Framing the Core: Health Inequalities and Poverty in Saskatoon's Low-Income Neighbourhoods

The following is a descriptive analysis of the policy frames used to interpret the central concerns of two organizations in their work to improve economic, social, and physical well being in some of the lowest-income neighbourhoods in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The central goal is to examine how different frames impact on the definition not only of the problems to be addressed, but on the solutions which are to be favoured. Awareness of these frames and how they colour approaches may be useful to those seeking to inform partnerships between public health actors and institutions and non-governmental groups. Choosing to concentrate on those areas where the frames are compatible may lead to more successful collaborations.

Although on the surface, and often in practice, the integration of different frames into common goals can be trying, it may well be a key to intervening in complex social contexts such as those beset by poverty and its attendant difficulties. Yet partnerships and intersectoral (both horizontal and vertical) coordination are seen as key ingredients to acting on a field as complex as public health and particularly health inequalities. Other work has referred to this as integrating two approaches, or two cultures of intervention. Clavier and Potvin, for example, suggest that a way forward for public health actors is to recognize the legitimacy of local knowledge as equal in importance to scientific inquiry (Clavier & Potvin, 2009) and looking at the two approaches as being ways of framing issues is a contribution to that discussion. Partnering successfully in working on policy-sensitive issues such as poverty and health inequalities might benefit from using the notion of frames and of framing as a discursive practice in seeking to find common ground from which all partners can move forward. In the case of the two organizations presented here, for example, housing strategies might be one area where a fruitful partnership could be made. Both see affordable housing as key actions to be taken in the core neighbourhood and while one (the regional health authority) sees policies on housing and housing allowance as priorities and the other (the community economic development organization) sees local ownership and control of both rental and owned housing, both agree that safe affordable housing is a key goal and the ways that each proposes to increase this are not incompatible and might well be an area where they could successfully collaborate. Choosing to focus on those areas where frames are compatible or at least more easily negotiable is more likely to lead to successful partnerships and problem resolution.

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