Reaching Collective Impact in Manitoba through HIV/STBBI Research and Evaluation: A “Retreat” to Get Organized

Prepared by: Jared Star and Chance Dupuis

Released: October 17th, 2023

The MB HIV ST/BBI Collective Impact Network (CIN) was established in 2016 as a program of Nine Circles Community Health Centre focused on supporting a network of innovators that work to change the landscape of HIV-STBBI’s systems in Manitoba. I am the current Research Manager, and I work alongside a backbone team of Strategic Co-Facilitators and peers living with HIV to bring the work happening in Manitoba together for systems change. Part of that work involves convening various “Nodes” of the network, including one focused specifically on Research and Evaluation. I hope to highlight a new approach to convening and strategizing collective effort that led to a new relationships, new research ideas, and add a little fun!

What is the “Research and Evaluation Action Group?”

The Research and Evaluation Action Group consists of researchers, evaluators, and knowledge users across health and social care systems in Manitoba that address – or work within the realm of – HIV and other STBBIs. The group meets 1-2 times a year to discuss trends and address challenges collectively.

Transforming Gatherings: Embracing the ‘Retreat’ Experience Over the Mundane ‘Meeting

Over the last several years, particularly due to COVID-19, the action group meetings tapered off warranting a reconvening of the group to energize members, establish new connections, and advance towards our collective impact goals. To accomplish this, the idea of a “Research Retreat” emerged, which was essentially a lightly facilitated day in Winnipeg’s beautiful Assiniboine Park “the Leaf” meeting space with delicious food and opportunities to engage with nature. We really wanted to avoid inviting folks out to a long day of presentations; there was and still is an appetite to get together in person, and so we leaned into that and chose to keep it simple. The day was a success – both in attendance and in outcome, in part because of the structure of facilitated activities, but also because of the paramount request of folks in the room: “Don’t prepare a presentation or notes, simply come as you are!”

A Peak Behind the Curtain: What Transformed Our Retreat Event into an Unforgettable Experience

Our gathering was a true gem – leaving all attendees with a sense of accomplishment and pride. The day began with a heartfelt opening by Elder Dr. Albert McLeod and the dedicated members of the CINetwork backbone team, expressing gratitude for everyone’s presence. We seamlessly transitioned into engaging, interactive activities that fostered connections among participants. As we delved into more thought-provoking discussions, the focus remained firmly on the future and solutions. Not only did our participants identify critical research and evaluation needs within our sector, but they also seized the opportunity to shine a spotlight on their remarkable achievements. It was a space for sharing, learning, and celebrating successes.

Measuring Success: Common Indicator Frameworks

A key outcome for the day was to discuss highlighting our collective impact through the use of a common indicator framework. Since 2005, there has not there been a summary document of the HIV/STBBI research activities that have taken place in Manitoba, and even now there is no way to see a full picture of the research activities taking place in Manitoba in this area. The CINetwork ensures that is about to change. Attendees agreed on a list of indicators and a method for sharing the results that will be piloted in the Winter of 2024 and then shared broadly by the Fall of the same year. Not only was this a big win for everyone in the room, it spurred many other conversations, including of how to advance research into policy action and program/systems change. This is something the group will revisit in the future as the CINetwork begins examining its role in this as well.

While we saw a lot of the same topics, needs, successes and challenges, that our partners throughout Canada are seeing with respect to HIV and STBBIs emerge throughout the day, they were counterbalanced by moments of inspiration and connection. New collaborations were formed, and great discussions were had. We even landed on a manageable action plan for the next year to support us all in our research and evaluation work.

What We Are Taking with Us as We Continue to Walk Down this Path: Relationship Building as a Core Value

The goal of the day was to invite researchers and evaluators to “Create intentional space for reflection and creativity,” which was accomplished, along with a additional and meaningful outcomes. The lesson here for others working in research and convening meetings, gatherings and even conferences is not a new one. Rather, this is a reminder that people and relationships are what move our work forward, and it’s when we have space to share and learn from each other that collective action is noticed and realized in the bigger picture.  

Looking Ahead: Future Events and Planning

We plan to host another event such as this next year in a beautiful and natural setting to build off these learnings. As we continue to develop a community of practice around these retreats, and in line with the ethos of our method we will share our experiences with others in Canada in the hopes of creating an even bigger “intention space for reflection and creativity” amongst HIV and STBBI researchers and evaluators nationwide.