and cautious local governments.

Imagine a Nova Scotia where citizens regularly came out to community meetings, felt heard, built understanding with opponents, and supported bold leadership to find new social, economic and environmental opportunities.

These are just a few of the things we are undertaking, in partnership with people and organizations from one end of the province to the other who believe in this place and are ready to build a Nova Scotia that is more unified, inclusive and adaptive to change.

The US presidential election and the miserable splintering our “cousins” are experiencing represent a wake-up call to improve our ability to the come together. Let’s not waste it.

I believe we are up to the challenge. If ever there was a candid and tolerant culture that can navigate these channels, Nova Scotia is it.

Danny Graham QC is the chief engagement officer for Engage Nova Scotia. The non-profit organization is currently working to measure and improve quality of life in our province; as well as encourage Nova Scotians to be more collaborative, inclusive and adaptive to change.

Originally published on November 7, 2017 in The Chronicle Herald.

“Lies, damned lies, and statistics”

“Lies, damned lies, and statistics”

Mark Twain’s famous line exposes the alarming potential of numbers to be misinterpreted or misused. At the same time, clear measures can serve as beacons in the fog of messy misinformation that seems to surround us these days.

The problem with statistics is less their accuracy than the gap in perception they can create. If surveyed populations don’t see their personal, lived experiences reflected in the numbers, they can be quick to discard information that may be helpful.

Quantitative accounts of our well-being provide the vigour necessary to guide policy decisions – but they don’t paint a complete picture. Our perceptions count for something too. A recent two-part study by Angus Reid looking at  “The Lived Experience of Poverty in Canada” is a great example of how looking at the same problem with a couple of different lenses can deepen our understanding of a complex issue.

Most measures of poverty are numerical calculations based on income level and cost of living. This study took a different approach. Essentially, it asked how people felt they were doing financially.  

By that measure, 30% of Canadians feel pessimistic about the state of their finances over the next few years. More Canadians feel that their children’s generation will have it worse than they do (43%) than those who feel the opposite (32%). A total of 27% of respondents identified as either ‘The Struggling’ (16%) or ‘On the Edge’ (11%) – contrast this with an estimated low-income measure (LIM) hovering around 14% since last recorded by Stats Canada, and we can see that there is a significant gap between the way the numbers define financial hardship and the way the average Canadian experiences it.

Part two of the report asked participants how they felt about the growing gap between the rich and the poor. The result was striking.  A vast majority of respondents (72%) believe that low income Canadians are in that position because of circumstances beyond their control, rather than through lack of effort. Attitudes are similar towards the wealthy – 65% believe that well-off Canadians have amassed their wealth through life advantages, rather than a superior work ethic.

The diverse partners driving the Nova Scotia Quality of Life Initiative are taking a hybrid approach. We think that by looking at both objective and subjective measures of wellbeing, we will capture a truer reflection of how we are doing across a range of indicators. Our hope is that the resulting insights will help us build better strategies for improving the quality of life of all Nova Scotians.

Quality of Life Initiative Announced

Quality of Life Initiative Announced
News Release

June 26, 2018

Nova Scotians will soon have access to a wealth of data about how they are doing in the areas that impact their quality of life.

The Nova Scotia Quality of Life Initiative is a multi-year project involving a broad range of organizations from across the province, led by Engage Nova Scotia.

The Initiative is going public today with the release of the 1994-2014 Nova Scotia Quality of Life Index report, available online at www.nsqualityoflife.ca.

The report, compiled by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, measures how Nova Scotia compares to Canada across eight domains of wellbeing: living standards, education, environment, healthy populations, community vitality, leisure and culture, democratic engagement and time use.

Engage initiated this project based on responses to earlier research that asked Nova Scotians how we should measure success. While there was clear acknowledgement that a growing economy was an important part of the equation, the strongest response was to improving our quality of life.

