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10th Annual Public Health Summer School

July 4, 2019 - July 5, 2019

the 10th annual public health summer school


Simplifying Complexity:

Public Health Approaches and Practice in Complex Systems

July 4th & 5th, 2019


Registration is open now! Click here to register



Session Summaries Now Available!


The Public Health Association is BC is excited to announce the dates of our 10th annual summer school, happening on July 4th and 5th, 2019 at the University of Victoria, University of BC: Vancouver, University of Northern BC and University of BC: Okanagan campus. Drawing practitioners of public health from around the province, PHABC’s annual public health summer school is a leading forum for inspiration, sharing, and learning on public health and health equity at the individual, health care system, and community levels.


This year we have partnered with the Saskatchewan Public Health AssociationManitoba Public Health Association, Yukon Public Health Community of Practice and the Public Health Agency of Canada to bring our summer school across most of western Canada via UBC’s WebEx videoconferencing technology. Our summer school is one of the only continuing education courses for public health. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn about the latest issues in public health, build your professional skill-set, network with like-minded individuals and find out how you can use complex adaptive systems thinking in your position to affect positive change!

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The theme for the 2019 school is “Simplifying Complexity: Public Health Approaches and Practice in Complex Systems”.  Complexity science is the study of a system and problems that are dynamic, unpredictable and multi-dimensional, and have interconnected relationships and parts. Complex adaptive systems (CAS), occurs within that paradigm of complexity science, and will be the focus of the summer school.  Over the two days participants will be introduced to CAS thinking, what it is, and how it can be used to create innovative solutions to population level interventions in public health.



Each half-day session will consist of a multi-site wide presentation, introducing the subtopic and how it relates to CAS, followed by a workshop component where participants at each site will take the concept to practice with the chance to work through real issues in public health collaboratively and finish with a feedback session where participants will engage in a knowledge exchange between the various sites. Both days will begin with an overview of CAS and complexity science and end with a recap of what was learned. Some sub-topics to be discussed include: Immunization & Infectious Disease Response, Food Systems & Security, Overdose Response/Safe Supplies and Wicked Problems in Health Equity.




Registration is on now, click here to register or copy the link below and paste it in your preferred browser. Save on registration as a member of PHABC and don’t forget to share the event with others who may be interested in attending.


2 Day Registration*
PHABC Members $100.00
Non-members** $160.00
Student PHABC Members $80.00
Student Non-members** $120.00

*Registration does not include lunch; but refreshments will be served at main sites.
**All non-member summer school registrations will include a complimentary one-year membership to PHABC.



Draft Agenda and Speakers


We are excited to release the draft agenda for our two-day summer school, we know many of you have been waiting patiently for the agenda release and we hope that it was worth the wait! Our two days will be jam packed full of excellent opportunities to learn about the latest issues and research in public health and population level interventions as well as network with like-minded people across western Canada and have a chance to put theory to practice with workshops tailored to each subtopic.

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Speakers for the two-day school include: Dr. Perry Kendall, former provincial health officer and co-executive director at the BC Centre on Substance Use, Val Morrison, scientific advisor for the National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy, Dr. Marjorie MacDonald, professor emerita in the School of Nursing at the University of Victoria, Craig Thompson, director of Immunization at the BC Ministry of Health, Dr. Keith Ahamad, medical director of the Regional Addiction Program at Vancouver Coastal Health, Richard Han, provincial manager of Farm to School BC, Dr. Wanda Martin, assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Ian Roe, content strategist at I Boost Immunity and Kids Boost Immunity, Chris Van Veen, director of Strategic Initiatives and Public Health Planning at Vancouver Coastal Health,  Samantha Gambling, Vancouver region animator at Farm to School BC, and Hawkfeather Peterson, secretary at the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs.



Think Piece


Interested in attending but not sure if this year’s theme is right for you? We are pleased to announce we have released our think piece which outlines what complex adaptive systems and complexity science is, provides a small overview of the subtopics to be covered, and include some further reading to ensure you arrive at summer school prepared to dive into the topics.

