Just released: read the full report from the 2017 Healthy Aging and Care Summit!

The New Brunswick 2017 Healthy Aging and Care Summit is a concrete example of the ways in which large group dialogues can act as catalysts for systemic change.

This was not a standard conference on aging or a series of government-led consultations. This was a gathering that, from the design and planning stages through to the masterful facilitation, placed value on every single participant’s contribution. It created a space that actively encouraged everyone to listen, share and learn from others, whether they were introverts or extroverts, old or young, Francophone or Anglophone.

large group dialogues

The 2017 New Brunswick Summit on Healthy Aging and Care – participants shared their thoughts during round table discussions.

Provocateurs were invited to spark dialogue and inspire ideas in others; round table discussions gave everyone a voice; student note-takers skilfully captured the inspirational dialogues; and the facilitators, Charles Holmes and Amanda Hachey, fed back what they were hearing in such a way as to let people know, Your voice is valuable, I hear and understand what you’re saying.

The attention to every detail of the event and emphasis on collaboration and respectful dialogue inspired not only a resurgence in energy on the subject of healthy aging and care, but a confidence that citizens really are the assets in their community and can be the change they want to see.

Systemic change is created in a variety of ways but one of the most impactful is when grassroots, community initiatives are supported by collaboratives who can help connect the dots between multiple organizations, big and small. The 2017 New Brunswick Healthy Aging and Care Summit is a perfect example of this process in action.

How did this come about? How did one gathering prove so inspirational?

Building on Success: The Impact of the New Brunswick Summits for Healthy Aging and Care

The 2017 summit actively built on the first New Brunswick Summit for Healthy Aging and Care, 2012, which was designed by Charles Holmes with a collaborative of stakeholders including Jodi Hall of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes. 2012 was the first time multiple stakeholders working in the same sector gathered together for such a large group dialogue, bringing together participants of all ages and backgrounds to discuss aging in a culture that, at that time, did not necessarily reflect older adults’ voices or real needs.

Read more about the 2012 Summit: “Grassroots Healthy Aging Effort in New Brunswick Offers Insight on Success Factors” and “Grassroots Healthy Aging Effort in New Brunswick Offers Insight on Success Factors, Part II

On November 14 & 15, 2017, over 250 participants gathered at the Fredericton Inn, New Brunswick to engage in a large group dialogue on “Exploring our Stories and Shaping our Future.”

Charles led the designing of the summit, working closely with the Collaborative for Healthy Aging and Care (established after the first summit). On the day, he was the lead facilitator, working alongside Amanda who ensured both official languages of Canada were respected.

Positive Shifts in Culture Since 2012

The province has seen significant changes since 2012, with the establishment of the Collaborative for Healthy Aging and Care being one of the most important. Over the past 5 years it has explored connections and opportunities for working with other groups identified at the first summit, focusing on connection rather than disparities.

As Jamie Ryan, Chief Executive Officer of the New Brunswick Real Estate Association, notes, “the big thing I saw [after the 2012 summit] was a focus on ‘best practices’, parking any territorial needs and focusing on collaboration!”

graphic recording

Graphic recording artist Rachel Derrah captured key points of the dialogues during the 2-day summit. Her illustrations were placed in the room for participants to view and engage with.

There has also been a noticeable linguistic shift in the media and within organizations when discussing aging, moving away from what Bill Mackenzie, Director of Strategic Partnerships at New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network, refers to as “silver tsunami”-style language to a more complex dialogue with stories that focus on the possibilities of collaborative action. This is coupled with an increase in the overall engagement and awareness about aging in the province. As Jodi Hall observes, pre-2012, aging “wasn’t a common everyday dialogue that we see now where there are topics occurring on a daily basis about aging in all kinds of circles… [We’ve] come a long way in overall public awareness and engagement.”

Another significant change – and one of the key goals of the 2012 summit – is a move away from a “dependent dialogue” whereby citizens wait for government to “fix” issues to one of empowered community-based change agents.

Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard, Associate Professor of Nursing and Research Chair in Population Aging CNFS-Université de Moncton, asserts that, it is “so empowering for communities to know that somebody is listening to us and understanding our needs”, and equally important for citizens to truly feel that “the community belongs to them, it will be what they put in it.”

We Are All Assets in this Journey

Although it may be too early to speak of the true impact of the 2017 summit several key factors have already come to light.

As Erin Jackson, Collaborative Coordinator, contends, “The second summit was an example of how the vision that came out of the first summit – power of people, neighbourly support, aging at home – is coming to be reality.”

By bringing together a multi-stakeholder audience to share and learn from one another, an understanding that people are the assets in their community materialized. The summit deepened connections, possibilities and a shared understanding of each other, and in so doing, re-ignited the fire that was created from the first, going even further in terms of sparking action.

“This is one of the most inspiring events I have attended. It is good to hear people in different organizations and walks of life share experiences. Wonderful collaboration!” NB citizen and participant at the 2017 summit.

The Strength of Collaboration: Generating Possibilities for Future Hopes

“We almost need to generate a social movement that comes from the grassroots and is led and defined by the people at the community level.” Jodi Hall

Future hopes for the Collaborative are ambitious and rightly so in light of the impact of this most recent summit. But how exactly did the summit generate possibilities for the future?

William Randall, Professor of Gerontology at St. Thomas University, recalls one particular participant at the summit, a woman in her 70s who stood up at her table and described all the things that she and other older adults were doing in their community: “She brought the house down in terms of applause and appreciation – the way she talked about, oh we’re doing this, we’re doing that, we could do this – infused the whole room with a sense of possibility. Hey, we don’t have to wait for an organization to give us 5 steps to follow, we don’t have to wait for the government to make decisions, we can grab the bull by the horns in our community and do things that make a positive difference in the wellbeing of the members of our community, old and young.”

Coming together and sharing ideas is in itself a springboard to action in the context of a well-designed and facilitated large group dialogue. As Hall observes, “the summit is a ‘Great Connector’ kind of event – it gets people excited about opportunities and possibilities that collaboration brings, people aligning together and sharing capacities.”

The hope now is that such collaboration continues and actively supports citizens as they fully step into their roles as community assets and change agents. As Jackson notes, “the goal was for people to go back to their communities and better understand where to focus their time and efforts to make sustainable changes that will help older adults in very concrete ways.”

The high levels of energy and optimism from all those involved in the 2017 summit suggest this goal will most certainly be surpassed.

In Part II of this case study, we will examine how design and facilitation affect the success of large group dialogues.

Writer: Kim Bridgett, with the voices of Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard, Jodi Hall, Erin Jackson, Bill Mackenzie, William J. Randall, Jamie Ryan & Charles Holmes.

Read a PDF version of Generating Systemic Change through Large Group Dialogues: The 2017 New Brunswick Healthy Aging & Care Summit