Toronto Central LHIN

Project Description

Start Date:

End Date:




Presenting Need

Substance use is a complex issue, with many diverse needs and pathways. There are approximately 32,500 people in the Toronto Central LHIN who need services every year for substance use, and every one of these has a unique story, and a deeply human, individual need. While many of the people needing services and care in the Toronto Central LHIN are being well served by the extremely committed providers within the system, and over the past decade, this community has led multiple innovations to improve services. However, there continue to be significant gaps in access and services.  These gaps particularly affect underserved populations, people with no primary care, people with no housing, people with concurrent mental and physical disorders, transitional aged youth (16-23), people from underserved groups, and the “1 and 5%” of the population who are the heaviest users of the health system.

In October 2014, we were retained to design and lead a community-based strategy that would guide the LHIN’s priorities and resource allocation in this sector for the next three years.


The TCLHIN partnered with the University Health Network and treatment services provider Renascent to initiate a community-based engagement process from October 2014 – March 2015. The purpose was to create a client-centred, seamless, accessible system for addictions services in the Toronto Central LHIN that meets diverse needs and creates the best possibilities for recovery for all. This process was a form of action research and community engagement informed by principles of appreciative inquiry and understanding of how to transform complex adaptive systems, based on the principle that when the community can elevate its own knowledge and insight to collaborate, the engagement itself becomes part of the transformation. The expected outcomes of the process were defined as a set of clear, concrete recommendations to guide the LHIN’s decision making for system design and enhancements for this population. 

Phase 1: October, 2014: Foundations

  1. Scope Initiative with three leads, including identifying different elements of the community who would be involved
  2. Identify and research critical literature and evidence around key questions
  3. Synthesize existing strategies from the LHIN and within the city, province and country


Outcomes:  Clarity around scope and process and desired impact, crisp understanding of influencing insights and environmental needs, and clarity around relevant community


Phase 2: October – December, 2014: Community Inquiry

  1. Convene “Core Team” of approximately 30 representatives of the community, including clients and family members and conduct initial exploration of system strengths and needs
  2. Support Core Team to conduct interviews with approximately 150 wider community members to develop deep understanding of strengths, insights, client needs and potential collaborations and innovations
  3. Potential Group conducts focus groups with six different client groups/users of addiction services, invited through an open process, including Family/Friends, Open, First Nations/Metis/Inuit/ Aboriginal, LGBTQ, Youth; Peer Supporters.
  4. Participate in existing Working Groups and other relevant conversations to ensure that this work is integrated with other work underway in Addiction Services
  5. Reconvene Core Team to interpret and synthesize findings from Inquiry and use this frame to plan Strategic Summit


Outcomes:  Emerging understanding of priorities and potential initiatives as well as the deep strength of the community to enact change; understanding of community need and sense of being under-resourced; emerging understanding that a community that felt quite fragmented and divided on questions such as “abstinence vs. harm reduction” in fact had multiple shared principles.

Our focus became creating a community vision based in these shared aspirations and principles that would enable diverse action that matched clients to different, appropriate services.


Phase 3 (January, 2015)

  1. Full day planning Summit of approximately 130 people, including core team members, people with lived experience and other stakeholders.


Outcomes: Creation of initial vision and strategic priorities, along with community guiding principles. This resulted in the elevation of the community as holding a shared, deep desire to collaborate differently on change. (Several people commented that it was the most meaningful strategic conversation they had had as a community ever).


Phase 4 (February – April, 2015)

  1. Reconvene Core Team to finalize vision and deepen the 10 emerging priorities
  2. Focused Strategy deepening conversations with key stakeholders on four emerging priorities
  3. Crafting of official process report and Strategy for the TCLHIN


Outcomes:  Finalized articulation of strategy, which included a community vision for the system of substance use supports and services, an agreed upon high level client pathway and map of reformed, integrated network, “Always events” for every client interaction, and 10 strategic recommendations that were directly aligned with community needs, supported by evidence and reflective of emerging insights across the country.


Overall Outcomes

The Transforming Pathways strategy is a direct reflection of our basic approach to engagement, combining lived experience, stories, data and evidence to explore “what would be most meaningful, significant change here in this particular context?” and then emerging with a very concrete, actionable plan in which everyone can see their work. While the community was certainly a source of insight and experience that resulted in a strategy, the process was simultaneously mobilizing the community and building connectivity so that the recommendations could be enacted. While the strategy was led by the LHIN, the community deeply felt that they owned it and are poised to bring it to life.