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How Alberta Health Services Creates Connections in Healthcare and Cultures

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Alberta Health Services launched Together4Health in 2018 as a tool for Albertans to participate in projects and initiatives, as they are interested and able. They soon discovered the virtual tool could help overcome the engagement challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and even provided the opportunity to expand and grow engagement with diverse communities.

“The platform continues to contribute to a culture of engagement at Alberta Health Services. It provides an accessible way in which all our audiences can contribute their voice to the many projects and initiatives Alberta Health Services is undertaking.”
Nicole Merrifield, Director, Community Engagement & External Relations, Alberta Health Services


  • 100+ projects 
  • 300,000+ site visits
  • 7,000+ registered participants
  • 3,750 online-session participants in a three-month span
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Overcoming Challenges for Culturally Respectful Connections

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services to the more than 4.6 million adults and children living in Alberta. AHS works to engage with internal and external audiences on healthcare issues to achieve its vision: Healthy Albertans. Healthy Communities. Together.

Together4Health (T4H), an online engagement platform launched in 2018, complements and enhances AHS’ community and stakeholder engagement activities by providing an accessible tool for Albertans to participate in and provide feedback on local and provincial projects and initiatives.

“Providing opportunities for input on topics that matter to Albertans makes them partners in the delivery, planning, and evaluation of their healthcare,” said Nicole Merrifield, Director, Community Engagement & External Relations, at AHS. “The geographic size, population disbursement, and cultural diversity of Alberta creates challenges for meaningful in-person engagement. T4H gives us an incredible opportunity to reach more people than we could ever hope to connect with in person.”

Harpreet Matharu, a Senior Advisor with the AHS Engagement & External Relations team, directly supports T4H. She provides expert advice to teams who wish to engage with staff or public, coordinating training and education on the use of T4H.

“Not only is T4H creating space for more Albertans to reach into the organization, it’s making it possible for more teams across AHS to seek input when they otherwise wouldn’t have the time or resources to do so in a comprehensive way,” said Matharu.

The global COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges when it came to connecting AHS with their populations to share vital information, and to learn what audiences need to know and understand about the healthcare system response.

“We had a lot of people who had questions, we had people all across the province with different needs, and we also had restrictions on how we could get together,” recalled Merrifield. “One of the things we wanted to accomplish with Together4Health was to create a place where people could come ask their questions, leave their thoughts, and get information – especially when everything was changing very, very quickly.”

During the first 16 months of the COVID response (March 2020 through July 2021), AHS hosted
321 virtual sessions; 16,000+ Albertans attended a virtual Community Conversation, Focus Group, Psychological First Aid training or other presentation. This growth in engagement was reflected on T4H, which engaged 41,100 unique individuals – for comparison, the previous year saw 13,800 individual visitors to T4H.

A dedicated T4H page invited Albertans to join the conversation about COVID-19; the page received more than 102,700 visits from 84,000 individuals. Albertans asked 748 questions of AHS experts, and 59,500 individuals responded to surveys that helped guide how AHS communicated with Albertans during the pandemic.

AHS also saw a need to provide a space for the critical conversations around Indigenous healthcare issues and to reach Indigenous communities, as well as AHS staff, to support engagement during National Indigenous Peoples’ Month each June, and Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (held annually on September 30, since 2022).

First celebrated in 1996, National Indigenous Peoples Day was established to recognize and celebrate the cultures and contributions of Indigenous peoples across Canada.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is commemorated on September 30. It serves as a day to remember students and survivors of Canada’s residential school system; government-sponsored schools established in the early 1830s to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. The last residential school closed in 1996. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of Canada’s reconciliation process.

Engaging with Indigenous peoples and communities comes with its own unique challenges.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had calls to action for healthcare, specifically about making sure that that we were employing Indigenous workforce, and that we would be providing safe spaces,” explains Carolyn Paradis, a Senior Advisor with the AHS Engagement & External Relations team who supports the two major celebrations. “That’s why [National Indigenous Peoples Month and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation] are so important. Because engaged healthcare workers are key to providing appropriate and culturally safe care.”

When the one-to-one community engagement that can help bridge, those gaps became more difficult due to COVID, the AHS Engagement team turned to Together4Health.

“We had teams who had information they wanted to share with communities,” said Matharu. “But we also wanted to discuss what we could learn from those communities. We couldn’t just do it in person so we had to lean into T4H; to learn more about the platform, and how we could use it in different ways.”


