Why Community Resilience Matters

BY: SYLVIA CHEUYMusic icons inside head

“In every community there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart there is the power to do it.” - Marianne Williamson

Tamarack’s Deepening Community Practice Area is a learning community for people interested in neighbourhood-based change and those eager to deepen their understanding of the unique role citizens can play in leading positive community change. It is an online space to meet, share resources and learn together.

The idea of community resilience has been emerging more often with members of the Deepening Community Practice Area. So, recently, I dove more deeply into this concept wanting to understand why it was capturing attention. I wrote the article, The Case for Cultivating Community Resilience, to share some of what I discovered. The article was released at Tamarack’s Community Change Institute in September and I’m happy to summarize highlights from that article here.

Community resilience is most often defined as a community’s ability to bounce back after a crisis or disaster.  And while that is true, I discovered that there is a second, equally important, dimension which is often overlooked.  That is the capacity of a community to proactively respond to opportunities and enhance its well-being even during times of stress.  Understanding what and how community resilience is nurtured and sustained is particularly important today as communities are impacted by an array of complex issues including: the effects of climate change; deteriorating infrastructure; growing levels of debt; rising inequality; and growing rates of isolation and loneliness in people all ages.  The concept of community resilience is particularly useful in the face of these complex issues because it offers a lens that captures the dynamic nature of communities as living systems and emphasizes their capacity to creatively adapt to the changing environment surrounding them.

What I found particularly inspiring is the rich body of concrete, tangible actions that communities can take to strengthen their resilience. Intentionally cultivating a focus on community assets and resources and deliberately engaging community members to share leadership and trust one another enough to embrace collaborative action are two of the most fundamental actions.

Place plays a significant role in the creation and shaping of community resilience. In fact, adopting a “place-based” rather than “issues-based” approach can encourage action to unfold at a very local level, which reminds us that promising solutions and strategies to many global issues, paradoxically, are found at the local level. Community engagement and leadership are also essential to nurturing community resilience and translating creative ideas into reality.

Finally, community resilience and the path to increasing it often involves not just doing different things, but also being willing to do things differently. For local organizations and governments, embracing resilience may require re-examining how they think about their relationships with communities.  For citizens it requires moving beyond viewing ourselves simply as voters and taxpayers and to recognize that strong communities are ones where the skills, talents and leadership of residents is known, recognized and connected.  

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Collective Impact, Voltron and The Borg

BY: IKEM OPARAVoltron.jpeg

Collective impact: Voltron Vs. The Borg? Yes, you read the question right. I take no credit at all for this title or the truly stellar piece of writing and metaphor that it introduces.

These words and opinions, from blogger Vu Le (@nonprofitwballs) are probably the best explanation of the key concepts of collective impact I have come across. I may be biased given the significant role Voltron: Defender of the Universe played in my early childhood development.

Voltron was one of the major places I learned about team work, collaboration, individual responsibility and what five robot lions can achieve when they come together and form a giant butt kicking robot with a gigantic sword. However, this is not about my childhood.

I like to think about our human existence on this planet as a really big collective impact initiative where the goal is to come together to make this world a better place for us all. Vu’s recent blog – Collective impact: Voltron Vs. The Borg – is required reading since you are part of the human collective. Also, if you happen to be reading this from Romulus or anywhere in the Delta Quadrant, heed Vu’s words below and don’t be like the Borg.

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Learning to Love Complexity

First 2000 Days Logo.jpegBY: BLYTHE BUTLER

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T. S. Eliot

Human beings love patterns, certainty, something simple to help manage the messiness and complexities of life. Our hopes for Collective Impact are no different: if we simply apply Collective Impact’s 5 conditions to the social issues we strive to change won’t that be enough?!

In response to recent criticisms of Collective Impact, I wonder if the problem is less with the collective impact framework as much as it is a problem with our natural human attraction to simplistic ‘solutions’. We crave certainty. We want to have a simple way of knowing if we’re making progress, and a simple way to map out what progress might look like. Unfortunately, community change doesn’t work that way.

Having a framework to follow is neither necessary nor sufficient for social change. There is a huge difference between knowing what constituent parts make up any framework, approach, model, program, or initiative - and knowing how and why that framework functions, and to what end. Just ‘applying’ the 5 parts of Collective Impact puts the richest and most promising aspects of what it has to offer at risk.

If our efforts using Collective Impact to meet the mission of the First 2000 Day’s Network –improving early childhood development outcomes – has been successful to any degree, it is directly correlated to our ability to adapt Collective Impact’s Framework to our context; understand how it could function to support our work; and, make judgements about where it can’t. In our work to support social change, we’ve approached Collective Impact as an adaptive process, not a finished product.

A critical aspect of our approach has been a very strong focus on creating a culture of adaptive learning – especially within the Backbone team. Our approach to adaptive learning and our evaluation methodology informs our strategy, not the other way around. This focus on adaptive learning has led to a greater tolerance and appreciation for ambiguity; and, has also improved our collective capacity to assess, adapt, implement and learn from ‘real time’ feedback loops to inform the next iteration of our work.