The Index report is intended as a starting point for conversations with individuals and organizations across the province. The next step will be to consult with Nova Scotians about what quality of life means to them. This will be followed by a comprehensive, up-to-the-minute survey of thousands of Nova Scotians this coming Spring. The data will be made openly available to anyone seeking to work with it – from non-profit groups, to businesses, governments and students.

“We think this Initiative can be a game-changer for Nova Scotia,” says Engage Nova Scotia’s chief engagement officer Danny Graham.

“Our hope is, that by widening the lens through which we measure success, Nova Scotians will be able to make more informed decisions. ”

Don Bureaux, president of the Nova Scotia Community College, sees value in the initiative: “Improving our quality of life is something we can all get behind, and a key part of our mandate here at the NSCC. I think this approach to measuring success more broadly can be an accelerator for us working together to rebuild the narrative about what it means to be a Nova Scotian.”

Sara Napier, President of the Halifax United Way, says, “I think what’s exciting about the Quality of Life Initiative is that it creates a forum for us to measure our progress collectively, so that we can assess whether the things we are focused on individually are working together to make real change.”

Likewise, Mark Butler, policy director of the Ecology Action Centre says, “The EAC is interested in this Initiative because we think that by expanding the definition of progress we can encourage leaders of all stripes to take a broader and more considered view of what constitutes success, including the quality of our environment.”

For more information, or to reach one of the following individuals, contact:

Nancy M Watson
Managing Director, Engage Nova Scotia
902-456-3151 or nwatson@engagenovascotia.ca

Available for comment:
Bryan Smale, Research Director
Canadian Index of Wellbeing

Danny Graham, Chief Engagement Officer
Engage Nova Scotia

Mark Fraser, Past President
Halifax Chamber of Commerce

Sara Napier, President
Halifax United Way

Jamie Ferguson, CEO
Sport Nova Scotia

The Future of Nova Scotia – and the Role of Nova Scotia’s Registered Nurses as Leaders in That Future

(Edited version of keynote presentation to the College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia, May 10, 2018)

I’m very honoured to be here with you this morning at the Annual General Meeting of the College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia. I’ve been asked to speak today about the future of Nova Scotia as well as the role of Nova Scotia’s Registered Nurses as leaders who will help make a better future for our Province.  Since my own field is education, preparing this talk has given me a chance to think my way into a different professional field, and I’ve enjoyed that opportunity.  Some of my reflections will likely be obvious to you as insiders to your profession, but I hope that my perspective as an outsider will complement your own vision of your work and its importance in shaping a vibrant future for our province.

When I moved to Nova Scotia from Ontario in 2010 to become president of Mount Saint Vincent University, the only connection my husband and I had to the Province was the fact that Bill, who’s from Ottawa, had done his undergraduate degree at St. FX, had worked here as a geologist in the field every summer during those years—and loved every rock and outcrop in this part of Canada.

But I also felt a deep connection to what I knew of the Mount and its vision of social justice and responsibility.  The Mount was founded by the Sisters of Charity 145 years ago, expressly to open up pathways to education for girls and young women. In 1873, of course, women couldn’t vote, in most cases couldn’t own property, and if they didn’t have a father or husband to support them, they were consigned to low-paying, menial positions in order to earn a living—unless of course, they had an education, which gave them access to good professions such as teaching and nursing.  The Sisters of Charity—who in my opinion are feminist to the core—believed in educating females so as to give them access to choices in their lives—including professional employment and economic independence.

The Mount is, of course, co-ed now, but its focus on outreach, accessibility, and preparation for employment has been as valuable to its male students as to its females. Small wonder, then, that my seven years at the Mount were immensely joyous ones.