You can see the full think piece below or click here to download a version for offline reading

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Session Summaries


Introduction to Complex Adaptive Systems: Theoretical Framework

The opening presentation will orient participants to complex adaptive systems, systems thinking and complexity science, the overarching theme of the summer school. We will begin with a short historical overview of complexity science, and the different disciplinary traditions informing it. We will discuss how complex adaptive systems fit into the overarching paradigm of complexity science along with an overview of the main attributes of complex systems. We will distinguish complex systems from simple and complicated systems. Recent research involving complexity science applications in relation to our subtopics will be presented focusing on systems-thinking frameworks, examples of complex systems in public health, and summary of current systems tools being used in public health to help inform new and effective population health interventions.

By the end of the presentation, participants will have a working understanding of the CAS, systems thinking and complexity science. This knowledge base will facilitate greater understanding of our subtopics as we explore current issues in public health through the two-day summer school. Presented by: Dr. Marjorie MacDonald



The Complexity of a School Lunch

The goal of this session will be to help participants understand how food systems are a complex adaptive system and how systems-thinking can help guide public health practitioners to understand and influence food systems by leveraging opportunities and addressing challenges. Through research and literature that juxtapositions policy parameters and how food systems are influencing food security, participants who participate in this session will be able to answer how to affect positive population-level interventions to create more sustainable food system. Within this session, we highlight the complex nature of current issues within food systems. We provide an in-depth exploration of Farm to School BC’s Regional Animator Model as a framework to improve children’s healthy eating in the school system. The subsequent modelling school food programs workshop will allow participants to work through current issues of food security in different jurisdictions using a systems framework. Presented by: Wanda Martin, Richard Han, & Samantha Gambling


Contagion, Prevention and Complex Adaptation

In this session, participants will be provided an overview of the current body of literature studying infectious disease outbreaks as complex adaptive systems. Within this systems framework, infectious disease transmission is a complex, multifaceted system and therefore disease response must be modeled using the same framework. We will then look at current issues to disease response in BC including vaccine hesitancy and knowledge translation; two agents which massively affected the recent measles outbreak in the lower mainland and southern Vancouver Island. In order to combat those volatile agents, new thinking is needed to create social innovation at the population level. Programs such as I Boost Immunity and Kids Boost Immunity will be highlighted as effective population level interventions. A participatory workshop will follow the presentation concerning vaccine hesitancy in a digital environment. Presented by: Ian Roe, Craig Thompson, & Shannon Turner



Wicked Problems in Health Equity

Health inequity is a wicked problem. Wicked problems are problems that are difficult to fully define, persistent, intractable, and potentially affect an array of related issues. Learning about wicked problems, in the context of working in complex adaptive systems, can support us to think about ways to advance health equity.

The session will open with an overview of health equity and complex adaptive systems. We will then draw the links between the overall theme of complexity and the concept of wicked problems. From there, we will define wicked problems, including an exploration of health inequities as wicked problems, and ways of working towards resolving them. The final part of the session will be a workshop where participants will be able to use some of the tools described to promote health equity in their public health roles. Presented by: Val Morrison & Dr. Marjorie MacDonald


A Matter of Public Health: ‘Safer Supply’ as a Response to Canada’s Overdose Epidemic

Drug policy is a complex adaptive system where interactions among system actors and components have evolved along with the composition of the illicit drug supply, patterns of drug use, enforcement/criminal justice, prevention, treatment, and harm reduction activities over time. Recently, drug user advocate groups and public health officials have called for the distribution of a “safer supply” of opioids to reduce harms associated with substance use and decrease risk of death. During this session we will use the CAS framework to understand the ‘safer supply’ movement as complex processes where values, evidence, and technologies interact in the socio-political environment. The objectives of this session are:

  • To ground the emerging calls for “safer supply” within a complex adaptive approach to public health practice;
  • To provide an overview of the ways in which advocacy groups and public health officials are defining “safer supply”, and why they view it as an urgent policy response in the context of the provincial overdose emergency;
  • To generate an understanding of the complex legal and regulatory environment surrounding safer supply, and identify the policy shifts required to scale up public health “safer supply” initiatives for people at risk of overdose deaths; and
  • To encourage participants to consider their personal and professional roles in reducing barriers to “safer supply”;

