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Behind the Scenes with the OHPE Team

I Introduction

What a year it has been for the OHPE Bulletin! We had some wonderful achievements in 2002, our fifth year of publishing, and we'll talk more about those in our annual January End-of-Year Review. Today we want to give you a peek behind the scenes and offer our thanks to all those who make it happen.

Alison Stirling leads off with how it all began and Noelle Gadon wraps up with how it can all go very wrong...

II Lesson One: Don't try to do it all yourself!

For the first two years, a tiny editorial team pulled together the OHPE in their copious amounts of "spare time." Often, we stayed up all night on Thursdays to compile content for Friday publication. Subscription was manual, and evaluation and promotion plans all had to be built from the ground up. Exhausted by our success -- ! -- we realized that we needed more help.

In February 1999, we pooled our resources and hired an editor dedicated to the bulletin (hurrah for Kara and Noelle!). We formalized responsibilities for the Editorial and Management Team and developed an online database for producing and archiving our content. These steps were really important in making the project sustainable and our Thursday nights a good deal less frantic!

So, our thanks to our funder -- the Health & Wellness program of the Public Health Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care; and to our early-days, all-night crew: Lorraine Telford, Noelle Gadon (in an earlier incarnation!), and Jodi Thesenvitz -- all from THCU -- and Alison Stirling and Karin Davis from OPC. As you can see, many of our original team survived the start-up phase and are still with us!

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III Lesson Two: Build it and they will come...if they can find it

It is not enough to build the Bulletin: people need to know how to find it, where to send their information, and, sometimes, what we are. So, we continue to refine our website and promotional materials. Through our email addresses ( and and new voice-mail box (416-408-2249 x265) we are now even easy to reach for questions (and compliments).

Every week, we see the results of our efforts. More and more jobs and announcements arrive from subscribers and colleagues. We still scan listservs, check resources, and promote the opportunity to contribute, but more and more of our content and new subscribers come from you and positive word-of-mouth.

So, our thanks to all of you -- keep sending content and people to us!

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IV Lesson Three: The only constant is change

A large part of our day is keeping the subscription list maintained. The OHPE cannot exist without its audience: you are an ever-shifting and expanding community of health promoters, across the province and around the world!

At first, we used the simple group distribution list of Outlook. But this manual system soon became unwieldy as the project gained in popularity. When we reached 1,000 subscribers in early 2000, we needed to change. Web Network's email listserv management system is inexpensive and easy to use for subscribers and administrators. With the upgrade to Mailman in September 2001, we added welcome and farewell messages, privacy and spam controls, and the opportunity for you to manage your own subscription (see

Of course, automation isn't always, well, automatic, and we still help about twenty people a week to subscribe, change their email addresses, disable their email while on holidays, sort out subscription problems and reception issues. We've done mass changes to email addresses (like ALL of our City of Toronto subscribers!), sorted out "junk mail filters" in hotmail or "inappropriate language" filters at larger organizations (while not taking it personally); and, sometimes, successfully followed the trail of missing emails into the ether.

It seems to be paying off. We were modest this year in our predictions of subscription numbers, expecting we'd hit a plateau and would not top 2,200 by the end of 2002. Wrong! Recently we had a large surge of subscriptions (and what is happening in New Zealand? We had sixteen subscribers in five days!). Excitedly, we realized that we were about to reach the magic mark of 2600, but had no time to promote the event. So, belatedly, here is the winner of our non-contest: subscriber 2,600, from Tuesday, December 10th at 2:22 p.m.

*Gina Browne, Ph.D., RN; Founder and Director, System-Linked Research Unit; Director, CLEAR Unit; Professor, Nursing and Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University*

Dr. Browne is well-known in the prevention and health promotion fields for her work showing that investing in comprehensive social programs for low-income women is more cost-effective than not offering programs. She graciously accepted our very humble prize (a life-long, free subscription to the OHPE Bulletin, which has been free for five-and-a-half years and will continue to be so, but just in case), our great admiration and a special note in the annals of OHPE history!

