Planning post it notes mapping 5 3.jpgAn Action Plan to Build Community Readiness 


"If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time."
- Steve Jobs

Achieving success is not about wishing for the best future, but being prepared to do the difficult work of getting ready. Ready Set Go: Building Readiness for Collaborative and Community Impact is a brand new paper designed to help community change practitioners set into place all the conditions required to move from idea to execution to impact.

Many of us jump into collaboration without considering the context of the community or the issue that we are hoping to change. We gather around collaborative tables and look to the future, often without considering how to leverage what already exists, how our community might respond and where potential synergies might be which could be the launch pads toward impact.

Ready Set Go is about focusing on building readiness before you launch your collaborative effort. Over the past fifteen years, Tamarack Institute has been working with communities of different sizes and strengths helping the leaders in those communities to move the needle on complex issues.

Communities that move toward success quicker, know how to navigate and balance programmatic and systems change efforts. If you are starting your community change work, or renewing your local change efforts, Ready Set Go will help you move forward with confidence, information and capacity.


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Neighbours in Neighbourhood GardenCultivating the Power of Residents to Build Community: Lessons from Kitchener


Over the past three decades, there has been a shift in how we connect with one another. Today, people report fewer informal social ties, decrease in tolerance and trust, and an eroding political and civic engagement atmosphere in our communities. Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community suggests that our overall experiences of being in community have been steadily declining since the 1960s. Research by Holt-Lunstad et al. suggests that social isolation has serious negative consequences for our health and well-being – the impact is likened to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Building communities that bring residents together and help them feel a sense of belonging and connection are more likely to live longer, be healthier, be happier, and act for the common good.

While municipalities have traditionally focused on the built components of a neighbourhood -  paving sidewalks and roads or building houses, parks and arenas - cities across Canada are now realizing that city building also includes the people who live, work and play in each neighbourhood. 

The City of Kitchener’s neighbourhood strategy and engagement process, called Love My Hood, is one great example of how a city cultivated the power of residents to develop a neighbourhood strategy. The City of Kitchener has a strong history of working with their communities through the development of 13 community centers and 30 neighbourhood associations. Building on these strengths, the City recognized that there needed to be a more comprehensive approach to neighbourhood development. The City’s engagement process reached over 5,000 residents. They heard from many different community groups, such as neighbourhood associations, schools, faith communities, cultural clubs, sports teams, youth and seniors’ groups, to name a few.  The City’s engagement process included the following:

  • Going to where the people are. Setting up a lemonade stand at neighbourhood events and gathering places across the city.
  • Throwing a party. Re-imagining traditional public consultation meetings as a family friendly party.
  • Asking tough questions. Hosted first with staff and then with residents, a “red tape” reduction workshop.
  • Online discussions. Residents were given an open-ended forum to post their own ideas for making great neighbourhoods.
  • Testing placemaking. Residents were encouraged to try placemaking themselves! Nine groups of residents received grants to do placemaking.

Read more about Kitchener’s engagement strategy in our recently published Case Study and see how your city can also make a difference for your neighbourhoods. 


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United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, The Rider-Pool Foundation and Penn State Lehigh Valley.pngInvesting to Create a Network of Community Change Agents - A Case Study


For more than 100 years, the Lehigh Valley, a metropolitan region in northeastern Pennsylvania, was renown as an industrial powerhouse, and manufacturers like Bethlehem Steel, Mack Truck and Coplay Portland Cement were its heart.  But by the 1980's, these industries had closed, moved out of the region or were downsized due to national and global competition.  The urban areas- Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton- went into a sharp economic decline, which lasted for nearly three decades. 

By 2014 however, the city of Allentown was gaining global recognition for its “innovative, forward-looking approach to design and development.” The economic renaissance of Allentown is a testament to the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of its ancestors.  The establishment of a Neighbourhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) in Allentown’s downtown core was the spark that launched the city’s economic revitalization, which has included: a 10,000-seat multipurpose arena, several office towers, restaurants, green spaces, restored historic buildings as well as residential and retail spaces.  Downtown Allentown is now “a regional centre of excellence for business, culture and metropolitan living."  In 2011 only 9,000 people worked downtown but by 2018, that number had grown to 16,000. 

