Notes on notepad-263707-editedInnovating with Purpose 


My colleague Sylvia Cheuy recently gave a great overview of the Community Innovation landscape in her paper The Community Innovation Imperative. Sylvia highlighted the incredible momentum driving us towards innovation and the adoption of tools and methods to help us get there. In this context ­­­‑ a context where innovation is increasingly the norm demanded by and of funders, government, and communities, it is particularly important to keep the following in mind:

To what end will we innovate?

This question is fundamentally important. Innovations do not start with a toolkit or a process, but with purpose: a challenge to be addressed. Microfinance and housing-first approaches to ending homelessness did not start by picking a framework from the innovation toolbox. Instead, they focused on a problem, drew upon existing tools, and built new ones to address it.

In pushing for innovation, the looming risk ahead is that we treat it as a box to be ticked, as a line item on a budget, or as merely a strategy, while taking our eyes off the change that we want to see in the world and how we intend to get there. As a facetious example, it would be a fantastic innovation for Food Banks to partner with SpaceX, for Community Health Centers to operate out of casinos, or any number of other incongruous combinations. The value of an innovation is the value of the change it effects, not its novelty, and certainly not in the process that was followed to get to that point.

But that’s not to say that innovation tools, processes, case studies, and training are valueless. Instead, keeping our eyes on the challenge to be faced helps guide us to the most appropriate resources, adjust them to our context, and create new ones as needed. Labs, social finance, and design thinking are all resources to draw upon in tackling problems – they’re exciting and present new ways of approaching challenging problems – but they are not ends in and of themselves. 

Within the Tamarack Community, and particularly within the Community Innovation Idea space, we have an opportunity to explore the world of innovation and identify the tools that help us along the way, as well as the ways that we learned and adapted to setbacks. As Tamarack’s Director of Community Innovation, I’m excited to work with all of you to hear the challenges and opportunities you face, what has and hasn’t worked in your communities, and to share those lessons so that we can all grow together.

I’d love to hear from you! What are you most interested in learning about or exploring within the Community Innovation Idea area? Send me an email at and let’s get the conversation started.


Learn More:

Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

piggy banks in a lineCalgary's Enough for All: Canada's First Financial Empowerment Model


Financial vulnerability affects many people in Calgary. Wages are not keeping up with the rapidly increasing cost of living, and most people living below the poverty line belong to households in which at least one person is working. Many people are living above the poverty line, yet still experience financial vulnerability due to low levels of savings and high levels of debt.

Calgary was the first city in Canada to develop and implement a financial empowerment model. Its city-wide Financial Empowerment Collaborative was launched in 2015 by United Way of Calgary and Area, the City of Calgary, Vibrant Communities Calgary, Momentum, Bow Valley College, and the Government of Alberta. The Collaborative designs and delivers initiatives that support Calgarians living on low incomes to reduce debt, increase savings, and build assets. It strengthens partnerships, builds capacity of organizations to provide financial empowerment services, advocates for policy and systems change, and increases the number of Calgarians benefitting from financial empowerment services and supports.

The bold goal of Calgary’s Financial Empowerment Collaborative is for 45,600 Calgarians living on a low income to see a positive change in their net worth by 2023. Since its launch, more than 20,000 Calgarians living on a low income have already experienced this change.

Successes from 2017 include:

  • 1,534 Calgarians living on low incomes received community supports for basic needs;
  • 587 tax clinics were held in the community, led by 857 trained volunteers;
  • 8,445 tax returns were filed through tax clinics, resulting in $3,721,649 in tax refunds for Calgarians living on low incomes; and,
  • 143 front-line staff across 17 partner agencies supported Calgarians living on low incomes to open 961 new RESPs for their children.

The City of Calgary sees building the financial stability of their youth and families as an investment in the city’s future. In large part due to the important work being done by Calgary’s Financial Empowerment Collaborative, financial empowerment is gaining momentum in Calgary. The city is steadily realizing its bold goals, and more and more vulnerable Albertans are being moved from poverty to possibility.


Learn More:


Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

when collective impact has impactWhen Collective Impact has an Impact – An Evaluation of the Practice


In 2017, the Collective Impact Forum and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions commissioned ORS Impact and the Spark Policy Institute to conduct a field-wide evaluation of Collective Impact.  The evaluation sought to answer the following five questions: 

  1. To what extent and under what conditions does the Collective Impact approach contribute to systems and population changes?
  2. What system changes have contributed to the population level outcomes being achieved?
  3. What are the other positive or negative impacts, intended or unintended, on the community and system?
  4. What evidence is there that the Collective Impact effort has contributed to these system and population changes?
  5. What evidence is there that the population changes would not have been achieved if the Collective Impact approach hadn’t been used.

