Meet Shannon Clarke, MPH — one of our Community Well-being Specialists.
Though Shannon’s degree is in public health, her graduate degree included a focus on social policy as well as work in planning. As a result, she’s able to speak both the language of planning as well as public health, often acting as a connector between the two fields and providing a unique, interdisciplinary perspective to our team’s healthy communities work. Speaking of fields, Shannon loves to be outside, whether that looks like working in her garden or enjoying fresh-food events throughout the city. In everything she does, Shannon values learning with and from all communities, and she advocates for structures that help the communities we work with on their path to health.
Why do you do healthy communities work?
I’ve always been passionate about health, but it was during coursework for my Masters degree in public health that I learned about the links between our environments and our well-being. I find it fascinating that we can influence health outcomes by improving the environments in which we live, learn, work and play. This is healthy communities work! But it’s complex and ever-changing. As our population grows and our environments change, our work must also change. We have to be flexible and regularly adapt our processes to better support community needs. This makes the work dynamic and challenging, and I’m never bored. I feel so fortunate to work in communities across BC, learning from them and taking their lead to find the strategies that work best in their local context.
In your role, you spend a lot of time working directly with communities. What have those relationships taught you that you didn't learn in your public health and policy studies?
There’s theory and there’s reality. When I first finished school I had big ideas about how to change the world. But then reality struck! I would talk to local leaders and share my great (research-informed) ideas for improving health outcomes, and they would tell me about all of the other factors that come into play to prevent those ideas from working. Things like election cycles, budget cuts and competing priorities. Working with communities has taught me so much about how our colonial systems and structures can work to promote, or often hinder, health and well-being. It’s taught me to embrace complexity and to consider different ways of knowing, looking beyond research reports and big data. The greatest opportunities for positive outcomes come when we work with, and not for, communities.
What is your secret superpower (outside work)?
I can’t say I have any superpowers, but I am of the work hard and play hard variety. When I’m not working, you will most likely find me with my fiancé and our dog Brixen, mountain biking at Hartland, skiing in Whistler, swimming at Thetis Lake or running along Dallas Road. In the evening, you are likely to find me enjoying one of Victoria’s many foodie events!