In the workshop component, participants will have a chance to increase their understanding of both the barriers to and benefits of having a safer supply of opioids, as well as consider the impacts of stigma, racism, and inequity on people who use drugs. Participants will work as a group to examine the personal and professional contributions they can make to the safer supply movement. Presented by: Dr. Perry Kendall, Chris Van Veen, Dr. Keith Ahamed, Prairie Chiu, & Hawkfeather Peterson


Thank You


We would like to thank everyone involved with putting on the 2019 summer school, including our scientific co-chairs, Dr. Marjorie MacDonald and Dr. Wanda Martin, the entire scientific program committee (see below), and our summer school partners; Saskatchewan Public Health AssociationManitoba Public Health AssociationYukon Public Health Community of Practice, and the Public Health Agency of Canada for their tireless commitment and effort in expanding the summer school across western Canada for its milestone tenth year. We would also like to thank the School of Population and Public Health at the University of BC for their dedication to the summer school over the last ten years; without their support we would not be able to offer this continuing education opportunity year after year.


Summer School Co-Chairs

Dr. Marjorie MacDonald

University of Victoria

Marjorie MacDonald is a Professor Emerita in the School of Nursing, an Adjunct Professor in the School of Public Health and Social Policy, and a Scientist in the Canadian Institute of Substance Use Research (CISUR), all at the University of Victoria. She co-directs the Research in Public Health Systems and Services Initiative (BC) (formerly CPHFRI) and is leading an initiative to develop a Public Health Systems and Services Research agenda for Canada. Marjorie held one of 15 inaugural CIHR Applied Public Health Research Chairs from 2008-2014, and was President and Past President of the Public Health Association of BC from 2011 to 2016. Research interests include public health systems renewal, health equity, public health and primary care collaboration, adolescent health promotion and drug use prevention, and public health ethics. Marjorie also is interested in the application of complexity science to research methods in public health.


Wanda Martin

University of Saskatchewan

Wanda Martin, RN, is an Assistant Professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research focuses on climate change and resilience, particularly in urban agriculture and health equity, from a complex adaptive system perspective. Dr. Martin is the past president of the Saskatchewan Public Health Association and a board member for the Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment.



Scientific Program Committee

Thank you to everyone on the scientific program committee for your invaluable contributions to the development of the summer school 2019 curriculum!

Michael Spowart            Regional Director, Western Region, Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

Shannon Turner              Executive Director, Public Health Association of BC

Dr. Theresa Healy           Capacity Building Committee Co-Chair, Public Health Association of BC

Samantha Salter             A/Territorial Epidemiologist, Health & Social Service, Government of Yukon

Lara Frederick                 North East Preventive Public Health Program Lead, Northern Health

Sarah Prowse                  Healthy Public Policy Specialist, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

Jackie Wu                         A/Manager, Public Health Capacity & Knowledge Management, Western Region, PHAC

Sarah Dyer                       Office & Events Coordinator, Public Health Association of BC

Nicole Braun                   Population Health Promotion Practitioner, Saskatchewan Cancer Agency

Maureen Rowan             Capacity Building Committee Co-Chair, Public Health Association of BC

Hannah Moffat               Population Health Equity Initiatives Leader, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

Christina Harding          Summer School Coordinator & Project Coordinator, Public Health Association of BC




Following the format of last year’s summer school and fall conference; our chosen theme, integrated with the discussions held by participants at the summer school, will be used to help guide and inform the curriculum of our annual conference. Participants who attend the summer school are encouraged use what they learn to develop an abstract for consideration at the conference, happening from November 14th to 15th, 2019 at the Sutton Place Hotel in Downtown Vancouver.


Due to unforeseen circumstances we are looking for one more volunteer at our Vancouver, Victoria and Prince George sites. If you live in one of those cities and would like to attend the summer school but the cost of registration is impeding your participation please contact Christina Harding at coordinator@phabc.org to see if volunteering is right for you.


We look forward to seeing all of you this summer!


July 4, 2019
July 5, 2019