Stephanie Kowal has always considered herself a pretty engaged person. But when she came to Edmonton in 2011, to do her master’s degree in public health at the University of Alberta, she quickly got to experience a more proactive kind of engagement, reaching out to immigrant communities and investigating why pregnant women and new moms from these groups were less likely to get vaccinated. The answer? “It wasn’t about distrust at all,” Stephanie says. “It was more about just reaching the families.” Language barriers and isolation both played a role — but the will, she says, was always there. “People are more than willing to tell you what they need, as long as you can reach them in the first place.”
Stephanie’s current job, as a knowledge translation coordinator and researcher with the university’s School of Public Health, continues that work as a liaison for various groups and stakeholders. In short, she takes current health research and shows it to people outside the research community. The questions and concerns raised in that feedback process then informs how the research eventually gets presented to the public. “If a new medication comes out,” Stephanie says, by way of example, “I can create guidelines for doctors to say, ‘If you want to talk to your patient about whether or not this is good for them, these are the types of questions they brought up.’”
To Stephanie, engaging on a city-wide scale is about making sure those lines of communication extend into every pocket of Edmonton. “Nobody is saying, ‘We don’t need to talk to anyone,’” Stephanie says. “But it’s about how we connect with people in the first place.” Reaching the same 20 ultra-engaged people in a given community is one thing, she adds. Reaching the silent majority behind them, however, is even more important.