And now, after almost eight years of living in Nova Scotia, my feeling of ‘rightness’ about our choice to come here is greater than ever—and so is my excitement about our decision to stay after my retirement last summer.  Simply put, I feel at home here. I’ve been fortunate to meet people from a great diversity of backgrounds—

  • leaders in Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq communities as well as young people from those communities who have come to the Mount to study;
  • quilt-makers, artists and poets;
  • Cape Breton business leaders along with Cape Breton fiddle-players;
  • immigrant families who are deeply grateful to be in Nova Scotia, safe from the ravages of war in their home countries;
  • African Nova Scotian Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard as well as Mi’kmaq Senator Dan Christmas, both recent appointments to Canada’s Senate.
  • Volunteers young and old who give countless hours working on behalf of poverty reduction, better mental health, protection of our environment, strong neighbourhoods, and food security for all.

I’ve had the privilege of attending the annual awards ceremony held to honour the accomplishments of “youth in care” –children who have grown up in foster homes or group homes—where I listened to the incredible stories of resilience in the face of hardship that these young people have demonstrated.  And then I had the joy of seeing some of these ‘youth in care’ enrol at the Mount to begin a university degree. I was proud to learn that Nova Scotia was the first province in Canada to continue financial support for ‘youth in care’ throughout their postsecondary studies if they chose to go on to college or university.

I’ve also served on the committee to select recipients of the Order of Nova Scotia and been humbled by the diverse accomplishments of the nominees and their extraordinary service to their professional fields, their communities and to the Province. Only five are selected each year to receive the award, but I found every nominee to be worthy of honour—along with their nominators, who devoted such generous time to preparing the nominations.

And I’ve had the great good fortune of being connected to Nova Scotians who have their sleeves rolled up and are determined—whatever the obstacles—to make a difference for future generations—to be bold enough to seize visionary ideas and take risks to make them a reality.

I do understand that the road for Nova Scotians has often been a rough one.  If you pick up a report predicting our future in the 1930s, ‘40s, 50s – on up through the Ivany Commission Report in 2014—you’ll find a common thread in all their analyses.  To quote the Ivany report, “Two interdependent factors—an ageing and shrinking population and very low rates of economic growth—mean that our economy today is barely able to support our current standards of living and public services.”

We face demographic and economic headwinds—both of which, of course, have a direct impact on our healthcare sector—and we are challenged to find safe passage out of the storm.

So, with this knowledge of the hard realities facing Nova Scotians, why have I chosen to stay here?

I believe that we are capable of “turning a corner” at this time, and I’ve seen enough evidence in recent years to make me want to be a part of the change we’re capable of creating. In June of 2012, I attended an all-day meeting of people from across our province who came together to consider just one thing—the future of Nova Scotia and how to make it better.  Out of that meeting grew a non-profit organization called Engage Nova Scotia, whose Board I joined and have chaired for the past four years.

It’s largely because of my connection with Engage Nova Scotia that I was asked to speak with you today, and I’m really pleased to have this chance to talk about the work of Engage NS and why it excites me. As you might guess from the name of our organization, its most fundamental premise is that the change we need to bring about to create a better future for Nova Scotia is going to require all of us to engage together in finding solutions.

The mission of ENS is to help in creating “a more vibrant, inclusive and resilient Nova Scotia,” and our belief is that citizens can and should take on a bigger role in building our future. We want Nova Scotia to be a place that lives up to its potential, preserves and builds on its advantages, and has a clearer sense of its purpose and direction.

To get to that goal, we’ve set an ambitious work plan that commits us to “engage Nova Scotians in forums and discussions about who we are, where we want to go, and how to get there.”   As we’ve moved out into communities for these consultations, we’ve raised and had meaningful dialogue about questions such as

  • “What is already special about Nova Scotia?
  • What is the foundation we want to leave for future generations?
  • What are our untapped economic, social, and cultural advantages?
  • Who needs to be part of the building?
  • What innovations in leadership, collaboration, and opportunity are possible?
  • What can be our unique place in Canada and the world?
  • What holds us back?”

And finally – “What is the Nova Scotia we want?”

