This study assessed the baseline awareness of Canadian organizations at the local, provincial/territorial and national levels regarding the 'original' and 'new' ParticipACTION and assessed their capacity to work with ParticipACTION to promote physical activity.
The first objective, determining organizational awareness of both the 'original' and 'new' ParticipACTION, varied amongst respondents. Most respondents (96.4%) had heard of the 'original' ParticipACTION. This suggests a strong and ongoing cultural memory for the organization brand. This result is not surprising since the majority of organizations (85%) have operated for over 10 years (68% over 20 years). Familiarity with 'new' ParticipACTION was lower at 54.6%. Although the official launch was in October 2007, a public announcement was made in February 2007 (6-months prior to ParticipACTION's baseline assessment and becoming operational). It could be expected that knowledge of the new program based on a public announcement would have diffused through these organizations via unofficial as well as official channels. Even fewer of the organizations, 15% of total respondents (or 29% of those familiar with the 'new' ParticipACTION) were aware of the available resources (posters, websites, toolkits).
Examination of baseline level of organizational capacity (second objective) was conducted prior to the official unveiling of the 'new' ParticipACTION. At that point, the full details of the collaborative initiatives and process between ParticipACTION and its partners and stakeholders had not been identified. Despite this lack of specific detail, organizations in general reported that they have good capacity to integrate new physical activity campaigns -- such as those led by ParticipACTION -- into their mandates. Overall capacity means ranged from approximately 3.7 to 4.1 on 5-point scales. The high capacity may be due to a ceiling effect, which may be due to response bias. Since 85% of the responding organizations have been operating for over 10 years, there may be little need or room to expand capacity. Although the analysis did not specifically examine organizational longevity, it could be argued that this may positively influence capacity. It is also possible the high capacity is due to innovation-values fit, where the values of the organization surveyed and the vision of ParticipACTION are compatible . Results also show little variation in capacity to adopt, implement or externally promote a new physical activity campaign across organizational size, sector or mandate.
Regarding the third objective, exploring differences in organizational capacity, no significant findings emerged to suggest a relationship between size or type of organization and increased capacity of integrating initiatives like those led by ParticipACTION. There were, however, three interesting and possibly relevant observations. We found that within an organization's capacity to adopt a new physical activity initiative, there was a significant difference between the government and not-for-profit sectors. Government, which includes educational institutions, appears to have a higher capacity to adopt a new initiative than not-for-profit organizations. Two possible reasons for this are: (1) greater financial resources; and, (2) greater human resources in the government sector as compared to the not-for-profit organizations to deal with externally generated initiatives . The issues of budgets, funding, and human resources were not included in this survey but should be investigated in future studies of organizational capacity for physical activity promotion.
We also found two significant differences in organizations' capacity to adopt and implement based on mandate. The data show that educational organizations (such as school boards) have greater capacity to implement an initiative than do public health/health care organizations or sport and sport/recreation organizations. There are a number of possible reasons why educational organizations have greater capacity than either health or sport organizations to adopt, implement and promote physical activity. It may be that educational organizations have: (1) better organizational structure and physical facilities; (2) more trained personnel within the schools to deliver programs; (3) higher capacity to interact with groups and providers outside the school environment to develop and deliver programs; and, (4) greater capacity to reach most children and adolescents due to the nature of the educational system . It is also possible educational organizations have greater capacity to adopt a new initiative (consistent with DIT) because: (1) they see a relative advantage of the innovation; (2) the innovation is compatible with their needs; (3) it is not overly complex to understand and implement the innovation; and, (4) an innovation can be assessed and observed on an ongoing basis . It may also be that educational organizations see ParticipACTION's broad goal of promoting both physical activity and health meshing with their own goals.
Organizations' decision to work with ParticipACTION may depend on the "fit" between ParticipACTION's campaign and their own organizational vision and values [25, 28]. Both health care/promotion and sport/recreation organizations may see the general merit of ParticipACTION's efforts. They may not, however, see the benefit of that campaign to their specific organization. For example, sporting groups may acknowledge ParticipACTION's message, but may not see an advantage to their organization in adopting something that already exists within their own organization, namely physical activity programs. They may view this as a duplication of effort, or an intrusion into their existing work. Health care groups, on the other hand, may perceive the advantage of promoting the health benefits of physical activity, but may only be in a position to offer advice and information about it, not programs. They may feel they already offer enough information.