ORS Impact and the Spark Policy Institute have a history of evaluating community change efforts but also brought to this work a healthy skepticism about Collective Impact and its approach.  In the design of this evaluation, the two partners connected with 22 Collective Impact efforts in the US and three in Canada.  The evaluation design included interviews with the sites, document reviews, eight site visits to dive a bit deeper, process tracing and virtual focus groups with three communities to determine how equity informed Collective Impact efforts.  The evaluation identified three types of change:  early change; systems change and population change. 

The Evaluation Summary Report and the Full Report provide a wealth of findings about Collective Impact as well as case examples from many of the sites.  There are several lessons learned about the Collective Impact framework, implementation process and the role of leadership in driving change forward. 

The findings of the evaluation showed a link between Collective Impact and systems and population changes although this varied across the eight sites which participated in a deeper dive and indeed across all 25 sites.  More mature Collective Impact efforts showed different levels of impact but also employed different strategies and outcomes.  Those sites which payed more attention to data and shared measurement could draw a stronger link between this and system and population change. 

Collective Impact efforts address complex community issues and must take into account the unique nature and context of the community in which the effort is situated.  It is therefore reasonable that there is no single path to achieving system and population change.  In fact, there were many paths taken across the 25 Collective Impact examples.  This has interesting implications for the field. 

The summary report identified four specific implications for initiatives employing a Collective Impact approach: 

  1. Collective Impact is a long-term proposition: take the time to lay a strong foundation
  2. System changes take many forms: be iterative an intentional
  3. Equity is achieved through different routes; be aware and adaptable
  4. Collective Impact initiatives take on different roles in driving change; be open to different routes to make a difference

Tamarack will be hosting a webinar series to share the When Collective Impact has an Impact findings.  In addition to hearing from the principles at ORS Impact and the Spark Policy Institute, we will connect with the leaders of the Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership; Growing Up Great (Ottawa) and Living SJ, the three Canadian sites referenced in the report.  Finally the series will conclude with reflections and lessons learned from 15 years of Vibrant Communities Canada. 


Learn More:


Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

fredericton%20blog%20image-850382-edited-046189-editedA Matchmaking Website for Volunteers and Non-Profits


Have you ever thought of giving back to the community – volunteering somehow – but aren’t sure of where to start?

Fredericton, New Brunswick has just launched a new handy tool for residents and non-profits to address this problem. Think of it as an eHarmony, but for volunteers!

Residents (aspiring volunteers) can easily search by their own interests or by need in the community, find upcoming events, explore agencies looking for help, or build a profile and receive specific notifications. For those experiencing isolation and loneliness – especially seniors transitioning into or thinking about retirement – finding meaningful ways to get involved and contribute can re-value the unique skills they have to offer the community as well as forming social connections with other volunteers, staff and community members.

Non-profits will find this new social network particularly effective for drawing on a larger pool of diverse helpers and for gathering details on personal interests and experience to find the right fit amongst volunteers who can help deliver services.

As both the Chair of Volunteer Fredericton and Coordinator of the Fredericton Community Inclusion Network, Susanne White says that by fostering more volunteerism, they’re aiming to build community capacity as well as increase inclusion and reduce isolation – 1 of 28 priorities in New Brunswick’s poverty reduction plan.

“Volunteers contribute greatly to actions designed for economic and social inclusion and poverty reduction. More than 48% of New Brunswickers currently volunteer their time to a group or organization each year. The effectiveness of efforts to reduce poverty relies heavily on the commitment of these citizens who volunteer their time and skills to create vibrant communities. It is essential to recognize the value of volunteering and to strengthen support for these efforts.

Participants recognized that there is a need to ingrain the spirit of volunteerism in our families and communities, and to encourage volunteerism in schools, post-secondary institutions and the workplace.

Strengthening support for volunteer efforts that connect people from all areas of society and that coordinate volunteer activity was identified as an opportunity for increasing the volunteer capacity of a community.”

 Overcoming Poverty Together: New Brunswick’s Economic and Social Inclusion Plan 2014-2019, page 13.