One event we hosted in 2015, called Stepping Up, can give you a sense of the energy and excitement generated when people come together to consider these questions.  830 people from across 12 communities connected via videoconferencing—with another 800+ watching on computers, tablets and phones—to join in a conversation about not only ideas but practical, hands-on strategies that could shape a better future for our province. I’d like to show you a short video clip that captures some of the excitement and sense of hope:

One place where change can happen most productively is at the municipal level, in our towns and cities.  Engage NS has been working with the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities and with individual towns, cities and counties across the province to explore innovative techniques that can help energize local residents and bring them together to solve their community’s problems collaboratively and constructively.  Traditional “town hall” meetings can end up with the loudest people dominating the mic and others left on the sidelines, apathetic or alienated from the process. In September of 2014, Engage NS staff in partnership with the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities led a group of 45 mayors, councillors, and senior municipal staff members through a day-long workshop on approaches to citizen engagement that can bring people together in productive and positive ways.

A couple of months later ENS worked with a group of municipal and community leaders to design and deliver Engage Inverness County—a two-day conference that focused on how the people of that region can build a practice of coming together to tackle their economic and social challenges.

Since then, similar workshops and seminars have been supported by Engage NS and held in:

Barrington where municipal leaders worked on ideas for economic diversification in their region

Cumberland County where business leaders wanted to find ways of mobilizing the community in response to the Ivany Report, focusing on concrete actions that could be taken to improve the economy without government assistance

Hubbards where the Hubbards Area Business Association in partnership with ENS sponsored an event for local residents to meet, network, and talk about their future; interestingly, 70% of the attendees saw themselves as informed, willing and able to make a lasting impact on the future of our province

Stellarton where organizers from 5 different Stepping Up conference locations got together for a North Shore Conveners Gathering to share what they had learned about catalyzing change in their communities

Amherst where more than 200 people spent an evening at the town Fire Hall talking about the future of their town, identifying their 6 priorities as business growth; expanding tourism; youth retention and attraction; downtown revitalization; trails and recreation; and ways to build an age-friendly community. In a follow-up meeting, participants formed six committees that identified available resources, hurdles, solutions and next steps and then signed up to continue the work on these priorities, with ongoing logistical and technical support from the Town administration.

Pictou County/Pictou 2020 where ENS joined the group Pictou 2020 for an event that featured 30 2-minute stories of local success from Pictou County residents. Among the “take-aways” from that evening were that sharing positive stories is a powerful inspiration; people who take pride in what they do seem happier; and collaboration builds community

Kentville which featured councillors and staff from Kentville, Kings County, West Hants, Windsor, Berwick and Kingston coming together for a day-long “engagement clinic”

Mahone Bay where municipal staff and councillors from the County of Lunenburg, Town of Lunenburg, Bridgewater, Chester and Mahone Bay took part in a similar “engagement clinic” that was focused on the importance of telling our stories

Meteghan where teams from the District of Digby, Clare, and the Town of Digby explored 3 concepts – Where are we at right now? What can we do more of or do differently? Who can help us/whom can we help?

Shelburne where staff and councillors from Argyle, Barrington, the County of Shelburne, Queens County and Lockeport worked on engagement strategies through an Engagement Case Study approach

Port Hawkesbury where Engage NS facilitated a two-day event for municipal and Mi’kmaq leaders called One Cape Breton: A Future Forward Leaders Summit; and where a commitment exercise at the end of the two days resulted in a strong core of leaders and supporters stepping up to make sure that momentum on shared priorities wasn’t lost

And most recently in Antigonish, where two gatherings this year, in January and in April, were designed to consult residents on the future they want and seek their input on the development of a community strategic plan.

So, as these examples should demonstrate, right across our province we can find people who are ready to be more collaborative, inclusive, and adaptive to change.  These are people with energy and hope, with a willingness to let down their guard and take risks, to reach out across boundaries such as race, class, and geography to find common ground and purpose.

