Canadian Health Care: how safe is the net? how robust is the metaphor?

We would say, not very on both scores.   Recent results from The Commonwealth Fund’s international health system ranking show the Canadian healthcare system fairs poorly compared to other developed nations.   The 2017 results has Canada in 10th place among the 11 nations surveyed, with countries like Australia and the Netherlands among the top tier performers. However, more importantly the scores across many key dimensions such as timeliness of care and costs are in the lowest of the three tiers.

The rolling survey of patients, doctors and the public is conducted every three years and perceptions and experiences of Canadian healthcare suggest this year’s scores are a continuation of system weaknesses identified in 2014. 

While one could argue this survey tool is somewhat of a blunt instrument given its forced ranking structure, the availability of provincial data sets allows for eye opening domestic comparisons.   These comparisons highlight the areas and extent of provincial shortcomings and point an encouraging finger to look for answers at home.

The metaphor of the safety net captures the reactive versus proactive nature of the Canadian system as evidenced by the low scores across the provinces on access to primary care physicians and the high number of visits to the emergency department by people with conditions that could have been treated by a regular family doctor. The burden placed on emergency services creates holes in the net rendering the system unsafe.

Policy makers and innovators may want to innovate using a new metaphor.   These results point to the potential of the metaphor of ecology as a serious contender.   We need to look at the problems and the competencies.  We need to see the provincial systems in the context of the larger Canadian setting.     Let’s be inspired by such ecological terms as adaptive, endangered, renewable, sustainable, interdependence, community and mobilization.

This blog is the first of three on healthcare in Canada. 

'Canadianness' and Acceptance

This year Canada celebrates its 150 anniversary and it seems fitting to begin 2017 with a blog dedicated to exploring objects and imagery that speak to ‘acceptance’ as a value in our series focussing on Canadianness.

In a world where the focus too often seems to be more on what divides us than what brings us together, the value of acceptance, that of welcoming ideas, beliefs, cultures and practices different from our own is precious. World events of the past year underscore this.

In studies exploring Canadianness images like the one above of the little monkey stroking the dove are offered up as an entry point to the ‘story;’ of what it means to be Canadian. Cultural diversity is considered a strength and Canada is depicted as a cultural mosaic and not a melting pot.  

In storytelling conversations with New Canadians, the vastness of the Canadian landscape and the diversity of the geography were considered to be physical representations of Canadianness.   Like the open, vast country, the people are characterized as open and tolerant, embracing and accepting diverse cultures.

In another exploration, a ‘loving cup’ was introduced as an object that evoked the value of acceptance and the idea that Canadianness means effortless imbibing or drinking from the cup of cultural diversity.

While Canada can genuinely claim to be a beacon of tolerance, the words of an RBC CEO ring so true for the year ahead.   ‘Simply having diversity is interesting; doing something with it is powerful’  That is our wish as we celebrate the past 150 and anticipate the year 2017.    

'Canadianness' and Pride

Next year, Canada will be celebrating its 150th birthday and many brands will try to capitalize on the heightened feelings of national pride. Over the years our work has explored objects and images that evoke metaphors of identity and which give insight into ‘Canadianness’ relevant for brand building.

We have had people share stories of themselves through objects they selected as important to them. In one case it was a young man’s canoe paddle.  It helped him describe Canadianness.  The paddle spoke to his great love of the outdoors, the pristine lakes and rivers that he retreated to regularly to connect with the Canadian wilderness and himself.  His story revolved around the discovery of a great land, which he saw as synonymous with Mother Nature and her nurturing of his own hero journey of self discovery.  

This young man’s narrative, evoked by his paddle, is thematic and emerges time and again.  Nature, the expansive and pristine landscape of this country represents the value of ‘freedom’ that drives Canadian pride across demographic groups.  This country’s beautiful landscape represents physical, emotional and psychological freedom necessary for nurturing possibilities and potential. While the objects introduced differ from person to person:  a beautifully rendered Haida eagle tattoo, a river rock, a photograph of the Rocky Mountains, the shared value of freedom emerges and its manifestation as a source of pride.

