Peel Public Health (ON)

  • Julie Stratton, Manager, Epidemiology, Peel Public Health, Brampton, Ontario
  • Monali Varia, Surveillance Advisor, Peel Public Health, Brampton, Ontario 

Strength in Numbers: A Workforce Development Approach to Making Data-Informed Decisions

Peel Public Health is a large local public health department of 639 full-time equivalents with many program decisions occurring at a team level. The ability to use local health status and surveillance data in the decision making process needs to be part of a team’s skill set.

Building on the work of two previous EXTRA fellows which introduced the systematic use of research evidence into program and practice decisions, this intervention looked to build staff capacity for using health data so that public health decisions in Peel are informed by the best available evidence and relevant local health data.

The objective of this project was to plan and implement an evidence-informed intervention that would build staff knowledge and skills in using data for decision making, and create the organizational tools and processes required to sustain this work. Learning theory and adult learning principles were used to design and implement our intervention, and Kotter and Cohen’s steps for large-scale change were applied to create an organizational shift in the way we think
about and use data in program practice.

During the intervention, we worked with five pilot teams who needed to describe the magnitude of a public health issue in order to make a decision. An objective competency-assessment tool was developed and administered to inform training needs. Teams were taken through five training modules geared at developing knowledge and skills for health data assessment. Interactive training sessions were delivered in conjunction with a series of mentored meetings that used a problem-based learning approach. Teams were supported by staff in the Epidemiology and Surveillance Units using a tool to quantify the magnitude of a health problem.

Our intervention resulted in five program decisions informed by local data and an improvement among pilot staff in knowledge, skill, and confidence in accessing and interpreting health data. Sustainability and application of knowledge is part of a planned long-term evaluation.

This intervention highlighted the importance of manager support and strong organizational commitment in building staff capacity. Next steps include a staged implementation of our competency-based training and mentoring approach throughout the organization. We plan to share our results with other organizations who wish to increase the capacity of staff to use research and health data in decision making.