Between 2010 and 2014, the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI) hosted eight Symposia. These events focused on topics related to brain development and its relationship to lifelong health and addiction, gathering together a cohort of participants who returned year after year to supplement their knowledge and develop new skills and strategies.
This group of leaders represented a broad range of disciplines and sectors, from research and health care to government, justice, and social services. Through intensive sessions, workshops, and activities, these participants advanced their scientific knowledge while broadening their networks.
The early Symposia focused primarily on building knowledge. Thanks to the ongoing, year-after-year commitment of participants, the events became progressively more focused on the application of knowledge and the development of practical strategies. Participants were placed in multi-disciplinary Learning Teams, which evolved into Innovation Teams—collaborative relationships that continued year-round with ongoing support from the AFWI. The change agents who emerged from the Symposia returned to their communities and organizations with new perspectives and strategies. They continue to strengthen their networks, seek opportunities to collaborate across sectors, and find more effective ways to deliver services.
The First Symposia
2010 and 2012, Banff
The original AFWI Symposia were split into two streams: one focusing on brain development and the other on addiction recovery.
Early Brain and Biological Development: A Science in Society Symposium
Grounded in the knowledge that early experiences such as toxic stress can lead to long-term health problems like addiction, the Symposium asked: How can we establish a cross-disciplinary approach to the crucial phase of early childhood development?
Recovery from Addiction: A Science in Action Symposium
We know that toxic stress during early childhood can increase the likelihood of developing adult diseases like addiction. This knowledge underpinned the Symposium’s key question: What new possibilities exist for the treatment of addiction?
Accelerating Innovation Symposia
Telling the Brain Story to Inspire Action
2013 (Edmonton) and 2014 (Calgary)
To move participants from ideas to actions, the two Symposia streams were merged into one week-long gathering.
Divided into 21 interdisciplinary teams, participants were challenged to find innovative ways to turn knowledge into practice. They asked: How can we apply scientific knowledge about brain development to the way we manage mental health and addiction issues? How can we address the needs of parents and young children to halt the intergenerational transmission of toxic stress? In so doing, how can we put families and future generations on a path to stronger brain architecture? When the Symposium wrapped, participants had gained the knowledge, tools, and connections necessary to effect change.
Many of the collaborations initiated at the Accelerating Innovation Symposia are ongoing, and the teams formed at these events continue to work together year-round. With support from the AFWI, cross-boundary teams across Alberta, as well as in Germany and the U.K., are working on projects that teach the Brain Story to families and practitioners, and apply its concepts to areas of human services, health care, and justice. The AFWI is tracking the considerable cumulative effect these wide-ranging cross-sector activities are having on policy and practice, and sharing teaching tools with new Brain Story champions, who are taking the science of brain development even further.