Lynne Russell, Coordinator, Ontario's Rapid Risk Factor Surveillance System (RRFSS)

CARRFS eNews profiles a leading member in each issue. In this issue we profile Lynne Russell, Coordinator, Ontario's Rapid Risk Factor Surveillance System (RRFSS).

What is your background?

Well as you can tell, I have a bit of an accent as I am not from Canada. I am from the UK. I went to University in Dundee, Scotland and received my BSc in Town and Regional (Urban) Planning. So, actually I do not have a health-related background. Shortly after following my parents move to Burlington, Canada in 1993, I started a part-time position as Researcher at the Halton Social Planning Council (HSPC). At the same time, I also worked part-time at The Bay, in ladies fashions and, as my colleagues know, I have a bit of a passion for fashion, particularly ‘coordinating’ fashion accessories! After a few years at the HSPC, I was promoted to a Social Planner position and I was very happy to have worked there for 10 years. My time at the HSPC provided me with a background in qualitative and quantitative research, facilitating, presenting and report writing. It also gave me lots of experience in working with community organizations and government, and collaborating, particularly with the Halton Health Department. I was able to work on many projects with the Halton Health Department including the Nutritious Food Basket and Halton Food Bank Study. While at the HSPC, I applied for the Rapid Risk Factor Surveillance System (RRFSS) Coordinator job and started the position in 2003. 

What led you to work in a health-related field?

Even though I am not an epidemiologist/health professional, my work at the HSPC involved many projects that had a strong relationship to health. My work at the HSPC gave me a background in the social determinants of health and how the social and economic environment has an important influence on health. For many years, I was the Halton Representative for Campaign 2000, an organization that advocated to end child poverty in Canada because of the negative effects poverty has, particularly on children’s health. And I was fortunate to be able to present evidence on the relationship of family income and children’s health at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s Standing Committee on Finance.

What do you spend the most time on in your current position?

As the only RRFSS staff person, multi-tasking is the key word I would use to describe this job. In the same day I can be coordinating a request from an organization (such as Cancer Care Ontario or Public Health Ontario) to use RRFSS data from various health units in Ontario, posting documents on the RRFSS website (such as data dictionaries or user-friendly questionnaires), preparing agendas or minutes for the RRFSS Working Groups or updating financial information for the RRFSS Coordination budget. I never really have two days that are the same. Because the RRFSS Coordinator position was a brand new position it gave me a great opportunity to shape the role and it continues to evolve year by year.

As coordinator for RRFSS, what do you see as the future for RRFSS (in Ontario)? 

As with all telephone surveys, we are trying to find ways of addressing decreasing response rates and this is one of the reasons we are looking at mixed modes, specifically in the near future offering a RRFSS web survey. The RRFSS web survey is currently being implemented as a pilot with two Ontario health units. For each health unit it will be a random sample of 500 households each of two cycles, approximately 10 minutes long and will be conducted in parallel with the RRFSS phone survey in French and English. Participants will receive an advance letter and will receive additional calls to encourage them to complete the online survey. If the results prove successful, we plan to offer this web survey option to all health units in Ontario. Along with trying to increase response rates we hope that the survey will address trying to reach the younger age groups and, of course, decreasing costs.

What was your motivation to become a member of CARRFS?

As RRFSS Coordinator I attended the US annual BRFSS Conferences and would often meet up with other Canadian representatives to discuss and share information on our respective surveillance activities and plans. This Group often included such people as Bernard Choi from PHAC, Jane Griffith and Tannis Erickson from Manitoba, and Yiqun Chen from Alberta. After a few years of getting together in the US at these annual BRFSS Conferences, we recognized the need for a forum or network that was Canadian that would provide the opportunity for 

people with an interest in Canadian risk factor surveillance to come together. Not long after this, the Think Tank Forum was planned and then replaced by the name CARRFS with many of these same people on the Canadian Coordination Committee (CCC). In February 2008 I presented at the Canadian Collaborative Regional/Local Area Risk Factor Surveillance Think Tank Forum that was held in Toronto and the following year participated in the first CARRFS Symposium. Since then I was a member of the CARRFS Communications Working Group in 2008-09 and continue to keep abreast of activities through the electronic network and updates.

How do you see the current role of the CARRFS in Canada?

Being one of the initial CCC members planning the ‘Think Tank’ I have seen CARRFS grow from a very small group of volunteers with a vision and passion to a large, well-coordinated network of members from across Canada. I have to congratulate all the volunteers who had a vision to create this alliance and the many who still continue to support and participate. CARRFS provides members, such as myself, with a network of others in the health surveillance community that are linked to share their knowledge and experience.

What are the future opportunities for the CARRFS?

I think there is still so much we can share and learn with each other about surveillance. For example, I recently received an e-mail from the Montreal Public Health Department as they were interested in finding out more about the RRFSS web survey, and in turn shared the results of their local health surveillance web survey with us. In relation to this, I would perhaps suggest having future in-person conferences similar to the first CARRFS Symposium in 2009, a meeting place where like-minded people interested in risk factor surveillance can connect from across Canada. One theme I could suggest for such a meeting is to share and discuss the future of risk factor surveillance, such as using multi-mode surveys (e.g. web surveys, cell phones, panels) and share innovative ideas and practices. A second theme could be around data visualization and the ways of presenting and using data (such as info graphics and brain slides), to convey through images powerful key health messages in a graphic way. I think as it stands, CARRFS continues to give us an excellent mode so that we can share our knowledge and experience with those who work within the world of local risk factor surveillance. <>

By Jostein Algroy