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Evaluation up to 2014

The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI) was created to mobilize knowledge and catalyze system-wide change—an ambitious, long-term strategy that demands ongoing assessment. To gain a clear picture of its early progress, the AFWI commissioned a developmental evaluation. The evaluation shows where the AFWI was most and least effective during its initial years.

Not only does this report provide an overview of large-scale change in progress, it remains a valuable resource as the AFWI expands, recalibrates, and evolves. Because the AFWI is primarily concerned with exploring possibilities and refining strategies (rather than defining concrete solutions), it requires detailed feedback to thrive.

This evaluation showed the AFWI where progress was being made, while also uncovering opportunities for innovation, testing, and modification. It is a central piece of the AFWI’s growing body of knowledge about how to effect system-wide change.

Gathering Data

The AFWI’s strategy is informed by its Theory of Change, which states that change happens at three levels: individual, organization, and system. The evaluation assessed the AFWI’s early effectiveness at each level.

From November 2013 to June 2014, the evaluation collected qualitative data from 90 people through interviews, stakeholder meetings, Reflective Practice sessions, and Ripple Effects Mapping sessions; it also collected quantitative data through a survey of 299 AFWI activity participants, 148 website visitors, and more than 500 AFWI documents.

Evaluation Findings

As a knowledge-mobilization initiative, the AFWI provided individuals and groups with a scientific knowledge base, a core story of brain development, and access to a cross-sector, multi-disciplinary network.

The evaluation shows that these tools caused individuals to change their understanding of brain development, lifelong health, and addiction; individuals also changed their attitudes and work strategies, and, in many cases, developed plans to bring their organizations in line with new knowledge about brain science.

As individuals became change agents they began to shift conversations, cultures, and practices at their organizations. The evaluation noted changes at this level, such as practitioners using the core story to speak to clients and patients, researchers and educators adjusting academic curricula, and agency staff refocusing programs, proposals, and services.

Ongoing Progress

At the time of evaluation in 2014, system changes were only beginning to take hold. Since that time, AFWI-designed or -influenced programs are increasing, expanding, and moving forward at every level to catalyze individual, organizational, and systems change. AFWI-inspired change agents are conducting community meetings and outreach to spread the Brain Story to the general public and to identify resources and gaps at local levels. Community engagement days, which are collaborative efforts between the AFWI and local change agents, are reaching people who have not yet been involved in AFWI activities or who have not heard the brain story. 

The AFWI has partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities on Change in Mind, which is a three-year initiative involving five Alberta sites and ten US sites. The goal is to create an American and Albertan cohort of non-governmental, human-serving organizations committed to deepening and applying their knowledge of brain science within their organizations, their communities, and the public sector systems intersecting with their work. The Alberta cohort sites are CASA Child, Adolescent, and Family Mental Health and the Boyle McCauley Health Centre in Edmonton and CUPS Health Education Housing, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area, and the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary.

A major system-wide development is the Government of Alberta’s Human Services Contract Alignment Project, which requires potential contractors to fill out a pre-qualification form in which they commit to aligning their services with values outlined in three reports heavily influenced by the AFWI:

• Prevention and Early Intervention Framework for Children, Youth and Families

Foundations of Caregiver Support 

• Child Intervention Practice Framework

Part of this required alignment includes a commitment to using knowledge about child and brain development in the delivery of their services. This is a significant indication of the uptake and integration of the Brain Story knowledge in the human-serving system in Alberta.  

Alberta Health Services (AHS) has captured and analyzed data from the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study, and has incorporated that data into its clinical practice to identify, treat, and reduce cumulative mental health risks. For more information, download the AHS resource guide on the Child & Adolescent Addiction, Mental Health and Psychiatry Program.