Partnerships are advisable when starting any health-promoting initiative, including Mood Walks.
Partnerships improve your group’s success by:
- Increasing your group’s visibility in the community
- Affording you access to additional resources
- Supporting your group’s sustainability
- Fostering a sense of accountability
Partnerships also build your organization’s capacity and strengthen ties within your community.
Partnerships can also be an effective means to lessen the stigma associated with mental illness. Working with other community organizations affords them the opportunity for first-hand interaction with people who experience mental health issues, which can reduce stigma and discrimination. By partnering with you, community organizations will have opportunities to increase their comfort level in engaging with people who experience mental health issues while benefiting from your expertise.
As a mental health service provider you are well positioned to partner with local health-promoting agencies because you may share similar organizational goals and values. A walking group will likely fit the objectives of all organizations. Effective partnerships benefit all participants, organizations, and communities involved, and will help to support and strengthen your group.
Mood Walks Partnerships
Ideally, Mood Walks groups will run in conjunction with partners from Hike Ontario and Conservation Ontario. What these partnerships will look like will vary by site: partners will work together to determine the best way to utilize each other’s strengths, considering available time and resources. Your partners might participate in your group by attending regularly and leading a guided hike, or by providing instrumental support through information and resources.
In all cases, the mental health service provider will assume leadership of the group, especially regarding interactions with group participants. However, your partners’ knowledge and expertise will likely be of great benefit to your group.
Here are some partnership activities that we envision.
What a Mental Health Service Provider Could Bring to a Partnership
It is very likely that your partners will look to you for information and support about working with people who experience mental health issues.
Ninety-six percent of Conservation Ontario staff who responded to a recent Mood Walks survey would like information about how to engage with people who experience mental health issues, and Hike Ontario respondents identified lack of knowledge and comfort engaging with people who experience mental health issues as the single greatest barrier to their participation in Mood Walks.
Here are some ways you might offer guidance and support about engaging with people with mental health issues:
- Before groups begin, invite partners to your agency for a tour and introduce them to some of your clients. Have a discussion about the participants you will be working with and how partners can be supportive.
- Provide information and resources about mental illness.
- Offer to debrief with partners after Mood Walks sessions.
- Invite partners to attend workshops that may be of interest.
In addition, as a mental health service provider you can support you partners by spreading the word about their activities and initiatives, and looking for ways your participants or agency could become involved. Here are some ideas:
- Is there a clean-up effort or trail maintenance group that Mood Walks participants might be interested in helping out?
- Is there a weekend hike that you, participants, or other staff members could attend?
- Can you become part of Conservation Ontario’s Healthy Hikes Challenge, as a Mood Walks group or as an agency? Could you offer to help out at a Healthy Hikes event? You could lead an event or provide information about mental health. See “Group Challenges—Healthy Hikes” for more details.
What Your Partners Could Bring to Mood Walks
Your partners are likely to have a range of knowledge, expertise, and resources that will support your Mood Walks group.
Extend an open invitation to partners to be as involved with your group as their resources permit, and allow them to contribute in the way they feel most comfortable. Be sure to keep partners informed about what is happening with your group, and invite partners to Mood Walks events.
Here are some ways partners might contribute:
- Partners are likely to be excellent sources of knowledge about local greenspaces and hiking trails. Ask if they can provide maps of local conservation areas and trails, or if they can recommend a route for your group. These materials could then be posted around your agency.
- Partners may be interested in leading a Mood Walks hike, helping to plan a walk (perhaps by pre-walking your intended route), or attending the group as a supportive volunteer.
- Your Conservation Authority may be able offer your group a training space to host your Safe Hiker training session.
- Your hiking-club partner may be able to offer reduced or waived membership fees for participants to join your local hiking club.
- Partners may be social media–savvy and able to promote your Mood Walks group on their website or Twitter account.
Your Conservation Authority partner may also be interested in attending Safe Hiker training, or becoming a Certified Hike Leader (see “Hike Ontario Training for Mood Walks Participants”).
For more information about creating and maintaining successful partnerships, see “Forming Solid Partnerships” below.
Working with Other Community Partners
Involving other community organizations in your Mood Walks group helps to get the word out and thereby increase community engagement. Furthermore, community partners may be able to support you with equipment, transportation, and merchandise.
Some examples of community organizations suitable for partnership are listed below, along with potential resources they may possess:
- Fitness and Community Centres, such as the YMCA and other community recreation centres, could provide meeting space for your group.
- Local businesses may provide free or discounted walking apparel and equipment, or provide snacks for your group.
- Other mental health agencies in the community may have clients or staff who want to become involved with your group (see “Attracting Participants—External Referrals”).
- Community spaces such church basements and libraries may offer free or affordable meeting space.
- Local high schools, colleges, and universities may have students interested in placement experiences or volunteer opportunities (see “Working with Volunteers and Students”).
- Community Groups and Aboriginal Centres can be valuable partners, particularly if they reflect a cultural background similar to that of at least some participants.
Forming Solid Partnerships
Investing energy in developing and maintaining partnerships helps to ensure partners’ expectations are met and the partnership is beneficial to all involved. It can be helpful to have a conversation early in your partnership to discuss each party’s expectations, hopes, and goals. Introduce your organization and explain the goals of your walking group, as well as why you chose that particular organization to partner with. You may also want to explore your partner’s hopes and goals in partnering with you.
Some questions to get you started include:
- How would you like your organization to benefit from this partnership?
- What resources or supports can our organization provide for you?
- What role will your organization take on as part of this walking group? What actions will you take?
- Do you have any concerns about becoming involved with this walking group?
- What might you or your organization need from us to support your participation?
- What would indicate a successful partnership to you?
Clarifying expectations from the beginning can be helpful in managing relationship dynamics. Be sure to check in frequently with your partners as to their perspective on how the partnership is progressing, and address any perceived conflicts. Strong partnerships require open communication from all parties to ensure the partnership is mutually beneficial.
For more information about developing health-promoting partnerships, see The Partnership Protocol: Principles and Approach for Successful Private/Not-for-Profit Partnerships in Physical Activity and Sport (ParticipACTION, 2010).