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Canadian Public Health Association

Portrait des communautés (Outaouais region, Quebec)

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Understanding a community is the first, and arguably the most important, step towards improving the quality of life of its citizens. In an effort to better understand the needs, characteristics and potential for development of their community in the Outaouais region of Québec, several like-minded organizations came together to form the Comité des partenaires du Portait des communautés.

"We all had the same objective: to describe and document the different communities in the Outaouais region," says Geneviève d'Amours, acting Head of Administration of Public Health Programs for the Family and Community Branch of CSSS de Gatineau. The group pooled their money and resources to create a comprehensive, finely-detailed qualitative and quantitative profile.

Building strong partnerships

The number of partners on the committee quickly grew from 5 to 14. Government agencies, community organizations, culture and leisure organizations, the development sector, l'Agence CSSS, and l'Université de Quebec en Outaouais were among the participating groups.

"The strong partnerships really allowed us to make this project happen," says d'Amours. "It would have been impossible to do a project like this without the contributions of each one of our partners."

Everyone agreed to contribute either money or resources. Soon, they had access to numerous databases and a budget of almost $300,000. They used multiple data sources to inform the project including data from Statistics Canada's 2006 census; police databases on property crimes for each sector; data on library usage; and information about the availability of care for the elderly, regional election participation, and more.

A new method

Most socioeconomic and demographic profiles of this nature are performed on a large scale by grouping many different regions. However, the Comité des partenaires du Portait des communautés decided to look at the Outaouais through a finer lens. The regions were divided into 106 communities, each containing only two to six thousand residents. This format gave staff the opportunity to do more quantitative research.

"We met with people in each of the communities to determine the community's strengths and challenges," says Monique Dion, coordinator for Aylmer Sector Partners. "[We asked,] are there any courses of action we should take to improve the quality of life of the citizens and eventually better support community development?"

They combined socioeconomic, 'social-health' and demographic data to create two new indexes, which were used to classify each community. The "social-health index" looked at data such as mortality, disability, and property crime. The "deprivation index" looked at population, family status, marital status, education, income, housing, employment, etc. These two indexes were plotted against each other to determine the vulnerability and deprivation status of each community and to identify those that needed the most help.

Using the profile to address social determinants

Because the profile contains so much detail, researchers are able to see disadvantaged areas for the first time. For example, Aylmer is widely considered to be a well-off area in Outaouais. It has overall high revenue and is one of the best ranked areas in terms of education, but closer inspection revealed that it has a high number of vulnerable families.

While the profile was being developed, Monique Dion was working on a pilot called La Voix des parents, which provided parents of children aged 0-5 with the opportunity to define their vision of a friendly neighbourhood, optimal for the development of their toddlers. "At the start of the project, we didn't have very precise information," says Dion, "but when we started working with [Portait des communautés] we had access to much more data that really evolved our project. We were able to see certain information about vulnerable families and ascertain certain needs, which allowed us to better target our actions."

Overcoming challenges

As with any project of this magnitude, challenges and setbacks are expected. "While the partnerships improved the project, they also added complexity. It was difficult to ensure that everyone was happy," says d'Amours. "It's hard when you're in a big group like this to put in your two cents. This delayed the project."

The original plan was to finish the Portait des communautés in a year. In reality, it took two years to collect all the data and yet another year to produce the website and finish the accompanying documents.

Another challenge involved the time and energy it took to find community members to interview. "That was a huge challenge," admits d'Amours. "It was very difficult to find people who were engaged with their community."

The future of the project

All the data and reports resulting from project have been published on a dedicated website called Portrait des communautés de l'Outaouais. The site offers a wealth of resources. It even includes an interactive map showing relevant stats for each community. Users can drill down by social or economic issue to see the need in each area. The information can be used by any organization to inform decisions about policy, health and development. The more precise data will allow them to hone in on the social determinants of health specific to each sector.

"Our partners have a better understanding of the community, and they can see why we plan interventions for certain regions more than others," says Dion. "They agree with our priorities and use this new knowledge when they organize their own interventions and action plans, whatever they may be."

Resources Outaouais

Portrait des Communautés de l'Outaouais
Visit this website to explore the project. Browse the interactive map depicting the 106 Outaouais communities to see targeted demographic information, social stats, and socioeconomic data. Explore the infrastructure and organizations in place. The site also contains individual community and regional profiles.