The story of this region's economic transformation is impressive. However, it is the groundwork that has been laid to support a social transformation in Allentown that has the potential to be inspirational. The Rider-Pool Foundationhas been the catalyst. This forward-looking community champion recognized that the economic development in the city's NIZ needed to be accompanied by a parallel effort at social development if the positive momentum was to be sustainable. Rider-Pool also recognized that the issues needing attention in the neighbourhoods surrounding the NIZ, were beyond the capability of any one agency or organization to address alone. The issues of the community were complex. The vision was to create a diverse network of community change agents by strategically investing in enhancing the knowledge and capacity of a small number of promising leaders from the health, community, arts, municipal and social sectors.

Read more about this unique partnership in our recently published Case Study and see how by building the capacity of a diverse group of individuals with a shared commitment to champion the overall well-being of the community as a whole can be an innovation that has the potential to inspire learning not only in the Greater Lehigh Valley but also in communities across North America and beyond.


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2013_CCI_People06.jpgTowards a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy: What We Heard About Poverty So Far


The Honourable Jean‑Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, announced the release of the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy: What We Heard About Poverty So Far report, on Tuesday February 20th via a Facebook Live broadcast. 

The report captures invaluable feedback contributed by Canadians through a large-scale Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) nationwide Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy public engagement process.

The process was started in February 2017 with events led by Minister Duclos, Parliamentary Secretary Adam Vaughan, other Government of Canada ministers and Government officials, and projects led by National Indigenous Organizations, Tamarack’s Vibrant Communities (VC), and the consulting firm Ference and Company.

Engagement tools included community-led sessions, Government of Canada officials-led sessions, roundtables with stakeholders and Indigenous leaders, public town hall events, the Tackling Poverty Together Project, the #ReducePoverty in Canada youth contest, a National Poverty Conference, and email and online submissions.

Tamarack’s Vibrant Communities and its Cities Reducing Poverty (CRP) network contributed to the public engagement process in a number of ways:

  • The Tackling Poverty Together (TPT) project’s in-depth study of poverty in six cities across Canada included Cities Reducing Poverty member cities of Saint John, Winnipeg, and Yellowknife.
  • Through a partnership with ESDC, VC supported 27 CRP members to host 33 consultations across 9 provinces and territories, representing over 600 participants.
  • VC submitted a formal online submission by way of a brief to HUMA, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, as part of their study of poverty reduction strategies.

Overall, more than 8,000 Canadians were engaged in the Government’s engagement process, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, academics, researchers, stakeholders, service delivery organizations, youth and people with lived experience of poverty. The process engaged them to share their personal and professional stories, experiences, and ideas.

The What We Heard About Poverty So Far report reflects the diverse needs of Canadians affected by poverty, including issues of inability to meet basic needs, challenges with joining the middle class, risks of slipping into poverty, experiences of First Nation, Inuit and Métis people, service delivery, and targets and indicators.

ESDC’s media release for the launch of the report shared how Canadians are seeking “real, tangible results from their government with solutions that address the root causes of poverty” and that achieving this will “require bold and measurable solutions that are inclusive and work to address different aspects of poverty faced by Canadians, as well as setting measurable targets to reduce poverty.”

"I am pleased to release the What We Heard report, which I believe is a great step towards a better understanding of poverty in Canada. I am grateful for the level of commitment demonstrated by all those who participated and am honoured to help turn results of this engagement process into positive change as we develop a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy. It is by working together that we can make a difference in reducing poverty in our communities, and help all Canadians have a real and fair chance to succeed."

 – The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development

Canada’s first-ever Canadian Poverty Reduction strategy will draw on findings from the What We Heard About Poverty So Far report, and is expected to be released in late 2018.


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Outdoor hockey 5 3.jpgA Framework to Learn to ‘Play Society’ Together


Can we learn to play society together the same way we learn to play hockey? To answer this question, let’s look at how young children learn to play hockey.

First, before young children can even begin to play hockey, they must learn some basic skills: to skate forward, backward, in a straight line or turning while handling the puck with a stick. Although it is hard at the beginning, they eventually learn the basic skills.

Gradually they also start assimilating knowledge and mastering other skills associated with the dynamic of hockey.

