Mental Health for York and York / La santé mentale à York et York

By David Phipps, RIR-York
On Friday October 7, 2011, York University’s Faculty of Health and Faculty of Education invited researchers and educators to meet with representatives of York Region’s community mental health agencies. It was intended to be a day of priority setting for York U and York Region.  It was a day of knowledge mobilization and ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR)-York was there.
Le 7 octobre 2011, la Faculté de la Santé ainsi que la Faculté d’Éducation de l’Université York ont invité chercheurs et éducateurs à rencontrer les représentants des agences de santé mentale de la région de York. La rencontre se voulait une occasion d’établir les priorités pour l’Université de York et la région de York (York x York = York2). C’était une journée de mobilisation des connaissances et RéseauImpactRecherche-York y était.
There were about 40 of us in the room at the Markham Convergence Centre, slightly more community than university folks.  The university members were almost all faculty with a couple of project staff and knowledge brokers thrown in.  The community members came from across the mental health support spectrum and from across York Region. The goal was to start a conversation about mental health in people 0-25 years old. We started from the position that York University is part of York Region.  Not only do many York U staff, faculty and students live in York Region but many high school students with mental health experiences will move from the school system to York University creating an opportunity to provide a continuum of mental health supports and services.
Pat Bradshaw (Schulich School of Business) was retained to guide the group from introductions to decisions. She started us out in assigned roundtable discussions of 4-8 people per table discussing trends, gaps and opportunities for mental health services in York Region. She then used a nominal group technique to move quickly through group report back allowing each group to build on comments previously provided and avoid duplication. The group then used a dotmocracy technique to prioritize opportunities. The fun continued with two “open spaces” (=unconference) where individuals identified issues they felt relevant to the prioritized opportunities and agreed to host and report back on the outcomes of their sessions.
While the notes are still in development what happened was classic knowledge exchange, a component of knowledge mobilization.  Groups of mental health stakeholders came together to share information, develop trust and create relationships that may lead to campus-community collaborations around research, teaching and the student experience.
The facilitated approach was also reminiscent of a Harvard Business Review blog titled, “Hold Conversations, Not Meetings” posted on February 15, 2011.  This blog made the following recommendations to engage in information exchange, not just passive information transfer that more frequently occurs in meetings.

  • Invite new people to join in. Most of the folks in the room didn’t know each other. The diversity of person and organization made for a rich array of perspectives.
  • Replace the agenda with questions. The first roundtable discussions were framed as questions for the small groups to address
  • Play around with the room. We had roundtables, a large single circle, small groups with easels and then back to the large single circle. Nothing was static nor were the conversations.
  • Capture the conversation on a white board. Ideas were captured in small groups, then in report back, and then the ideas arising from the “open space” were entered directly into laptops provided for the event.

This was a starting point to be sure but the comments around the room before closing summed up the overall feeling from the day:
Community member: I have been involved in a number of projects with York University over the years.  This one feels like a relationship.
Faculty member: I feel is great energy and many opportunities for implementing projects.
Community member: I feel optimistic that York U can help agencies working with children and families.
What’s next? The group steering committee will meet to review the notes and identify some collaborative mental health projects that will create value for community & university.
We were invited to a conversation, not a meeting.  We ended up exchanging knowledge that will lead to campus-community collaborations and co-creating knowledge for mutual benefit.