Another example of this willingness to reach out has been the response of Nova Scotians to a project called Share Thanksgiving, launched in October of 2014 as a way of making newcomers—recent immigrants and international students—welcome at a special Canadian holiday time. Engage NS has matched more families with newcomers than anywhere else in the country that took part in the Share Thanksgiving initiative. More than 400 people here in Nova Scotia participated as dinner hosts and guests that first year and that number has continued to grow every year, totalling well over 4,000 for the four years of the initiative.  Here’s a short video that should give you a sense of the Share Thanksgiving spirit:

Not only does Share Thanksgiving make me feel a sense of pride in belonging to a province that makes newcomers welcome, but it also points towards a solution to one of our province’s most pressing problems—an ageing and declining population.  Our ability to attract immigrants, make them welcome, and retain them here in our communities is a positive indicator for our future, and Share Thanksgiving proves that we have the “right stuff” to make this happen.

When the Ivany Commission Report was published four years ago, its authors commented that, for the future of Nova Scotia, “Overcoming the psychological barriers of division, distrust and discouragement may be just as important as raising capital, producing new products or finding new markets.  Indeed, we may need to accomplish the former transformation before we can make much progress in the practical aspects of economic development.”

In other words, the Ivany Report points to a healthy attitude as a necessary precondition to other changes our province is seeking.  Throughout the stories I’ve shared with you of work being done by Engage Nova Scotia, I’ve found examples of Nova Scotians who are busy setting aside those “psychological barriers of division, distrust and discouragement” and replacing them with collaboration, inclusiveness, trust and openness to change—the kind of attitude needed for us to build a strong future together.

In a blog post last November by Danny Graham, the CEO of Engage Nova Scotia, Danny puts the matter very eloquently, and I’d like to quote him at some length:

The call of our time is to open our minds wider and discover what those least like us might have to teach us.

At its core, this gets personal. It requires us to accept each other — especially when we disagree — and connect in tough conversations.

Pick your wicked Nova Scotia problem: racism, clear-cutting, economic dependence, size of government, inequality, youth outmigration, voter apathy or real estate development. None of them are quickly fixable. They can only be resolved at the speed of trust. . . .

Our organization, Engage Nova Scotia, has been working with Nova Scotia communities to build trust through better public engagement because we believe it’s harder to distrust someone “up close.” Attitudes are formed in families and communities, and global change starts there. . . .

Imagine a Nova Scotia where citizens regularly came out to community meetings, felt heard, built understanding with opponents, and supported bold leadership to find new social, economic and environmental opportunities.

These are just a few of the things we are undertaking, in partnership with people and organizations from one end of the province to the other who believe in this place and are ready to build a Nova Scotia that is more unified, inclusive and adaptive to change.

The US presidential election and the miserable splintering our “cousins” are experiencing represent a wake-up call to improve our ability to the come together. Let’s not waste it.

Danny concludes by saying:

I believe we are up to the challenge. If ever there was a candid and tolerant culture that can navigate these channels, Nova Scotia is it.

As you can tell, Danny is as optimistic about our ability to be “up to the challenge” and steer successfully through the headwinds as I am – in fact, his optimism, as a born and bred Nova Scotian, has been a great source of inspiration and learning for me.

I want to share one more example of the work Engage NS is doing before I venture to make some connections to your work as leaders within the nursing profession. We’re currently undertaking, in partnership with the developers of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, a project designed to measure and, over time, seek ways to improve the quality of life for Nova Scotians.

“Wellbeing” as defined by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing is “The presence of the highest possible quality of life in its full breadth of expression focused on but not exclusive to [the following eight domains]:

  • good living standards,
  • robust health,
  • a sustainable environment,
  • vital communities,
  • an educated populace
  • balanced time use
  • high levels of democratic participation, and
  • access to and participation in leisure and culture.”

The CIW shifts focus from the standard economic progress measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to look more broadly at “how well our population is faring as a whole.”  We know, for example, that economic growth can come with “costs such as environmental degradation, loss of farmland, growing income inequality,” so it’s important to look at a more comprehensive set of indicators to get a true picture of how well we are living—and to know where to focus our efforts to improve our quality of life.

