WellAhead update: Shifting Strategy and Ontario Expansion

By Vani Jain
For the past 18 months, WellAhead has been focused on improving child and youth mental health in British Columbia by helping integrate wellbeing into school communities. Using a social lab approach, we’ve been working emergently and experimenting with different approaches towards our vision of social and emotional wellbeing as a key role for all K-12 schools. In Year 1, we worked with six pilot districts to see if a set of core values, a participatory change process and a focus on everyday practices could deepen schools’ commitment to wellbeing.

Latest Theory of Change

After taking stock of our first year in BC, we’ve made some significant shifts in our strategy towards the integration of wellbeing in Canadian schools. Moving into year two, we have incorporated the following learnings into our strategy:

  • Working directly with schools and districts may not be the best role for us. There are many others that have more expertise in this domain. As a philanthropic foundation, we can add more value by supporting the work of existing organizations and networks – bringing our resources, skill set and national reach to enhance impact.
  • Integration of wellbeing into school communities requires action and change at multiple levels: practice, policy, structure, priorities, resource flows and more. We will pay more attention to the role we can play in the larger ecosystem to connect, amplify and inform work at the provincial level.
  • There is much to be learned from the experience of others. We will focus our learning and evaluation efforts on understanding not just whether an approach is effective, but how and why – harvesting the process learnings, success factors and systemic context to produce and share transferable knowledge from one jurisdiction to another.

Expansion to Ontario and National Scale

This year, in addition to continuing our work in BC (supporting the scaling of four of our pilot districts – SD48 Sea to Sky, SD61 Greater Victoria, SD70 Okanagan Skaha, SD92 Nisga’a – and being more active at the cross-provincial level), we will also be working in Ontario:

  • Supporting People for Education as one of our primary intermediaries, in particular their Measuring What Matters initiative. The goal ofMeasuring What Matters is to create a set of measures that are publicly understandable, educationally useful and reflect the broad skills students will need in the workforce and to take their place as engaged citizens. While Measuring What Matters focuses on the content and approach of a measurement framework that includes social-emotional wellbeing, we’ll be working with them to learn about what it takes to successfully implement and get take-up of such a framework.
  • Increasing our understanding of the Ontario landscape. On October 6th, we joined forces with the Ontario Trillium Foundation to bring together a small group of experts to discuss a vision for wellbeing in schools and explore some of the wicked questions that reflect the barriers to change. This groundwork is crucial to informing our work, and we will be continuing our research over the coming months.

Next Steps

We’re working on a year one report that will share our learnings about integration of wellbeing in schools, social innovation labs, and philanthropy and systems change. In the meantime, you can read Mali’s blog post on the “program trap” and check out this poster we presented at the Systems Thinking and Design Symposium last week. We’ll also be updating our site to better reflect our current thinking and share more of our resources and tools.
We’d love to hear from you! If you have any thoughts you would like to share with us, please contact Vani at vjain@mcconnellfoundation[dot]ca.