It is because of this work using evocative objects and metaphoric imagery that we were not surprised by the findings of the latest Havas Prosumer Report. ‘Pride and Prejudice: Shifting Mindsets in an Age of Uncertainty’ suggests that Canada was one of the few countries where its values at 69% and not its history or culture, are the top drivers of pride. It is consistent with our exploration of ‘how customers think’ and reaffirms that values and their associated emotions are the unconscious drivers of behaviour.

In the best selling book, ‘Art as Therapy’, authors Alain de Botton and John Armstrong discuss the important role that objects play in communicating our identities to the world.  “We don’t just like art objects. We are also, in the case of certain prized examples, a bit like them. They are the media through which we come to know ourselves, and let others know more of what we are really about.“

Next we will explore objects and imagery that deal with ‘acceptance’, another Canadian value that drives pride.


'Canadianness' and Branding

The 150th anniversary of Canada on July 1, 2017 is prompting the 'Canadianness' question for some brand builders.    The Hudson’s Bay ‘Country of Adventurers’ is one example of a lead up campaign.   To stimulate 'Canadianness' in brand building, are posting a series of blogs featuring objects that tell Canada stories.   In our work uncovering human stories, we have found objects to be profoundly evocative tools for exploration. They often serve as metaphors for lived experience and can help access unconscious thoughts and feelings.

This inaugural blog in the series, takes inspiration from the self-described ‘junk yard artist’, Patrick Amiot.   His recycled solar powered carousel commissioned for the city of Markham, evokes feelings and stories about Canadians and Canada.

The renowned artist and his collaborator, Brigitte Laurent, are known for creating whimsical sculptures that connect to their roots as Quebecois artists and Canadians.  Hockey and its players, coureurs de bois in their canoes, Mounties, moose and beavers are among the Canadian symbols that have been represented and reinvented through their art.  A humble, self-deprecating sense of humour, which we think of as typically Canadian, is always evident in the work and immediately puts smiles on viewers’ faces as it invites them into the story.

Amiot has the instincts of an anthropologist intent on teasing out the stories told by the objects or artifacts. Instead of focusing on the instrumental value of his found objects, Amiot focuses on their narrative value. To quote the artist, “ the whole purpose of my work is to glorify these objects, because they have their own spirit. This hubcap, or whatever piece of metal, from the day it was manufactured until now, has an important history. … these things lived incredible lives. If they could talk to you, they could tell amazing stories.”

Just as ‘The Pride of Canada’, a carousel made from metals collected across the country shares Canada’s story with Markham’s new immigrant community, so does the tattoo that a young man shows to help us understand his story of how it feels to be Canadian. Look for that story and more in our next blog on evocative objects of 'Canadianness'.


Pictures TELL AND TALK to reveal the unspoken

Pictures TALK when people are asked to answer a question by choosing an image. They often speak more compellingly than words.  We know they evoke stronger affective responses than verbal processing and we know when motivations are activated they become infused with feeling.   As a result, getting people to answer questions with pictures facilitates deeper motivational and emotional understanding.   Like the art therapist, we can tap into the unconscious mind for nonverbal symbols and metaphors. The selection of the picture is itself a discovery of insight and meaning.

In a recent survey, we presented respondents with an array of five emotionally rich images and asked them to pick the one that most closely aligns with their philosophy of life. Within seconds of reading the question, each respondent picked ‘their’ image and revealed implicitly something important about what makes them tick.   The picture TALKS to us and helps us understand the human being and their values for motivational segmentation.

Overlaying these motivational segments with basic demographic data yielded some interesting intersections.  For example, ‘freedom seekers’ were more likely to be suburban than urban.   The ‘people people’ crossed genders and age.   The ‘achievement people’ skewed to higher incomes.

Pictures are used every day in social media to TELL. Consumers increasingly curate their lives with images and minimal verbal descriptions. It is the pictures themselves that carry the meaning.   Mining and analyzing images as a means of understanding what consumers are expressing about their thoughts,  their lives, their brand affiliations and ‘whole selves’ is key. Images and what they TELL is one of the critical frontiers for machine learning and a big topic of discussion at July’s ‘Sentiment Analysis Symposium’ in NYC.

Pictures both TALK and TELL and it is the marketers who pay attention to the images selected and shared who will access the deeper emotional and motivational understanding of their customers needed to seize the day.