If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that we’re all in this together. And that what we know — and think we know — matters.
This places a tremendous importance on communications. Not simply top-down, with information flowing from leaders and decision makers to citizens, but the other way ’round as well.
This is called civic engagement — the process of empowering the voices of individual citizens in helping shape their communities.
Covid has also reminded us that new & emerging technologies are now, officially, a fact of everyday life for many rural British Columbians. From Zoom gatherings with family and friends to virtual medical appointments with distant specialists; from sharing cat videos on Instagram to vitriolic posts on Facebook, daily life is rapidly becoming increasingly virtual — whether we like it or not.
Given this, we asked a few simple questions.
Is it possible to harness some of the virtues of technology, to empower rural citizens? Is there a way to provide rural folks with the ability to hold civil, respectful discussions on topics that truly matter to them? Can those conversations of particular local or regional importance be limited to the folks most affected? And is there a way to ensure the good ideas and real concerns of rural communities are effectively shared with decision makers and other stakeholders?
We decided to find out. Enter the BC Rural Health Hub pilot.
What Is the BC Rural Health Hub Pilot?
The purpose of the pilot is to create and test a cloud-based interactive communications platform as a tool to increase citizen engagement in rural health & wellness discussions in a safe, supportive manner.
The citizen voice is often absent from ongoing conversations regarding the health & wellness of rural/remote/First Nations British Columbians. This despite the fact that both rural citizens and health delivery groups/agencies have indicated they would like to see greater citizen participation and collaboration in rural health care discussions. Indeed, there are a number of very important and innovative rural health care initiatives currently underway that could benefit from an increased level of rural citizen input and engagement.
The geography of rural BC is rugged, with its diverse population thinly scattered over a massive land area. This presents a challenge to the development of effective communication tools and processes that encourage and enable rural citizens to have focused, meaningful, and constructive interactive conversations on topics of importance to them.
Thus the the rationale for the Health Hub is simple: it’s hard to imagine effective public health initiatives and systems without public understanding and acceptance. And the best way to ensure that is to empower the public to help shape those initiatives and systems.
SCOPE OF THE PROPOSED PILOT
The pilot planning process is beginning now, in January 2021, with two rollouts planned as of March 1, 2021 — one in Kaslo/North Kootenay Lake region of the West Kootenay, the other in the area covered by the Mount Waddington Health Network (North Vancouver Island/Central Coast).
The intent of this pilot project is to create a communications platform that is extremely flexible and can be highly effective in supporting a wide range of discussions and collaborations – from very focused, facilitated single topic discussions and consultations led by specific groups or organizations, to more open citizen-led discussion forums.
In the case of each pilot, discussion topics will be selected and curated by local advisory committees. The BC Rural Centre will provide guidance and support during the course of the facilitated pilot, which will run from March 1 to the end of June. The pilot Hubs can continue to operate after that, without BC Rural Centre facilitation, at least until the end of the year.
This project is made possible and supported by the Rural Coordination Centre of BC, and the BC Academic Health Sciences Network.