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Two Chapter Leaders had the idea to host Canada's first Regional Chapter Conference — here's how they pulled it off.
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Reflecting on Canada’s First Regional Chapter Conference: It Started with a Big Idea

By IHI Open School | Wednesday, August 9, 2017

In the first section of this post, Jenna Smith-Forrester, an IHI Open School Chapter Leader at the University of British Columbia (UBC), reflects on the moment Andrea Jones, the IHI Open School Canadian Regional Leader, came to her with a big idea to host a national event.

The remainder of the post is from the perspective of Jenna and Andrea together, reflecting on how they helped bring eight Chapters together to conceptualize, plan, and execute Canada’s first IHI Open School Regional Chapter Conference. They share five factors that made the event a success and share some of the tools and resources that help them.

Other Open School Chapters involved in the Canadian Chapter Network and in this event were: University of Toronto, Queen’s University, Simon Fraser University, Brock University, University of Calgary, McGill University, and the University of Manitoba. A complete agenda and overview of this event is available here.

‘If Not Me, Then Who?’

When Andrea Jones called me to propose the idea that our Chapter would host a national conference to unite our growing region, my initial reaction was to reject the idea outright.

Why did I decline so rapidly?

I assumed the resources the event would require — in regard to facilitating content, logistics, and funding — were beyond my time and capacity. I had never undertaken a project of such magnitude, and I wasn’t confident I could effectively lead a team to success while juggling other commitments including medical school, active work on quality and safety curriculum integration efforts at UBC, and a busy home life.

However, after hanging up the phone, my mind was racing with the classic mantra: “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”

I sat in my office, wondering if I had just turned down a great opportunity for personal and professional growth.

In taking a few minutes to reflect on the connections and contacts I had developed through my time with the UBC Chapter, I began writing a list of potential contributors: our Faculty Advisors, past guest speakers, and professional organizations we’d partnered with.

Within minutes, the list of possibilities began to grow. When I reflected on the friendship and strong working relationship I had with Andrea, it was enough to call her back.

I said I would explore the idea and would offer a final decision within the week. My requirements for pursuing this idea were as follows:

  • Our Faculty Advisors had to be supportive of the idea and help contribute contacts for content delivery and finances.
  • Our national network of student Chapter Leaders had to be supportive of the idea and commit to coming to Vancouver to participate in the event.
  • The Executive Team for the UBC Chapter had to be unanimously supportive of the idea — as this would dramatically shift the focus of our team for the upcoming year.

Over the course of a week or so, I had an answer to each of my questions. Each conversation found people who were full of energy — enthusiastic and committed to the work. Their support convinced me we would be successful, and ultimately it did make all the difference.

When I shared my decision with Andrea that I would help host the “Health Innovation for All” conference, I reiterated the importance of our working relationship. This would be a challenge far greater than anything we’d encountered to date; the commitment would require effective communication, transparency, accountability, and trust. I knew we would need to draw on each other’s energy and remember our shared vision and that of IHI. It would ultimately be an exercise in putting faith in our people and their leadership, and trust in the process.

Implementing a Regional Vision

Because we knew orchestrating this conference would be no small feat, we created a National Conference Planning Team, which allowed us to raise up the assets and resources of eight Chapters across the region. Every month, Chapter Leaders from coast to coast convened for a video call, but it took more than the action of holding a call to find success as a team. Here’s how we made it work:

  1. We set our collective mission and vision.

First, we outlined the vision and objectives of this first national conference. In order to create a connected network of skilled student leaders, our first conference would need to bring together students from across Canada to meet face-to-face to build community, gain skills in quality improvement, and share best practices in Chapter leadership.

  1. We took on a distributed leadership model.

Don’t be afraid to lead. (Remember: “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”), but also remember that you’re stronger together than you are alone.

In order to efficiently distribute ownership, responsibility, and accountability across members, we used a snowflake structure to design our National Conference Planning Team — just like we learned in the Open School course Leadership and Organizing for Change.

The University of Toronto Chapter stepped up to host a parallel site for the conference, to increase the accessibility for students to attend. Leaders from other universities took the lead for logistics, finance and sponsorship, marketing, content development, and securing speakers and storyboard presenters. Perhaps most important, the distributed leadership model shaped the conference into something that was representative of our collective voices as IHI Open School Chapter Leaders and students.

Building a team this size can happen more quickly than you might think, too. When you’re looking for teammates and support for your event, take a moment to reflect on all of the people you’ve worked with in the past. Who are they, and what energy and resources could they potentially bring to the table? Once you start mapping out your network of stakeholders, you may realize there are many more of them than you initially thought!

  1. We committed to clear team accountability norms.

Our teams met regularly from November to June — between classes; after an exam; sitting in libraries, dark hallways, health center waiting rooms, or on porches in the sunshine. The commitment of the team was palpable. We set deadlines and held each other accountable to these timelines, understanding how each task contributed to the bigger picture.

  1. We committed to a mindset of collaboration

When someone had a new idea, we made sure the appropriate teams were involved in the conversation so that we could discuss the pros and cons and assess the feasibility. For example, when the idea was proposed to connect the Toronto and Vancouver sites by teleconference technology to share the keynote lectures, we engaged the Toronto, Vancouver, and Logistics Teams to reach out to the technology support professionals at each school to see if it was possible (and it was!).

When we began, we also knew we had great resources across the larger Open School Chapter Network. To help us get started, we used the great planning guide that the Portland State University and Oregon Health & Science University Chapter in Portland, Oregon, created when they planned the IHI Open School West Coast Regional Conference in 2015. From there, we were able to build our own materials, like this Gantt chart to guide our planning process and this information packet to share with potential sponsors.

  1. We approached our work with agility and an improvement mindset.

We worked from a shared Gantt chart to coordinate the tasks and timeline for the different teams, and we used this to set the agenda for each monthly meeting. By the time the conference came in June, it was like a symphony — each individual expertly conducting his or her role to contribute to the overall harmony — down to the very last detail. 

Of course, no matter how much you plan, something will go differently than you had anticipated — but it will be OK. In the morning, when the registration line had extended down the hall, our team improved the name badge distribution process, which allowed us to start on time. When there was a glitch in the final keynote presentation in Vancouver because IT personnel were no longer on site, we worked as a team to overcome the issue.

When it’s all over, don’t forgot to reflect. What challenges did you overcome? What did you learn? Most importantly: What did you accomplish? And of course, remember to celebrate! That weekend marked the UBC Chapter’s fifth birthday, so you can bet we all enjoyed a nice piece of cake when everything wrapped up.

Final Reflections

Reflecting back on that weekend and all the planning that went into it, it was truly a testament to teamwork and communication and how intentional co-creation can influence our joy in work. The conference engaged nearly 400 future and current leaders in person, even more on social media, and continues to spread via our recorded keynotes.

As a national team of student leaders, we came together to grow a connected community rooted in equity, accessibility, and a bold vision for a better health care system — and we had fun doing it!

Want to connect with UBC or another Open School Chapter? Check out our Chapter Map here.

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