So, what kind of planning and infrastructure does it take to launch an initiative such as Susanne White tells us about the systems development process they led in the community to make this one-stop service a reality:

  • Identifying gaps: Charged with promoting volunteerism in our region, Volunteer Fredericton board members identified the need for one-stop service for online volunteer matching. If this was going to be successful as one-stop, it meant bringing together all of the agencies currently offering information on volunteer opportunities and getting their endorsement for a single service solution. 
  • Agreeing to a shared vision for change: What proved opportune was the fact that key agencies were already having a similar conversation around their board tables. Bringing people together was easy and the merits of a collaborative solution were readily apparent. We knew that pooling resources would enable us to develop the best solution for the community.
  • Activating the technology: As the backbone agency, Volunteer Fredericton administered project grants and provided direction to a contractor hired to recommend options for a service solution that met our collective needs. Once the stakeholder group agreed on Galaxy Digital as our service provider, we took the lead in managing the contract, providing training on how to use the website, and finally activating the URL.
  • Building content and capacity: In order to build the content for the site, we went through a phase of promoting the new service and its features to local non-profits, and trained them on using the new data management tools so that it is a tool that is actually used.
  • Crafting key messaging: When launching this site, it was equally as important to communicate that this new service was the result of a collaborative effort between a group of invested stakeholder organizations, as it was to inform people that the service was available. We appreciated that we had an opportunity to model behavior that other groups could use when dealing with community service challenges.
  • Coordinating a campaign push: Each partner agency is utilizing their existing communication channels to promote the one common service. During National Volunteer Week, we plan to turn up the volume with social media promotions and announcements on radio and television.
  • Building in sustainability: Going forward, it’s reassuring to know that there are multiple partners invested in the success of this new service. We share the operating expenses; we jointly promote the service through our individual networks; and we enjoy knowing that our community is much better served as a result of our combined efforts.

Susanne’s key takeaway:  Engaging with partners to develop this new service entailed much more time and effort than originally anticipated.  But in the long run, building a base of support across a network of partners will ensure the long term sustainability of the service in the years to come.  And as a result, it is now easier for individuals to get connected so as to contribute to the community and for the agencies that rely on volunteers to find the talent they need to deliver much needed services.

Take a look - visit the website and explore the options: It is visually vibrant, the user experience is simplistic, and most importantly it’s an example of how we can harness technology to build social capital and bring us closer to incredible people living in our communities. 


Learn More:

Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

group of youth on rock8 Steps to Set the Stage for Effective Youth Engagement Work


The world of youth engagement is entangled with false assumptions, presumptuous understandings, and little follow through.  However, if it is done right professionals are given the rare opportunity to work meaningfully with youth to achieve a beautifully co-created outcome that can radically change a community.

Recently I had the privilege of hearing an individual who has experienced great success in their engagement work.  But they were quick to point out the negative perceptions that can often surround engagement work due to good intentions gone bad, and lack of follow through.

I believe that engagement work is important to the vitality of a community and imperative to develop effective services to address complex problems with a sensitivity to the specific place they will be implemented.  When working with youth it is important to remember that they are highly intelligent individuals, with relevant ideas, and a desire to see things get done. (Not all that different from any other group we want to engage.)  So how do we set the stage for youth engagement work to begin?

  1. Belief in the work

Do you believe that youth engagement work has the ability to positively impact the community, and that services that are co-created with youth are more effective and better able to meet the needs of youth and families in your community? This belief is crucial for youth engagement efforts to be successful.  Why you do the work is just as important as how it is done.

  1. First things first: build rapport

Nothing can be done until you take the time to get to know the youth, and they have the opportunity to get to know you.  The real you, not your professional LinkedIn bio, but who you are as a person.  Part of this trust is built through the interactions you have on a regular basis.  This requires that the time and willingness to make this investment is built into your engagement planning.  The value of rapport becomes clear in the points that follow.

  1. Be transparent

Tell them upfront why you are there; where and how the information you are collecting from them is going to be used; and, what outcomes they can hope to see come to fruition.  Let them know the hard truths about what can and can’t be done and be open about what you are capable of achieving in your role. 

  1. Be humble

You aren’t meant to come in with the answers, but you are meant to provide the opportunity for youth to discover and co-create the answer with you and support them in making that outcome a reality.  Remember, you aren’t going to see everything the same so be open to new ideas, concepts and how those ideas are delivered.

