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Moving from YOYO to WITT: a united and strong voice for policy change

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November 9, 2015

OPHA Fall Forum – Perspectives from a Delegate

Editor’s Note: The following blog is a delegate’s perspective on OPHA’s Fall Forum! If you were in attendance, and would like to contribute to this series, email us at newprofessionals@opha.on.ca!

Moving from YOYO to WITT: a united and strong voice for policy change

By Alisha Somji


“As someone who has always been quiet, a strong voice is scary to me,” confessed Larry Stinson the president of the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) as he welcomed attendees to the 2015 OPHA Fall Forum. This year’s theme, he explained, is exciting for public health as we try to enhance advocacy, shift policy and impact society.

As a new professional in the field and Master of Public Health candidate, I appreciated the integration of advocacy concepts with tangible examples at the conference. Also speakers ranged from a senior communications manager from Twitter Canada to family physicians, nurses and policy analysts, offering a variety of perspectives.

In the opening keynote, Dr. Robert Solomon passionately shared his experiences working with Mother’s Against Drunk Driving. Dr. Solomon drove home his message about the need to advocate for policy change to decrease impaired driving related injuries and deaths, and ended with some powerful words: “If you want fortune, fame and glory become a heart transplant surgeon, but it you want to save lots of lives become a public health professional.”

Dr. Larry Wallack spoke to the importance of framing problems upstream and communicating underlying social justice values. In this plenary session I learned about how we need to move from a YOYO (“you’re on your own”) mentality to WITT (“we’re all in this together”). By widening the frame beyond behaviour change we can shift conversations toward policy solutions.

When it comes to message development, multiple speakers shed light on the importance of using metaphors, visuals, values and narratives to communicate for social change. In an afternoon panel, Dr. Kathleen Dooling who completed a medical journalism fellowship at ABC News reflected on her experiences at ABC and told the audience how stories accompanied with pictures and videos always rose above stories without. In a breakout session about Smoke-Free Movies Ontario advocacy work, attendees were asked to provide feedback on a communication strategy and were able to help with messaging using our various backgrounds.

Another important theme that resonated with me from the conference is the role of evidence in advocacy. When it comes to policy, interests and politics are often at odds with public health. Katie Gibbs, the executive director of Evidence for Democracy explained how we need to educate the public about science and its fluidity as new evidence is formed, while training scientists to engage with media. David Caplan, vice-chairman of Global Public Affairs shared the 20-20-60 breakdown: 20 percent of the public will always be with you, 20 percent against you and the 60 percent undecided are who you need to bring onboard. Since science is not the only considering factor for policy, we must consider the public and political will.

I personally enjoyed how the Fall Forum allowed for the public health community to come together. Whether it was sharing experiences through the poster and concurrent breakout sessions or celebrating colleagues who won awards, it was great to see the public health community unite. For advocacy, it is critical to build collaborations and alliances, especially when we’re working towards common goals. OPHA president Stinston ended off with saying “the strong voice is the collective voice,” which I think perfectly summarized the 2015 Fall Forum.  

Alisha Somji is a second year Master of Public Health student specializing in Health Promotion at University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and is a Public Health Policy Fellow.  She is interested in advocacy, health communication and policy for a variety of public health areas. Alisha holds a double-major bachelor’s degree in media studies and kinesiology, as well as a certificate in writing from Western University. You can connect with her on Twitter (@afsomji).  


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