The Nova Scotia Quality of Life project will, in its first phase, identify trends in our wellbeing over the twenty-year period from 1994-2014 and compare them to the Canadian average.   Phase 2 will involve gathering, through an extensive, province-wide survey, original public opinion data about Nova Scotians’ lived experience in the eight domains of wellbeing – providing Nova Scotians with a wealth of data that can guide local decision-making across the province for years to come.

This Quality of Life research is designed to create a common language and space for us both to celebrate our successes and to tackle gaps in policies and programs so that we can better adapt to the future. With an advisory group from organizations such as the United Way, the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, Nova Scotia Community College, Dalhousie, Sports Nova Scotia, the Ecology Action Centre, and Phoenix Youth Services, we have an extraordinary opportunity to help shape positive outcomes for the future of Nova Scotia.

One Quality of Life domain that I believe will be of particular interest to those of you here today is, of course, the one dealing with robust health or “Healthy Populations,” which looks at the physical, the mental and social wellbeing of our citizens.  Not surprisingly, the domain considers not only the overall health of the population—“health status”—but also what are known as “social determinants of health”—broader factors such as how food is distributed and priced, how houses are constructed and located, how urban transportation is designed, how accessible health care and recreational services are, and how we interact with the natural environment.

Within Canada, these social determinants of health are defined more specifically to include

  • income and social status;
  • social support networks;
  • education;
  • employment and working conditions;
  • social environments;
  • physical environments;
  • personal health practices and coping skills;
  • healthy child development;
  • gender;
  • race;
  • disability;
  • food insecurity;
  • and housing.

For those working within the health sector, I can imagine you might feel a sense of “disconnect” between your own scope of practice—what you are able to influence—and the long list of determinants that influence how your patients will cope and thrive.  But here is the connection between the work of Engage Nova Scotia and your professional practice.  You are not only nurses but you are “nurse leaders”—as indicated by the key themes of your conference.  You have an exceptional opportunity to engage both as citizens and as professionals in fashioning outcomes that will help ensure the future wellbeing of Nova Scotians.

Nurses are trained and positioned to see connections across all facets of our lives, to recognize the myriad determinants of health and the complex ways in which they intersect. You can bring your informed voices to the table within the communities where you live, advocating to help ensure that the choices we make as a society reduce the burden on the healthcare system and improve the lives of Nova Scotians. Conversations about quality of life are happening across our province, among Nova Scotians who believe in the possibility of change and of a better future for us all. I hope you’ll find ways to bring your expertise into those conversations.

I do recognize that, within the practice settings where you work, you face challenges particular to the healthcare sector.  We read daily about the pressures on Nova Scotia’s healthcare system and the difficulties encountered by professionals who care deeply about their work and are frustrated by substandard working conditions, by the bureaucracy, by political infighting, by lack of resources. The future of your sector matters immensely to all Nova Scotians, not least because we know that either ourselves or our loved ones, or both, will need your skills and expertise at some point in our lives.  But, difficult as these problems are, I would argue that there are solutions to be found.

And this is where my own professional background intersects with yours.  Nurses, like educators, work to improve people’s lives and need many of the same traits:

  • respect for your patients
  • compassion and caring
  • analytical skills
  • people skills
  • an understanding of and respect for “difference” – including cultural differences that may be a barrier to your patient’s ability to access care
  • the ability to teach
  • and the capacity to listen and learn

These were among the qualities I felt called upon to develop as I made my career in higher education—qualities that were driven by my own passion for social justice and inclusion.  These qualities are equally strengths for you to exercise as you lead change on behalf of a workplace that is inclusive and equitable, both for its employees and for the clients they serve.

The conversations that Engage Nova Scotia is having with communities across the province demonstrate powerfully that collaboration and openness to change can be nurtured in a setting where people sit down together with a commitment to listen to, trust, and learn from one another. Each one of us can make that commitment.

A thriving and healthy future is possible for Nova Scotia.  Creating that future is within our own hands. I look forward to what we can accomplish together.