  1. Meet them where they are

This means going to the youth.  Whether it is at school, drop-in programs, support groups, youth advocacy groups, it is places where youth already meet.  Why?  Because all too often in engagement work we pull youth together to get information for a project and when we are done the group folds.  This creates distrust which can make it difficult for these youth to be re-engaged.   By meeting youth where they are, you can support them with their causes (think big!), as well as provide opportunities for them to engage in projects that fit their interests.  This also allows you to work with multiple groups of youth to provide more opportunities for partnering and input.

  1. Follow up

Visit the youth on a regular basis.  Provide updates on how the information is being used, and the status of the project.  Follow-up visits also provide opportunities to continue to work together on the projects, or support them with a project of their own.  Real relationships are created through investment and go both ways!  Make sure to check in regularly to make sure the youth remember why you are there; how their information is being used; and, always ask if they want to continue to participate, don’t assume!

  1. Hart’s Ladder of Participation

Hart’s Ladder of Participation is a simple tool that can be used to evaluate how you are currently engaging youth and where you should be on the ladder.  It can also act as an accountability check.

  1. Give credit to the youth

Make sure the youth know you are grateful for their input, ideas and partnership.  Make sure they receive the credit and recognition for the work that is being done!

Working with youth is incredible, but so is the responsibility.  Make sure youth are taken care of when engaging them in your work!


Learn More:


Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

The Latest from the Field

Upcoming Events

Adaptive Leadership Masterclass: Adaptive Leadership for Collaborative Impact

Vancouver, BC | May 23
Edmonton, AB | May 24
Calgary, AB | May 25
Toronto, ON | May 28
Ottawa, ON | May 29

This intensive Masterclass will equip you with the tools, processes and, most importantly, the leadership practice to make a real and meaningful change through your own collaborative initiative.You will learn how to apply adaptive leadership principles and practices to your collaborative initiative while demonstrating its relevance and application to system, organisational, community and personal challenges.

Learn more

Adaptive Leadership Square Banner

Cities Innovating to Reduce Poverty

June 12-13, 2018
Vancouver, BC

We are at a unique moment in history in which Cities, Provinces and our Federal government are all converging with independent, and yet interrelated, poverty reduction strategies. This gathering seeks to harness this distinctive synergy and facilitate learning and dialogue toward innovative solutions. 

Join us to hear from fabulous speakers, participate in experiential city tours, and work together through interactive workshops in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Together, we will celebrate our successes and will co-generate impactful solutions to eliminating poverty nationwide.

Learn more

PRSW Square Banner

Community Change Festival

October 1-4, 2018
Toronto, ON

Registration Now Open!

Over 4 days, explore the 5 competencies every changemaker needs to move ideas to practice to impact. Through workshops, open space dialogue, tools, immersive tours, and peer input processes, go deep into one approach or advance your skills in each.

Learn more

Community Change Festival Square

One Day Workshop

Building Authentic Engagement: Leveraging the Wisdom of Content and Context Experts 

April 27, 2018 | St. Catharines

This workshop will explore how and why engaging and reconnecting residents to form powerfully connect groups of neighbours is an essential foundation for community change. 

You will discover the key principles and practices needed to promote authentic engagement across sectors; cultivate citizen leadership; apply what you are learning; and, hear powerful stories that illustrate what is possible when citizens, organizations and municipalities, (both content AND context experts), discover how to work effectively together. 

Learn more

Authentic Engagement Banner Square.png

Upcoming Webinars

Can’t make it? Don’t fret.
By registering you will also receive a recording of the live session along with related resources.
Communications Strategy 101: Part 2
Delivering your Winning Position to the Market 
Speaker: Lindsay Sage, Sagecomm
Date:  April 11, 2018 | 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. EST

Business and the Minimum Wage
Guests: Catherine Ludgate, Vancity and Greg Durocher, Cambridge Chamber of Commerce
Host: Paul Born, Tamarack Institute
Date:  April 23, 2018 | 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. EST

When Collective Impact has Impact

Join us for a series of webinars dedicated to exploring ORS Impact and the Spark Policy Institute's report When Collective Impact has Impact, the Canadian Collective Impact initiatives mentioned in the report, and implications for Tamarack's Vibrant Communities members. 

You can find the information for each part of this webinar series below:

Adaptive Leadership in a Changing World
Guest: Liz Skelton, Collaboration for Impact
Host: Liz Weaver, Tamarack Institute
Date:  May 1, 2018 | 3:30 - 4:30 p.m. EST