Challenges and Opportunities Facing Local Governance Agents in Advancing an Ecosystem Approach to Conceptualizing and Governing Community Health in Norfolk County, Ontario
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This research focuses on the challenges and opportunities facing local governance agents in advancing an ecosystem approach to conceptualizing and governing community health in Norfolk County, Ontario. Norfolk County is a rural, agriculturally-based community dependent upon tobacco production. This industry has collapsed, triggering widespread socioeconomic impacts and community health pressures. The government is searching for alternative modes of economic development and tensions are high with respect to the direction and nature of these developments. Some citizens are concerned about the security of their rural livelihoods. Others are concerned about ecological integrity. Still others are convinced of the need for aggressive economic growth. Local decision-makers are struggling to meet all of these requirements. An ecosystem approach views health as part of the broader socio-ecological system, recognizing that health outcomes are by-products of complex biophysical, social, political and economic system interactions at nested spatial and temporal scales. The approach contrasts with conventional health models, which tend to be reactionary, narrowly focused, and short-sighted. Such models are typical of the hierarchical, technocratic nature of public administration which renders decision-making structures and processes ill equipped to deal with complex problems. More systemic, integrated, participatory and collaborative approaches to decision-making are needed in order to better address the complexities involved in facilitating healthy and sustainable community development. Additionally, governance agents must also be able to embrace and navigate these evolving approaches to health conceptualization and governance. An investigation into Norfolk County grounds this analysis by revealing the challenges and opportunities facing local governance agents in advancing an ecosystem approach. The case study research effectively tests the utility and feasibility of the ecosystem approach through a qualitative analysis. The research contributes criteria required for advancing an ecosystem approach to community health governance and practice and empirically tests them within the context of Norfolk County.