  • They learn the:
    • Rules
    • Role of the referees
    • Role of the coach, the assistant coach, the manager, etc.
  • They start to understand what they need to do individually on the ice depending on:
    • What position they play;
    • Where their teammates are;
    • Where their opponents are; and,
    • Who possesses the puck.

Depending on the age the children start to play as well as their interest and ability, it may take up to three or four years for a child to adequately possess the knowledge and the skills required to play the game well. The more competences they possess, the more privileges they gain – including the possibility of playing in higher level leagues. As has frequently been noted (e.g. by Malcolm Gladwell), this is a self-reinforcing cycle for the best players to become even better.

Why do children engage and persevere?

What makes children want to learn more and invest their time to become better? The fact that it is a game certainly helps. Furthermore, as it is also a social activity, it allows them to play with their friends. Parents also play a big role by encouraging and supporting them in this activity.

They are also encouraged because they are aware that:

  • The main goal of the activity is to win the game.
  • The two main objectives that they must accomplish to attain the goal are to:
    • Score as many goals as possible; and,
    • Prevent the other team from scoring.

Understanding the goal and the objectives of the game is very important for children because this knowledge guides their actions.

Can We Learn to Play Society Together?

Yes, we can learn to “play society” together, but like hockey, or any other team activity, we need a framework so that we can coordinate our actions. This framework has to include a clear goal as well as clear objectives. It must also identify the available resources as well as the knowledge and the skills citizens should possess to play their role efficiently.

A Societalogical Framework to Learn to ‘Play Society’ Together

Over the last 10 years, I have used the lenses of management to study societies and citizens. To be more specific, I have studied societies as organizations as well as studied the roles citizens play in these organizations, which is one of co-ownership.

Through this research I was able to develop the following societalogical framework.

Societal Goal:
All societies share an underlying common goal: Prevent, solve and manage the various social tensions, frictions and conflicts that naturally arise because we are social beings.

Societal Objectives:
In order to achieve this goal, most individual, group and collective actions performed in a society must facilitate the:

1. Development and social and societal integration of citizens
2. Development and the functioning of our collectivities
3. Development and the functioning of our governments


4. Creating or maintaining an environment where citizens are free to develop as we wish and where
5. When appropriate, citizens restrain their actions to allow for the liberty of their fellow citizens

Societal Resources:
Although these resources vary in quality and quantity from one society to another, all societies have access to four types of resources: natural, human, abstract and transformed.

Citizen Competence:
Societalogically speaking, citizenship is viewed as a profession and citizens as professionals. To effectively play their role in their societies, citizens should possess three types of competences.

1. Personal: Obligations to oneself
2. Social: Obligations to others
3. Societal: Obligations to the community

This framework is generic and can be used to find solutions, facilitate change, increase engagement levels of citizens, optimize the use of societal resources and for strategic planning and team building purposes.

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The Latest from the Field

Upcoming Events

Evaluation Masterclass: Principles-Focused Design & Evaluation for Community Changemakers

Toronto, ON | March 12
Regina, SK | March 14
Calgary, AB | March 15
Vancouver, BC | March 16

Join evaluation pioneer Michael Quinn Patton and experienced evaluator Mark Cabaj in a one day masterclass that explores the principles-focused evaluation approach and demonstrates its relevance and application in a range of settings.

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Asset-Based Community Development: For Healthy Neighbourhoods

April 17-19, 2018
Kitchener, ON

Asset-Based Community Development: For Healthy Neighbourhoods is a three-day opportunity to learn the fundamentals of Asset-Based Community Development with a focus on Neighbourhood Development and Community Health. Join us in Kitchener, Ontario for a rare opportunity to learn from Cormac Russell and John McKnight, two of the world's top trainers in Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), for their first time together in Canada.

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Adaptive Leadership Masterclass: Adaptive Leadership for Collaborative Impact

Vancouver, BC | May 23
Calgary, AB | May 24
Edmonton, 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. When you change how you work with different people and organizations the system can change with you.

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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 and Register

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Save the Date

Community Change Festival
October 1-4, 2018 | Toronto, ON

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.

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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.

Registration Opening Soon

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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.

Strategies for Inclusive Community Engagement

Guest: Amy Hubbard, Principal & Co-Founder of Capire Consulting Group
Host: Sylvia Cheuy, Consulting Director, Community Engagement, Tamarack Institute
Date:  March 21, 2018 | 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. EST