On the Connection Between Happiness and Wealth

Have you ever wondered about the correlation between happiness and wealth – as an individual, or even as a country? Globally, it turns out that there is a high correlation between them – higher GDP leads to greater happiness – but there’s a catch.

If you live in a wealthier country the correlation falls off sharply as the basic needs of citizens are met, to the point where researcher Michael Birkjaer, of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark, asks whether we are approaching “a cut off point between happiness and prosperity where increases in GDP have little to no effect on wellbeing”.

The notion of whether GDP growth alone can be the measure of wellbeing is a question being asked more and more in “developed” countries. And it is one we at Engage Nova Scotia want to examine deeper.

If we pause to rank the things that make our lives good, how often do we think of the size of our wallets, and how often, for example, do we think of the quality of the relationships we have with others.

We want to augment the discussion about what success looks like to incorporate such things as improved mental health, high quality relationships and reduced social isolation.

If we live in a place where we put improving the quality of the lives of our citizens – all of them – as our predominant question, we will not only live up to our potential but we will become a beacon for other jurisdictions to model.

The article below is a great reference point for this discussion. I hope you enjoy it.

Antigonish Engagement Session 2

Antigonish mayor Laurie Boucher speaks to the residents who attended the April 12 event

On April 12 close to 70 residents of the Town of Antigonish came out for the second in a series of two community conversations co-hosted by Engage and the Town to inform the development of their strategic plan.

Between the first event in January and the second event, a day-long session was hosted on March 23rd at the local Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School by Engage’s Hailey Vidler, Steve Scannell from the Town, Mayor Laurie Boucher and two StFX Service Learning Students, Matt and Julia. It was a hands-on and interactive session for students that created a space for honest, fun and meaningful conversation.The practical and insightful thoughts and ideas harvested from the student and youth discussions helped to inform priories, reinforcing the perspectives of residents who attended the first event.

At the second event, Mayor Boucher welcomed residents, some of who attended the first, and others who were new to the process. She thanked them for their considerable contributions during the first event where nearly 150 residents attended.

Of the 14 themes identified by participants during the first event, five discussion themes were chosen through a combination of voting and integrating past Town consultation exercises.  The five themes selected for a deeper dive were:

  1. Create an Age-Friendly Community
  2. Recreation, Leisure and Outdoor Space
  3. Support Economic Development
  4. Pursue Environmental Sustainability
  5. Arts and Culture

Table conversations were then self-selected and facilitated by staff of the Coady international institute, themselves town residents. The break-out conversations were set up to discuss specific and tangible pieces of work that would help the town plan for the future in a way that best reflects the priorities of its residents.

The mayor, councillors and staff participated in discussions with residents about what mattered most to them, what the Town was doing well already, and clarifying roles both the town and residents can play.

Engage will continue to work with the Town to harvest the ideas, actions and advice from this second community event and support them as they seek to incorporate the advice of their enthusiastic and engaged residents into their planning.

An article from the local newspaper ‘The Casket’ is available here.

How Do We Thrive?

How We Thrve promotional banner click to visit their website directly

A popular slogan says that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. But among veterans of social change, a deeper insight has emerged: If you’re not part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution. Our problems are rarely fixed from the outside. We can look for silver bullets, try to force change, or roll out well-meaning strategic plans for solving “other people’s problems.” But somehow these approaches never quite work—or at least not for long.

In Nova Scotia we are all part of the problem. The good news? We each hold a piece of the solution.

That’s the inspiration behind How We THRIVE, a gathering of 200 Nova Scotians that will take place at the Mount in June. If you look behind the curtain for an established organization, you won’t find one. The event is literally being created out of nothing, with volunteers, partners and sponsors joining in as an “incubation team” continues to give it shape. I stepped in as “orchestrator” after retiring from Engage Nova Scotia.