There may also be a lack of infrastructure and resources to collaborate with and to meet the demands of an organization like ParticipACTION. Implementing and sustaining a health promotion campaign within the sport and recreation sector, or implementing and sustaining a physical activity campaign within the health care sector may require additional resources. These resources may be scarce. It may also require new approaches and the creation of new organizational values to support the efforts of the 'new' ParticipACTION .
Evidence of some variation on the basis of organizational sector or mandate points to an area requiring future inquiry. The science behind physical activity promotion is growing, but the practice at the population level is lagging, with the infrastructure for physical activity promotion for public health practice being both underdeveloped and untested . ParticipACTION's primary mandate is to promote a more active Canada, across all regions and all populations. It will do this through the channels it develops with its partners, and through the organizational capacity of those partners. What kinds of messages will ParticipACTION create given the diversity of these organizations? Will messages and information be designed to reflect the size, sector and mandate of the organizations in its network or will it try to create generic/universal messages? How will ParticipACTION disseminate the information? How will it monitor the efficacy of those communications? For successful initiation and then sustainability of a campaign, there needs to be a strategy for both dissemination and diffusion of information . It appears the time is right for developing infrastructures within the public health field that will promote physical activity and its impact on the well-being of individuals and societies , in the same way that public health infrastructures have been developed for other major health concerns .
We acknowledge a number of limitations to our study. First, although the response rate of 29.7% is reflective of on-line survey results [30–32], the study may have missed some alliances, networks, organizations, institutions and businesses. Due to the diversity of both the Canadian population and the types of organizations that deliver physical activity related information (or are in some way peripherally involved with its promotion), it is difficult to generate a list which accurately represents the sectors (government, not-for-profit, private) and mandates (education, health, sport, and recreation) across Canada. Although there is no existing database from which to draw names of organizations, we made every effort to be as inclusive and representative as possible. It is also possible that some invited organizations did not feel they met the criteria for the study and therefore chose not to participate.
We received a good response rate from organizations with certain primary mandates while response rates for others were lower. Just under half (48%) of respondents identified education as their primary mandate (we contacted 281 school boards across the country, or 31% of invitees) providing us with an over-representation by education. Just over one-third (34.1%) of respondents identified sport and/or recreation as their primary mandate (217 sport organizations, or 24% of invitees). Only 10.3% of respondents identified public health/health care as their primary mandate (approximately 360 organizations were contacted or 41% of invitees), a low response rate that may be due to the fact that some of these organizations see themselves as having multiple mandates. For example, an organization such as YMCA offers education, health, sport and social support programs . It is also possible the definition of health care and promotion was too broad while respondents perceived the term too narrowly. Future studies should take into account multiple mandates. We may have improved our response rate by contacting invitees prior to sending the survey invitation .
Second, we had a very low response rate of 1.6% (3 responses) from the private sector (39 invitations, or 4% of invitees) which included fitness facilities, manufacturers and distributors. One reason for the low response may be accessibility; identifying and contacting specific individuals within companies via email was difficult. Internet communication often directed us to customer relations. It is, however, important to secure feedback from the private sector. This sector, with its myriad stakeholders, may be in a position to help promote the goals of ParticipACTION while concurrently expanding their business opportunities . ParticipACTION may successfully align itself with private sector companies, such as the Canada on the Move initiative did with Kellogg's in pedometer distribution . Companies may pursue co-branding with ParticipACTION or other related organizations. In future, accessing the private sector for a survey could be approached differently, using a combination of postal, voice and internet modes of contact . With the increase in work-based physical activity programs and private companies which provide these services, we may be able to expand our private sector sample to include corporate health/wellness organizations and their clients.
Third, the number of organizations responding to the survey generally reflected Canada's population by province, with the exception of Quebec and British Columbia where apparently fewer organizations contacted actually completed the survey. Since to our knowledge there is no census of organizations promoting physical activity in Canada, it is difficult to say whether or not these apparently differential patterns of response are actual deviations from representativeness. Caution is thus required in generalizing the findings reported here nationally.