Public Health: Policy in Ontario

Whilst in Canada to present at the Leading Social Change 2012 conference we were also invited to deliver a closed session specifically for the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care policy team, along with Strategic Social Marketing’s Clive Blair-Stevens and Steve Martin from the (amongst other things) the UK Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insight Unit.

Whilst the fiscal trajectory that the Ontarian political machine is taking is not quite as severe in gradient as its UK counterpart, cuts to public health budgets are likely to loom large. In this context, the Ministry was keen to learn from the UK experience and invited myself and the fellow British conference speakers to run a session on how to achieve sustainable behaviour change in a context of fiscal restraint—the resounding echo of ‘more with less’, but with an unmistakable North American twang.

Clive gave a rousing overview of the modern social marketing paradigm in a comprehensive, if traditional, systems context. Steve shared his (and Robert Cialdini‘s) now famous hotel towels case study and bolstered the small-tweak-big-saving theme with ‘The million-dollar tax letter”—a project that generated an extra £1billion in revenue for the UK government through the simple (but perfectly crafted) re-wording of the tax assessment letter.

Our contribution focused on the core Collaborative Change themes of creating more effective, inclusive and sustainable public services through co-design approaches and empowerment principles, covering the Engage, Motivate, Empower, Trust and Ownership principles, some of the science behind them and a couple of brief case studies to illustrate application.

In the main, the questions from the floor reflected the relatively formative stage at which the Canadians are at on their behaviour change journey. They seem to be (in the main) still operating within a more traditional marketing or health promotion paradigm, but are open-minded and ambitious about incorporating new approaches (especially if it saves them money!).


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