During my time at Engage I encountered inspiring people and projects all across the province. I also heard a lot of questioning about what’s important and what could be. Many people were revisiting their own beliefs and the stories they’d inherited. They were ready for something bold. They wanted to be part of conversations that included more voices and wisdom from the margins. They wanted to heal colonial wounds. Within the Engage team we’d talked about the importance of “radical middle space”—the kind of welcoming, open space that can hold lots of difference and dissonance, and also generate breakthroughs.

So while I thought I was retiring into a quiet life of writing and long walks, instead a new idea landed. I imagined an event that would capture the moment and accelerate positive movements already underway. What if we had enough time and enough diversity of lenses and voices to start getting below the surface of the issues? What if we created a space where we could explore our real questions—together?

And so the idea for How We THRIVE was born. Drawing on an earlier career as director of the ALIA (Authentic Leadership in Action) Institute, I began to sketch out a four-day gathering that would combine big-picture thinking, hands-on learning streams, and lots of creative engagement.

Once I began testing the idea, others started joining in, adding their ideas and helping to make it happen. The mission that came into focus: to hold open a wide and welcoming door, to create opportunities for rich learning and connections, and to make sure that everyone leaves better prepared to accelerate positive change in their communities.

The event has an ambitious goal of uncovering shared themes about how we in Nova Scotia can thrive, now and into the future. According to the website, it is for anyone looking for immediate solutions while asking questions about root causes. It is for anyone willing to try something different to learn something new.

Engage continues to be a source of inspiration, as well as champion and partner, for How We THRIVE. Registration is now open, with an early-bird pricing in effect until April 27. For more information, visit howwethrive.org.

Quality of Life Update

a man wearing a wetsuit carries a surfboard near the water on a beach

You may have noticed a delay in our planned (March) release of the Nova Scotia Quality of Life Index and wondered what was going on. Fear not! We’re more excited about this initiative than ever. But we’re following some wise advice that suggested we slow down just long enough to lay the foundation for an even bigger impact over time.

In February, we gathered together 30 leaders from business, government, academia and the social sector to review our plans. They amplified our enthusiasm for the theory that a broader, more comprehensive measure of progress could leverage significant change for the province. And they said it was too important to risk being picked off by interests that may not yet be bought into the big picture of the initiative. . They counseled us to spend more time reaching out to potential users of the data, building a broad-base of participation and getting Nova Scotians on-side.

This June, working with the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, we’ll release the Nova Scotia Quality of Life Index report, highlighting 20 years of province-wide data in the eight key areas of quality of life. We’ll make sure the data is widely available, but the focus will be on starting a rich conversation about what quality of life means to us.

At the same time, we’ll highlight the formation of a cross-sector coalition of partners working to support the adoption of a quality of life framework and invite Nova Scotians to participate in making the 2019 Survey truly reflective of Nova Scotian values.

As always, we encourage you to reach out to us with your ideas and questions about this process. The more of us who have this under our wings, the more likely we are to soar.

Get To Know Your Neighbours

The subjects of loneliness and isolation are increasingly finding their way into conversation about health. Earlier this year the UK appointed a Minister for Loneliness after research revealed that “more than nine million people in the country often or always feel lonely.”

Psychologist Susan Pinker addressed this issue of social cohesion, and the influence of close personal relationships on life expectancy, in her TEDx Talk “The secret to living longer may be your social life.” 

Just as an individual life can be made healthier by having closer relationships, the same is true about community health.  The more we connect with one another locally, the greater connectivity is among neighbours and community members. The more people we know and the more we know about the people around us the stronger the important bridging ties  are between us. These ties are essential to the strength of our social fabric.

Tim Horton’s latest marketing campaign illustrates how simple it is to take steps towards broadening our social circles. Their “Coffee With Neighbours” video is worth watching.

With projects such as Share Thanksgiving, Engage knows the importance of making connections between our tightly knit, but often closed communities. It’s exciting to see this belief penetrating the mainstream more and more lately.

Life.School.House in Dartmouth is one creative example of how people are creating opportunities for communities to come together.

Do you have an example of how you or your community address the issue of social cohesion? Tell us about it. Email info@engagenovascotia.ca