2016: Brokering the IT relationship between a First Nations-owned and operated ICT service provider and a Toronto-based non-profit
In 2016 Dignitas International was working to set up CHWconnect, a portal for Community Health Worker training and information on establishing community-based programs. There was pressure to have the site functioning quickly–the project was on a timeline. The site was to be designed to be accessed by people living and working in remote First Nations that usually have limited internet connectivity.
K-Net had not been initially considered as a potential partner to reach out to with the RFP. The perceived greater need was to have a well-designed, high-functioning website with lots of interactive media. However, I knew unless we got an organization familiar with IT functionality at the community level, the website would be inaccessible. I also wanted to ensure a local First Nations partner was included on the project.
I forwarded the RFP to K-Net, a First-Nations owned and operated ICT Service Provider based in Sioux Lookout, Ontario.
A partnership was struck with K-Net and DI, where K-Net advised on the technical aspects and functionality of CHWconnect, tested functionality at the community level, and conducted usability testing with community members. K-Net’s involvement in the creation of CHWconnect proved to be instrumental in ensuring DI produced a well-functioning, accessible website.
2015-2016: Brokering the research relationship between Toronto-based public health researchers and remote First Nations in Northwestern Ontario
Here’s how I worked with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA) and Dignitas International to implement the research arm of a massive pilot project in four First Nations in Northwestern Ontario, funded by the RBC Foundation:
Dignitas International had partnered with SLFNHA on a commitment to undertake a massive study on Type 2 Diabetes among people living on reserves in the region. This meant a lot of on-the-ground research directly with First Nations living on reserves accessible only by air. It was a full year of gathering evidence for a donor-funded research project with far-reaching implications for planning and funding of Type 2 Diabetes–a crisis and an epidemic for these communities. The directive to carry out the project had come directly from the Chiefs in the Sioux Lookout area. The end product was going to be a key planning and advocacy tool to influence funding decisions at regional, provincial and federal levels.
I was the person on the ground in Sioux Lookout facilitating the interactions between researchers from Toronto and First Nations participants in remote reserves. A huge part of that was managing the expectations of the research team (in a different environment this type of work would only take a few weeks or months), while protecting the needs of the First Nations partners to be the ones who set the working parameters. Researchers wanted to be able to do a lot of work every time they visited a reserve–an amount that, in their minds, would be considered ‘normal’. But this expectation was too much for First Nations staff who are already overwhelmed with other requests for project and research participation, not to mention their day-to-day activities in poorly resourced nursing stations in remote reserves.
I’m not from the Sioux Lookout area, but I quickly connected with First Nations partners, learned and understood the nuances of the individual communities, and used this knowledge to manage the interactions. We did less work per trip, but took more trips. We worked within the scheduling needs of very busy and often overwhelmed First Nations staff and community members. We accommodated a variety of techniques to facilitate participation. We stretched the timeline to be more realistic. In the end, the team produced one of the most comprehensive research studies of Type 2 Diabetes in the Sioux Lookout area, with over 100 participants in health care organizations and First Nations between Thunder Bay and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (Big Trout Lake First Nation), that will be published widely for both the general population, and in academic medical journals.