So, our thanks to ALL our subscribers. Each and every one of you are powerful contributors to the field of health promotion -- and to the life of the OHPE Bulletin.

That's my (Alison's) look behind the scenes. Here's Noelle's....

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V Lesson Four: Best-laid plans oft...

For all of our expansion and success, we still have limited resources for some areas of the project. For example, all of our feature writers are unpaid volunteers. Jodi Thesenvitz, our feature wrangler, is responsible for tracking down likely candidates, helping them through the process and, gently, encouraging people to meet their deadlines. Being a writer herself, Jodi knows pretty much all the things that can go wrong and, while we try to avoid it, sometimes, our articles come in late or, very occasionally, not at all. Then, it's a flashback to the old days with some late-night Thursday work!

Still, this happens less and less now, and often we have a bank of two or three articles waiting to go. We like this best as it gives us the opportunity to work closely with the authors to make sure that it's information you can really use in your work.

Jodi's favourite part is learning so much about what's going on in the field, and snooping in the literature for the most current issues and likely 'volunteers' for future features!

So, our thanks to our dedicated, overworked feature article writers! Tune in for our first January issue where we'll name names...

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VI Lesson Five: If it can go wrong it will

For me, a Day in the Life of the OHPE is just that: one day. Friday. And it's a busy one.

All week long content comes in. So, on Friday morning, I sit down and sort through the *very* large amount of email in my inbox, choose what goes in and what doesn't, correspond with the OHPE team and our contributors, and -- ultimately -- compile, write, edit and send out the weekly newsletter.

Now, my part is heavily reliant on technology: my computer, my high-speed Internet connection, the OHPE Cold Fusion database and our Mailman list software. As anyone who works with technology will tell you, when you have a tight deadline, whatever can go wrong with the above technology will. And when you have a tight, weekly deadline like I do, lots of stuff does.

From the last year, here are some highlights from My Deadline vs My Machines:

* Within two weeks in March, not one but both of my home computers die. One quite literally goes up in smoke. This does not make my life any easier.

* The server that hosts our database performs Friday-morning maintenance, without which I cannot get our database to accept new content. But our host is in Vancouver, and Friday morning here is not the same as morning there. We politely make inquiries and our lovely server hosts accommodate us after a few frustrating weeks of confusion.

* Netscape Communicator begins to randomly eat critical email messages. It seems particularly fond of feature articles. This is still going on, but I resist Outlook stubbornly...

* For no apparent reason, my computer refuses to establish an Internet connection. But only on Friday mornings. Husband grumbles, but nicely lets me use his machine. Finally, after weeks of frustrating, intermittent problems, we discover that the nice, blue cable no longer works. We replace the cable and domestic harmony is restored.

* Our list software accepts the bulletin, but decides to hold on to it for a few days before sending it to people. No one can explain why this happens. Nor why it sometimes switches the order of our messages.

* A car hits a tree on Palmerston Avenue, knocking out all power to my neighbourhood for over ten hours. That week, the OHPE goes out on Saturday. Some things you just have to accept.

But, as our faithful readers know, mostly the deadline wins, and people have their OHPE Bulletin to read before five o'clock on Friday. We think it's a nice way to end the work week.

So, thanks to all our technical support people, without whom the OHPE schedule would be a good deal more unpredictable: Chris at UVMedia, for Cold Fusion fixes past and future; Mark at Pacific Online, for hosting our database on the west coast and fielding panicked calls with aplomb; Rob, our Mailman contact at Web Networks for subscription list support and patience with the 'but where did it go?!' questions; and Jeff, husband, computer-sharer and home-based technical support person. And, finally, my cat Fionn, because when technology really misbehaves, it's nice to have cat sleeping on your desk.

Best wishes for safe and happy holidays from the OHPE Editorial and Management Team,

Alison, Jodi, Larry & Noelle