Exploring the Language of Stigma Reduction

Introducing OSAC

The PAN team is excited to be in the development phase of the Organizational Stigma Assessment Cycle Project (OSAC).  The push for this project came from community input over the past few years at the Stigma Reduction Deliberative Dialogue and Let’s Talk Stigma Reduction. Identifying steps for action at the events, participants said it would be good to have a process for frontline services to see how their programs, procedures, policies or service access might unintentionally be adding to peoples’ experiences of stigma and discrimination. This is where OSAC began.

We’ll be developing a learning cycle with a toolkit of resources to support organizations to see where stigma and discrimination might exist and to develop action plans and evaluation for change.  The toolkit will include assessment tools and discussion models, and we’ll also be supporting organizations to use the tools and interpret their results as they go through the learning cycle. PAN staff from multiple departments, people with lived experience, and engaged community members form our Advisory group working together on the project. It is funded through the Vancouver Foundation as a pilot to test the learning cycle and share what we learn so it might eventually be scaled up to use more widely. Visit project page for more and PAN’s history of stigma reduction work.


Does Talk About Stigma Stigmatize?

When the idea for OSAC was just a seed, community conversations referred to it as a stigma audit. Once we started to develop the project, we realized the potential drawback of the word audit. If you look up the meaning, it comes up as “official inspection” or “inspection of financial information,” like a tax audit. We don’t want this learning process to be interpreted as a heavy-handed or colonial structure of “You must do this”. Among our goals is to support organizations see what they are doing well, approaching from a strengths-based view. In discussions with the OSAC Advisory group, and in meetings with other groups, we talk about how to reduce stigma as we talk about stigma. It’s a thoughtful process.

What ideas and words welcome people in? Are there words that might shut people out, or shut them down? As we develop the project, we’re keeping all of this in mind.  We’re fine-tuning a Best Practices Framework as a guide to develop the toolkit and learning cycle. To build the framework, we went through many stigma assessment tools, talked to people working in various communities including housing, substance use harm reduction, HIV, public health, hep C, mental health, disability, among others. We also workshopped the Best Practices framework draft multiple times with the Advisory Group. We wanted to get the strongest possible foundation to define principles of stigma reduction and points where organizations can address them.

Even so, we are open to having the Best Practices Framework evolve as we ourselves learn from the learning cycle. While the understanding of stigma changes, the language about stigma also changes. In committing to talk, learn, and change as needed, we hope to best support action on stigma reduction.


Want to know more about the OSAC Project? Contact Janet Madsen (janet @ paninbc.ca ) or Jennifer Demchuk (jennifer @ paninbc.ca )


Visit project page


Thank you to the Vancouver Foundation for funding this project.

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