Barriers are Opportunities with Grey-Bruce

Submitted by Rachel Elizabeth on July 23, 2014 - 6:32am

At Tamarack, we like the Margaret Wheatley quote, “whatever the problem, community is the answer.”  We hold a belief that when we build communities that are deeply connected and resilient, we will be better equipped to face many economic, social, health and environmental issues and uncertainties of our present and future.

A year and a half ago, Tamarack began a journey to learn how we might deepen our sense of community. To explore this idea, we launched the 1000 Conversations to Shape our Future Campaign.  The campaign’s goal was to co-host conversations about what community means to people today and discover the kind of communities that people hope to create moving forward. 

As we move into phase two we are excited to be working with 10 local partners across the country to champion this research while transforming their own communities.  Recently I had the great privilege of spending some time with Grey-Bruce Public Health, our second partner. 

This is a group who understands that health is based not just on diet or physical activity but in the communities that we reside in and build for ourselves.  Over the last few years they have been working tirelessly to explore what this could look like in Grey-Bruce.  We are honored and excited that they have asked us to join with them on this next leg of their journey.

Recently I had the opportunity to meet with a team of their staff to share the 1000 Conversations model and what a ‘made in Grey Bruce’ iteration could look like.  In this first meeting we spent some time, sharing what we loved about the community.  I was struck by how the geography itself bubbled up as a common theme.  Several people talked about walking, whether it was walking the beaches and local green space or walking in town, to work or to get groceries.  Being able to walk within your neighbourhood is a powerful experience that often gets overlooked.  For most people community is rooted deeply in a sense of place.  Walking allows you to get to know the space, and bump into others you know at the same time.  It makes you feel like you belong.

Next we tried something new.  I believe strongly that community is a natural state for us; the challenge is that we have created barriers to this state.  But within every barrier also lies an opportunity.

We first made a list of the barriers we saw in the community:

  • Distance
  • Time-Priorities
  • Cause – Being an Outsider
  • Not Knowing Options
  • Risk Taking – Stepping Outside our comfort zone
  • Socio-Economic
  • Personalities
  • Lack of Literacy
  • Change
  • Lack of Opportunity

From this list we decide to go into more depth with four, first defining the barrier and then exploring the opportunities.


Grey-Bruce is a rural community so people are spread out across a large distance.   As a result, coming together often requires access to transportation.  It also means that services are farther away and therefore harder to get to.


  1.  Because people have to travel further to get from one place to another, they have increased commitment and involvement.  There is a higher barrier to entry, which creates a higher by-in.
  2. This perceived barrier actually creates opportunities by having people share rides with one another, creating more chances to connect and build relationships.
  3. This challenge fosters creativity to find solutions, and gets people thinking outside the box.


This can take a few forms. Differences in personalities can lead to conflict and division.  Personality can also refer to shyness and introversion, which can cause people to not reach out or get involved.


  1. A great chance to recognize and celebrate the diversity of personalities and skill sets.
  2. Ability to seek common goals from different perspectives.

Cause – Being an Outsider

This challenge boils down to having a group whose members are pushing in different directions.  It comes from a lack of connection to/passion for the project.  It also speaks to how attention flickers from one topic to the next before anything meaningful is able to develop.


  1. Great diversity of interests bring multiple lenses/perspectives.
  2.  Opportunities to reframe the project in a new way and deepen our own understanding of the problem while developing larger community buy-in.

Time – Priorities

Time - priorities was one of the most common challenges mentioned, we all feel strained for time these days.  But as we dig deeper we see that time is a representation of where we put priorities.  So the challenge can be reframed as a consideration of the many things that compete for our time and energy.


  1. To connect an action/cause to a passion.
  2.  Recognize and build people's competing responsibilities into community events (e.g., food and childcare).
  3. People wear many hats when they come into the room.  This diversity of experience can add so much.



This was a really exciting start.  I look forward to learning more with Grey-Bruce Public Health and the larger community.