How can other municipalities develop and implement their own community-based action plan?

In response to community needs, Calgary City Council approved the Community Action on Mental Health and Addiction Notice of Motion in July 2018. Through this Notice of Motion, The City took on the role of convening stakeholders to develop a community-wide strategy and earmarked $25 million towards community-based mental health and addiction programs and seed funding for initiatives arising from the strategy.

As outlined in the report to Council in March 2021, The City took on the roles of convener, partner, and investor in the development of the community-wide strategy. While The City took the initial steps to convene stakeholders, this strategy is truly a cross-sector collaboration. Community ownership came about through the process of working together.

Implementing a strategy requires a different governance model and focus. This summary focuses on developing a community-based strategy.

What have we done?

  • We used a systems-thinking approach that put the experiences of Calgarians at the centre.
  • Personal stories can lead to systemic change. We held Listen and Learn sessions with individuals with lived and living experience. We engaged our organizational partners and stakeholders to co-host sessions with their clients and contacts, including people with experiences of poverty, newcomers, and youth.
  • The City and other key stakeholders participated in the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative on cross-sector collaboration to address complex challenges. This program prompted us to agree on the problem we needed to solve, and provided us with the tools to think and work differently together across organizations.
  • We developed a Strategic Framework based on community engagement and research, which drove and consolidated our work.
  • We convened a cross-sector, community-led Stewardship Group (members are listed in A Community of Connections: Calgary Mental Health and Addiction Community Strategy and Action Plan 2021-2023) to provide direction and endorsement for the strategy. The Stewardship Group was chaired by community advocates to maintain the focus on people’s experiences with mental health and addiction.
  • We invited local funders and foundations to join a Community Investment Table to collaboratively fund fast pilot projects.
  • We convened program teams of local organizations and subject matter experts to develop cross-sector strategies and actions to achieve common outcomes for Calgarians.
  • We formed relationships with local Indigenous Elders and are collaborating on a project to develop an Indigenous mental health model. We have intentionally left space in Calgary’s Mental Health and Addiction Strategy for this model to take shape.
  • As we move forward with implementation, we will continue to identify gaps, and barriers, coordinate and share data, develop evaluation tools, and determine how best to allocate resources and engage stakeholders to ensure that every Calgarian living with mental health or addiction issues can live a life of dignity.

What worked well?

  • We built a case for the importance of community action based on the importance of people getting the help they need when they need it. Mental health and addiction affect every Calgarian and everyone’s story is unique. There is no one solution nor single stakeholder, organization or order of government that can fully address these experiences. Everyone has a role to play in creating hope and strengthening support for individuals, families and communities so that we all can live healthy, productive lives.
  • It was important to increase investment to address immediate community needs and support innovation. While the strategy was being developed, The City invested a total of $11 million in community-based programs, fast pilot projects, and community safety initiatives.
  • Guiding principles for the work included being action oriented. We wanted to test assumptions and new interventions. We created a fast pilot process called Change Can’t Wait and leveraged an initial City investment of $1 million to $1.275 million with the collaborative investment and involvement of local funding partners. Fast pilots were innovative, data driven projects to nimbly test, implement proposed solutions. 
  • We based the development of the strategy on collaborative, people-centred, evidenced- inform and collectively accountable work as shown in the strategic framework. We built relationships based on mutual respect and trust. We deliberately engaged our provincial government, our health authority, our education system and organizations that chose to be involved and were ready for this new way of working together.
  • We focused on what we heard mattered most to people in our community: being well, getting help and staying safe in our homes, schools, work and community.
  • The Mayor and community leaders played an important role as champions and spokespeople. The involvement of influential community leaders from the health, education, research, funding, and corporate sectors demonstrated the cross-sector relevance of and need for this work.

What was challenging?

  • The prevention and treatment of mental health and addiction issues are provincial responsibilities in Alberta. It was challenging to identify and gain support for the roles that a municipality and other sectors could have in this area. The involvement of a Government of Alberta representative on the Stewardship Group helped to ensure that each order of government was working within its mandate.
  • It took time to develop trusting relationships and establish clear roles and responsibilities of the municipality, the province, sector leaders, individual community advocates, and other stakeholders in the development of the strategy.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic began one year prior to the completion of Calgary’s Mental Health and Addiction Strategy. Many staff at The City and stakeholder organizations were redeployed or took on extra responsibilities to respond to community needs during the pandemic, which took resources away from strategy development. However, the COVID-19 pandemic also increased the priority of mental health and substance use issues among strategy partners and the general public. The challenges that organizations have faced during the pandemic have also led to greater willingness to seek partnerships, leverage assets, and find innovative solutions to common challenges.  
  • Working together across sectors is not easy or straightforward. It was helpful for The City to start this initiative and take on the role of convener because the municipality is not the primary provider and funder of mental health and addiction services. The City was able to bring a balance of authority and neutrality to its role as a convener. 

What would we do differently?

  • A systems mapping project is underway to inform implementation. If this project had started earlier, it could have been used to support and inform the development of the strategy as well. 

Calgary's Mental Health and Addiction Strategic Framework​

Developed with stakeholders, our work has been guided by a strategic framework as shown below. At its core is our overall goal: creating hope and strengthening support for people, families and communities living with mental health issues and addictions in order to improve quality of life. This will be achieved through three themes, or sets of actions: being well, getting help and staying safe. The remainder of the strategic framework describes how we will act together and the resulting benefits for Calgarians.


Calgarians are working together to take the following actions in our community:

BEING WELL Wellness at home, at school, at work and in the community

  1. Help communities to become places where all people belong and support each other
  2. Share information in schools and in the community to help people understand what mental health and addiction are and how to support themselves and others
  3. Promote approaches to positive mental health in workplaces

GETTING HELP What you need, when, where and how you need it

  1. Establish a coordinated network of mental health and addiction services so that people can easily get the help they need when they need it.
  2. Transform a system of early access to mental health and addiction services through schools.
  3. Transform a system of early access to mental health and addiction supports and services through workplaces.
  4. Build capacity of local organizations to meet the mental health and addiction needs in the community through convening around common actions.

STAYING SAFE Security at all times, especially in a crisis

  1. Strengthen existing crisis supports.
  2. Transform how to respond to people and families in crisis and prevent future crises.
Strategic Framework


As a community strategy, no single group or organization is responsible for the actions and outcomes in the strategy and action plan. Accountability will be shared among partners who implement actions through Implementation Teams, those who fund actions through the collaborative Community Investment Table, and those who provide leadership of the strategy as part of the Leadership Group. The City of Calgary will maintain a role as convener of the strategy and action plan in the 2021-2023 period.

For more information about the process and experience of developing Calgary’s Mental Health and Addiction Strategy, contact 403-268-CITY (2489).

Calgary's Mental Health and Addiction Strategy

Download the full strategy and action plan document.