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Putting Children at the Centre

BY: LIZ WEAVERTasmanian children.jpeg

I am writing this from “down under” where Anglicare Tasmania and Communities for Children recently hosted over 500 leaders in Launceston, Tasmania to develop strategies which are designed to put children and their families at the centre of community well-being.

Nigel Richardson, of Child Friendly Leeds, shared his community’s plan to make Leeds the best city in the United Kingdom for children and youth. The Child Friendly Leeds initiative focuses on five outcomes to improve the lives of children and youth:

  1. All children and young people are safe from harm
  2. All children and young people do well at all levels of learning and have skills for life
  3. All children and young people enjoy healthy lifestyles
  4. All children and young people have fun growing up
  5. All children and young people are active citizens who feel they have a voice and influence 

Child Friendly Leeds has developed a Plan on a Page which details their vision, outcomes, priorities, obsessions and how they know that they have made a difference.  Each week the City of Leeds shares progress on their city’s top three priorities: safely and appropriately reducing the number of kids in care; to reduce the number of youth either in education, employment or training; and, to improve school attendance.  They call these three priorities “Leeds Obsessions.”  A weekly online "obsessions tracker" shares updates on the community’s progress.  This civic movement is changing the lives for the better in Leeds.

On the other side of the globe, Anglicare Tasmania has a vision for the children of Launceston and the Tamar Valley. Communities for Children is an emerging civic movement looking to improve child and family outcomes.

What has been particularly inspiring to all of us here in Tasmania, is the recognition that we are part of a growing global movement of 500 leaders sharing stories of Collective Impact efforts from Canada, the US, the UK, New Zealand and around the world who share a common commitment to make the world a better place for the next generation.   

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Together, When We Are Engaged

BY: KRIS CULPTwo girls engaged in coversation.jpeg

They say, “a picture is worth 1,000 words.”  This is certainly true of an exciting new photo exhibit – Together, When We Are Engaged – hosted by Tamarack in Waterloo Ontario.  With a series of bold, vibrant images, this exhibit captures the passion and impact of community engagement and action.

About eighty people joined us in September for the exhibit’s official opening to enjoy the photos and celebrate stories of community-building in action – everything from neighbourhood “porch parties” to supper programs, restorative workshops, intentional dialogue initiatives, and more. A highlight was the presence of a Syrian newcomer family featured in one of the photos and the opportunity to hear their story of welcome, shared via interpreter.  

The photos are being incorporated into class curriculums during the fall term and were featured at Tamarack’s Community Change Initiative in Toronto from September 26-30. If you can’t visit the exhibit in Waterloo, watch for a selection of the exhibit’s photos to appear at upcoming Tamarack Learning events, including Evaluating Community Impact which is being held in Hamilton from November 15-17. 2016.  We hope to see you there.

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The Latest from the Field

Upcoming Events

Evaluating Community Impact

November 15-17, 2016
Hamilton, ON

Our most popular workshop, Evaluating Community Impact, is right around the corner. This workshop will provide those who are funding, planning and implementing community change initiatives with an opportunity to learn the latest and most practical evaluation ideas and practices.

Highlights will include:

  • Three frameworks to organize and communicate the “progress” of community change initiatives
  • Four scenarios for using hard and soft indicators to capture outcomes
  • A new method for demonstrating a group’s contribution – rather than attribution  to outcomes
  • Five aides to improve the chances that social innovators and evaluators develop evaluations that are used
  • A continuum of strategy – ranging from emergent to traditional – and their implications for evaluation

Learn more by visiting the event website, or reach out to Heather, who will be happy to answer any of your questions. 

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Deepening Community for Collective Impact
Red Deer, AB | November 14, 2016
Waterloo, ON | November 30, 2016

In this one day workshop learn how to engage and deepen your community in order to build a common agenda for large scale change. Paul Born will share not only the fundamental principles of Collective Impact, he will provide key insights as one of North America’s top Community Engagement leaders on how Deepening Community can sustain us as leaders and produce the outcomes we so desire.

Learn more about the Red Deer and Waterloo workshops.

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Can’t make it? Don’t fret.
By registering you will also receive a recording of the live session along with resources shared.

Neighbourhood-Based Strategies that Reduce Poverty: The 1,000 Families Initiative

Anne Smith & Anne Bubel | November 10, 2016 @ 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. EST

An Introduction to Financial Empowerment

Donna McBride, Marlene Chiarotto & Glenna Harris | November 17, 2016 @ 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. EST

IMPACT-Ability: The Ingenuity and Creativity of People with Disabilities and Their Families is a Force that Continues to Change the World – A 7-part Webinar Series

Al Etmanski & Vickie Cammack | October 24, 2016 - February 27, 2017 @ 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. EST