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Ontario Health Promotion E-Bulletin Celebrates Five Years!

I Introduction

Of our five years producing the OHPE Bulletin, we could say that everything has changed and not much has changed and we would not be contradicting ourselves. In this article, we celebrate this anniversary with a look at what we said we would do, a brief summary of what actually happened and some thoughtful reflections from three members of the very first editorial team.

II Our History

On May 2, 1997, we sent out the very first OHPE Bulletin with an explanation of why we thought it was a good idea: "Each of our organizations receives notices about interesting conferences, new projects, health promotion issues, position postings, reports, and so forth. Rather than have everyone read everything, we thought this might be a bridge to the wealth of information without overloading personal time and 'space.' This is an experiment. We will monitor contributions and response. You define its value, its content, and its reach. New approaches and information sharing technologies emerge continually on the Internet. We invite your exploration of the possibilities."

On our first anniversary, we celebrated the fact that the experiment was working: "We have grown from a simple idea of how to share information across the province, beginning with 110 subscribers, to having 430 members on this list as of May 1, 1998! .... When we started we were not sure that there was enough information for a weekly bulletin (nor enough energy). However, every week it is an effort to keep the OHPE Bulletin to 3 reasonable length messages (the 1st anniversary issue has 4). The structure and the content of the Bulletin has evolved into a wealth of material, ideas, news and the introduction of a popular aspect -- job postings. OHPE Bulletin has a home-page, accessible archives and a contents list http://www.opc.on.ca/ohpe/ohpeflyr.htm And there has been a spin-off of another weekly list of OHPE-Contents [only] for people who access the news on the Internet. Big changes we did not anticipate a year ago!"

And we haven't rested on our laurels -- the OHPE continues to grow and change. Here's a summary of key moments in our five year history:

* 1997: OHPE debuted; produced 'in-house' by OPC staff with some assistance from THCU

* 1998: formalized the partnership between OPC and THCU; conducted our first evaluation; debuted an online archive;

* 1999: created the editor position; developed the Health Promotion Subject Matrix [http://ohpe.ca/ebulletin/mtxintro.html#smintro]; designed an online database; had our second evaluation

* 2000: lauched a searchable online database; expanded the content of features; implemented a new automated subscription list

* 2001: launched our website http://www.ohpe.ca; conducted our third evaluation; switched to a new list management system with website.

* 2002: hit the 2000 subscribers mark; our feature articles, job postings and events are contributed by external organizations and reflecting the wide diversity of health promotion in Ontario.

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III Our Original Editorial Team Looks Back

A. Larry Hershfield, Manager, The Health Communication Unit

This is something to celebrate. Since health promotion is about change, and change for the better, let me comment on a few things that we needed to change about the OHPE, and some things that we ought not to.

To begin with, our partnership broadened. In the beginning, Alison Stirling labored long and hard and independently to produce OHPE. She still labors long and hard, but has been joined by very capable editors as well as partners from THCU. In the months and years to come, I think all Ontario Health Promotion Resource System (OHPRS) members will play increasingly larger roles in not only contributing to the content and the dissemination of OHPE, but also to shaping its direction in strategic and complementary ways to the host of services they offer (for more information on the 21 OHPRS organizations see http://www.ohprs.ca).

Technology has also wrought changes. Formerly a newsletter that was labour intensive to pull together, it is now a database that "pushes" information at regular intervals while communities "pull" -- at their convenience and for their specific needs. All the while, thousands of people and hundreds of organizations are "connected." However, I think the evaluation shows that the old paradigm of reacting to sent information still dominates (often with a sense of being captivated and engaged mixed together with anxiety and feeling overwhelmed). So I think our habits, and our newsletter, will continue to change as we adapt to the information age.

Finally, I think that the "subject matrix" that I developed (with help) some years ago to guide the organization of our database and our search for content still stands up pretty well. I am grateful for that because I think the values and approaches of health promotion ought to endure and remain solid enough to frame discussions of all types at all levels of power. The matrix reflects powerful documents such as the Ottawa Charter. New terms can be added of course and this is perhaps overdue, along with fixing some other wrinkles, to increase its use. But new terms ought be added when they reflect serious new ideas, not just new or more confusing jargon -- and that is how we shall do it!

B. Simon Mielniczuk, Strategy & Systems Consulting

Time to reveal the hidden agenda!

The overt design goal of the OHPE Bulletin was to provide a distribution vehicle for the all of the valuable information that arrived daily through mail, personal networks, fax, and even occasionally by email, to OPC. On my unofficial checklist, OHPE exceeds this goal's expectations.

The covert design goals, shared occasionally with others who shared the belief that 'relevant, timely, concise information is power,' included

1. Get Health Promoters online (and connected) by demonstrating its value in a unique way.

2. Seek out and aggregate the information, knowledge and wisdom that are ingredients of sustainable quality.

3. Design the technology to capture and frame these into a searchable memory of health promotion.

Covert goals one and two also exceed expectations. Giving out email addresses and organizational web sites is now done in the same breath as phone numbers. Our subscription list includes many, if not most, people from health promotion's community of practice in Ontario. Read through a season's worth of jobs, events, resources, and features and you will understand what health promotion is all about.

Why is goal three still out of reach? The usage stats on our web site indicate underwhelming traffic to the search features. Questions on CLICK4HP often betray a lack of awareness of two key information repositories: both our archives and CLICK4HP's have easy to use search capabilities. OHPE content is also accessible by date, keywords, and a subject search matrix that was unique five years ago and is still leading edge.

Admittedly, there are design deficiencies. The search feature does not receive major visual presence on the site and too little promotion or reference outside the newsletter. The matrix search lacks a 'Clear All' button, which makes it almost impossible to broaden an unsuccessful attempt.

What should be, and no doubt will eventually be, is a system that enables subscribers to customize the newsletter to match personal and professional interests. The combination of preferences, users (in the aggregate, not individuals), and information requested will provide a real-time view of health promotion that exceeds the ability of any one or even any group of us.

C. Debbie Bang, Consumer Health Service, St. Joseph's Health Centre

It is hard to believe that five years have passed so soon and that the bulletin was once a pioneering progress approach to keeping in touch, when reading it today is an expected, welcome and normal part of my week. Congratulations are due to OPC for its progressive thinking five years ago and for so effectively facilitating a forum for health promotion practitioners to remain current and to provide some "community" to our field. The bulletin is not only a vital source of information for all of us, but an invaluable tool that helps us in our work. It provides links to resources and people who have already done ... what we are about to do! Over time, the OHPE Bulletin has become a best practices tool as it is effectively consolidating the evidence for what "works" in health promotion.

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IV Our Future

Much has stayed true to our initial course: we provide a weekly digest of information and knowledge about health promotion in Ontario. But is this enough? As some of the reflections above indicate, we can go even further. We invite your comments, your reflections and ideas of what would help you in your health promotion work. Let's make the next five years something better and something new.