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The Closing the Distance Project

I Introduction
II Closing the Distance Project Phases
III The Project Model
IV The Distancing Dimensions
V The Closing the Distance Analytic Tool
VI Conclusion
VII Endnotes

-- written by Karen Woods, Master's student in the Exercise Sciences, Behavioural Stream, Faculty of Physical Education and Health, and research assistant for the Physical Activity Research Program, Department of Public Health Sciences (http://www.phs.utoronto.ca/activeyouth). Her research interests include health behaviour, particularly physical activity, among youth and school health.

Karen reports on the Closing the Distance Project, presented by Peter Clutterbuck (Social Planning Network of Ontario) and Maureen McDonald (Health Canada's Population and Public Health Branch) at the 2003 Health Promotion Summer School.

If you have a resource or point of view to add to this article, let us know by writing to editor@ohpe.ca. More information on our Letters to the Editor column can be found in the OHPE News section of OHPE 268.0 (http://www.ohpe.ca/ebulletin/ ViewAnnouncements.cfm?ISSUE_ID=268&startrow=1).

I Introduction

The Closing the Distance--Social and Economic Inclusion Initiative was founded in 2002 by the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO) and Health Canada's Population and Public Health Branch (PPHB), Ontario and Nunavut Region. The purpose of the project is to implement the PPHB's two-year strategic goal, in which community mobilization is a first step in building policies that will work with and for groups excluded from the greater community.

This article describes the Closing the Distance (CTD) project and introduces the CTD Chart, an analytic tool for understanding exclusionary conditions and identifying strategies and approaches that remove barriers and promote social and economic inclusion.

II Closing the Distance Project Phases

Phase One of the CTD project, Community Mobilization, began in October of 2002 and ended March 2003. The project worked with leadership in six Ontario regions to engage communities and other sectors on a priority population health issue and supported the generation of proposals for action. Below is a list of five of the regions and the priority populations they identified:
* Kingston-- Marginalized people seeking a single room
* Sudbury--Children and their families and their neighbourhoods
* Thunder Bay--Sixteen and seventeen year old youth
* Peel Halton--Immigrants and visible minorities and ethno-specific agencies
* Central West--Isolated youth and seniors in rural and urban parts of region

A sixth regional project is under development in Toronto.

Phase II, Healthy Public Policy and Transformative Change, began April 2003 and ends March 2004. Each of the six regions will develop and advance a strategy that addresses the exclusionary conditions; promotes transformative change in public policy, systems, structures, processes and/or practices that produce inequities for their priority populations; and improves the health of the priority population and the community as a whole.

The work of both phases of the CTD project will be documented and evaluated. More detail is available on the website, http://www.closingthedistance.ca., including videos clips from each region, project updates, and a summary table of the outcomes of Phase I.

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III The Project Model

The CTD project is guided by a model in which society is seen as a diamond. A small part of the population is in the upper triangle, separated--or distanced--economically, socially, culturally and politically from a larger group in the middle. The lower triangle represents the poor and marginalized. The project's aim is to have movement in the upper triangle--change in the structures, policies and systems that support privilege and keep the community at a distance-- rather than to just help people in the lower triangle move to the middle. The middle of the diamond must also expand to accommodate everyone. The shape of a truly inclusive society is circular: hierarchical relationships are minimized, and there is a stronger commitment to social well being for everyone.

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IV The Distancing Dimensions

The Distancing Dimensions, which represent the ways in which people are excluded, provide a starting point for developing social inclusion indicators. (1) The CTD project lists the following:
* Economic--reducing income gaps that create inequities in the sharing of society's wealth
* Racial/Cultural--confronting social, economic and political inequality grounded in ethno-racial/cultural identification and redefining social relations to value cultural and racial diversity
* Spatial--making public space more accessible to all community members and providing services in proximity to people with support needs
* Relational--promoting positive social relations and a shared sense of belonging and membership in community and society
* Functional/Developmental--recognizing and valuing talents, strengths and potential of all community members
* Participation/Political--ensuring that structures and processes are in place so that everyone has a voice in the planning and decision making that affects their quality of life

This list forms part of the CTD analytic tool used in Phase I.

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V The Closing the Distance Analytic Tool

Public health practitioners, policy makers or anyone working with marginalized groups will benefit from the Closing the Distance Chart. This powerful analytic tool helps practitioners understand the lived experience of the group and assists the analyst in generating strategies and approaches for change at multiple levels of government and within the group or community.

The beauty of this tool is that by using focus groups or individual interview methodologies many of the solutions can be generated from the individuals and groups themselves. This makes for a more participatory approach--one that includes anecdotal knowledge and evidence when generating healthy policies that will advance inclusion. The tool exemplifies how community mobilization and policy change go hand in hand: the process of including the marginalized group in the policy-change process can be an empowering and knowledge-building experience. (2)

The tool starts with four questions:
1. What are the realities of exclusion?
2. What are the sources of exclusion?
3. What are the benchmarks of inclusion?
4. What policies, programs, practices, etc., would create or advance inclusion??

Through these questions, the group moves from identifying exclusion in everyday life to defining actions that would create inclusive conditions to benefit the group and their community. The tool also uses this line of inquiry for each of the six Distancing Dimensions.

On the CTD website are completed examples of the CTD chart as used with single parents and immigrants. Also available are the results from the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto's analysis and documentation of Toronto street youth, which was presented as an example at the Summer School. The understanding of this particular community achieved through the use of the tool is outstanding, and the website has an excellent section on this project.

CTD plans to add more tools for and examples of distance analyses on the website as the project continues.

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VI Conclusion

It is anticipated that this project will culminate in many new findings and experiences from different communities across Ontario and that these can be shared with others involved in planning and serving marginalized populations in order to help close the distance.

As a sister project, the Ontario Prevention Clearinghouse, with funding from and in collaboration with Health Canada and the Laidlaw Foundation, is developing an Inclusion Toolkit for Ontario Communities. For more information, visit http://www.opc.on.ca/english/our_programs/hlth_promo/project_ini/soc_eco..., or contact Michael Fay, project coordinator, at (705) 286-3668 or m.fay@sympatico.ca.

The SPNO and the OPC will both update their websites with information as their projects progress.

VII Endnotes

(1) These dimensions have been adapted from the work of Health Canada's PPHB and theLaidlaw Foundation, leaders in the development of social inclusion theory and practice. Their research and community engagement process is documented in "Building Inclusive Communities: Cross-Canada Perspectives," available through the Laidlaw Foundation. The PPHB, Atlantic Region, has also published a workbook called "An Inclusion Lens," discussed in more detail in OHPE 298.1 (February 2001): http://www.ohpe.ca/ebulletin/ViewFeatures.cfm?ISSUE_ID=298&startrow=31.

(2) The participation/political dimension of inclusion is particularly important. The well-developed body of literature regarding different forms of knowledge and voices in policy change was addressed at the Summer School by Toba Bryant, Centre for Health Studies, York University. Further discussion is beyond the scope of this article, but references have been provided in OHPE 330.2 as a starting point.