Data and Strategy to Build Positive Engagement

At the core of the Together4Health digital presence, Granicus’ EngagementHQ solution provided both the tools to expand engagement efforts, and the analytics and data to help manage the increase in audience experienced during the pandemic and in numerous projects that built upon that success.

Understanding how to engage Indigenous communities and what health information was important to communities and individuals started with internal discussions, said Paradis. Personal stories from staff, especially those who identified as Indigenous, provided powerful insight into what online engagement would be most effective and attract more participation.

With that information, Paradis explained, the next step was connecting audiences to a digital presence that highlighted important and powerful content.

“A lot of what we wanted to do online was bring people’s personal journey and experience into the conversation so our participants could really hear, feel and see their experience,” she said. “Listeners and participants could understand, not only a personal experience, but celebrate the community experience too. The uptake was incredible. We were able to bring different tools and resources to the online conversation in a genuine and meaningful way.”

For National Indigenous Peoples Month and the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, “our subject matter experts were very involved,” Paradis continued. “The page is only as good as the content and making the work that our Indigenous Wellness Core team is doing everyday tangible and understandable helped build the page. The reason it was so successful is because the amazing work of those teams.”

Using EngagementHQ, the AHS Engagement team was able to organize content and engagement around themes that both responded to the immediate needs of communities and encouraged further engagement with other related topics.

Engagement across multiple channels also offered a way to reach Indigenous communities that connect more frequently through social media.

“We haven’t always had great uptake through email,” Paradis said. “But communities are more responsive on Facebook. It’s easy to share this platform with people with a Facebook post and a link that takes them to the T4H page. It’s user-friendly for remote communities and very accessible and easy for people to provide their input on a handheld device.

“The Indigenous engagement projects have grown to celebrating culture, building strength, identity, even encouraging youth to connect with Elders,” she continued. “It’s really about highlighting where those strengths are and helping profile communities doing different things. It’s a way AHS can showcase the communities we are a part of, and the work AHS staff are doing to support their Indigenous patients, clients, and neighbors.”


Successful Engagement, Impact for Communities

Expanding access and encouraging new ways to engage with T4H had an impact during the pandemic and continues to grow. To date, T4H has enabled AHS to connect with an online community to augment in-person engagement on over 100 projects with over 300,000 site visits and more than 4,000 registered participants.

The outreach for National Indigenous Peoples Month saw great success with over 3,200 people visiting the dedicated project page in June 2020 (with approximately 2,800 visiting during a celebration week), downloading over 60 documents, and attracting 441 participants to promoted online sessions.

By 2022, that community engagement expanded significantly. During June 2022, 41 online sessions were offered via Zoom, with online resources and other activities available as part of an expanded integrated communications plan ranging from June activities to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30. The project saw 434 document downloads (including 116 downloads of “Ways to Support Reconciliation”) and over 3,750 participants in promoted online sessions.

Merrifield said that she believes the continued growth in engagement comes from not only understanding the needs of the audiences but engaging them in the ways they are more likely to embrace.

“Understanding issues from different perspectives and different communities and identifying common themes is important,” she added. “We’ve had a lot of people who have been very frank in their responses to us, which has allowed us to provide valuable feedback to AHS teams, who are using that feedback to guide their decisions and next steps.”

That feedback, as well as other analytic data from projects, has helped feed the growth of other T4H programs and outreach.

“Being able to respond to themes that are coming up is something that other teams find so helpful,” said Matharu. “Being able to look at what projects are gaining the most interest, analyzing what they are doing and then seeing how we can repeat those learnings in other projects to reach more people.”

“We’re getting great survey results because it’s easy for people to access the tools, such as some of our frontline health care providers” added Merrifield. “They can scan a QR code, go on T4H and engage. It’s a very easy way for us to share information and engage with communities and other networks who might not otherwise be aware of the work we’re doing.”

AHS recently used T4H to gather input from Alberta parents regarding Childhood Immunization. From November to December 2022, the project saw 8,939 survey responses, 17,039 page visits and 15,064 unique page visits with the majority (8,748) coming as a referral from partners sharing the survey.

The continued success of T4H and the tools of EngagementHQ provide the opportunity to connect communities beyond the issues of healthcare; to build community relationships and facilitate conversation and connection between the people served by AHS.

“The success of projects on T4H have allowed us to build awareness of the value of engagement broadly across the organization – with 110,000 employees serving a population of more than 4.6 million, that’s a significant goal,” Merrifield says. “It’s been a game changer for our Engagement team.”