People engaging at tableThe Recipe for Collaboration:  Mixing People and Process 


Recruiting the right people and building effective processes for them to work together are two of the most challenging aspects of collaboration.  In a recent paper called Creating Containers and Co-Design:  Transforming Collaboration, I explore these two ingredients of the people and the process in collaboration.  The paper is part of the learning arc series for the 2018 Community Change Festival happening October 1-4, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. 

From David Chrislips’ collaborative premise of bringing the right people to the table and supporting them with effective processes, to engaging the Collective Impact framework to transform communities, collaborative groups have been struggling with the challenges of people and process.  Who are the right people?  How do we create equity of voice and perspective?  What processes are required to make collaboration effective?  How do we maintain momentum on complex problems? 

One path forward is understanding the importance of mixing people and process in the right measures.  There is not a one size fits all approach, but rather it requires a deeper understanding of what is happening in your local context and then building from there.  The paper provides a list of people ingredients and process ingredients to consider before diving into the problem.  Spending time upfront is a wise investment and will pay dividends over the longer term. 

A second path forward is to consider a co-design process.  In The Power of Co.  The Smart Leaders Guide to Collaborative Governance the authors explore an approach which builds partner engagement from the onset.  Even before diving into co-developing solutions, the partners engage in co-defining the dilemma and committing to working collaboratively.  Each step in the co-design process is co-led or co-shared.  It requires focusing on those processes to build relationships and trust between the partners around the collaborative table. 

Effective collaboration should not be based on a hope and a dream.  It needs to be deliberate, intentional and effective, particularly when tackling the more complex challenges currently facing our communities.  Creating Containers and Co-Design:  Transforming Collaboration provides a pathway to effective collaboration which includes engaging the right people and undertaking the right processes to move from idea to impact. 

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Woman sitting with woman readingEvolving Churches in Today’s Changing Society


“Decide what the box is in your church community and begin trying to think outside of it.  We need to understand our context much better before we can understand how the church needs to be different.”

This is how a member of a church congregation reflected on a day-long trip to various churches in and around Toronto this winter. Together with more than 40 other members from two congregations in Kitchener, the group learned how others have either repurposed their building or even redeveloped their entire property in order to make a difference in their communities.

Since their conception, churches have been active, contributing members of the communities in which they are located. In the past, many new churches were built when congregational participation was strong across Canada. Today, many such churches face a rapid decline in attendance, and their contribution to the wider society is diminishing due to an aging membership who have less energy and resources to give. Others are actively seeking new ways to continue their legacy of service to the community. For example, Trinity United Church in Kitchener recently sold their building. They are now exploring how they can turn this asset into community-focused service, or (in church terms), mission. The same is true of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Kitchener, who are considering a redevelopment of their property with or without a church-oriented focus.

Common to both congregations is the wish to do something meaningful that has a sustainable positive impact on the wider community. To facilitate their exploration, the organisation Toronto United Church Council (TUCC) organised the trip for the congregations to observe how others have responded to similar challenges. The tour took them to the ecumenical Stonegate Ministry project. Founded in 1991 by four local churches, with contributions from local businesses as well as strong ties with the local health care and food programs, Stonegate provides practical, social, and spiritual supports out of a storefront in a high-need neighbourhood. The church’s shared vision: to play an active and relevant role in reaching out to their community. The store contains space to sell used household items and clothing, with programming such as English language groups for female refugees. 

What to do with a large piece of property in a very sought-after part of Toronto? How can what a congregation believes to be the gift of valuable land be repurposed for the benefit of the community? These were the questions the congregation of St. Andrew’s United Church on Bloor Street responded to when they redeveloped their site. They now generate a substantial annual income from a mixed-use multi-story office tower. With this income they finance their congregation’s substantial programming for people in need in the community.

A brand-new approach to church is emerging in the new residential developments in East Gwillimbury. Together with the influx of people moving into the area on a weekly basis, a United Church pastor and her family took residence in a home provided by the church. Without a church building or a Sunday morning service, the pastor is building relationships to catalyse community and personal support. She actively advocates for the needs of her neighbours with the local school and the town council where she’s earning a reputation as the new community’s chaplain. Congregational life is developed through podcasts for community members to listen to on their commute to work, and by hosting community potlucks, youth programs, and alternative worship services in the basement of the purpose build home. And lots of pastoral support is shared when meeting people while walking on local streets or in the neighbourhood grocery store.

For the older and more traditional members of the congregations on the TUCC trip, most of these new forms of church were quite novel. The group realised that engaging with the community requires careful listening and a willingness to be challenged in one’s perception. Finding out what fits both the local community, with its special needs, and what the congregation feels comfortable doing, is a difficult but very worthwhile puzzle to figure out. This tour was merely the start of an exploration of what is possible. Often, the group heard how difficult it was to actually find suitable collaboration partners, and to develop a plan that could be accomplished with the limited resources available. Yet, the despite these challenges, the participants were also inspired by the creative ‘out-of-the-box’ ministries they witnessed during their trip.

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Writing on wall think bigHow to Stifle Creativity


Picture this: You’re hosting a meeting and you’ve just asked the group for ideas. The first idea you get just won’t work – it doesn’t take into account the nuances of your situation, the resources you have, or even achieve some of the goals that you need to. What do you do? 

One of the most common ways that I see leaders unintentionally stifle creativity is by judging ideas too early. If you’re like most people, you’ll try to use a ‘bad’ idea as an opportunity to help the group refine its thinking. Pointing out the ways that the idea won’t work will help them come up with better ones, right?

As someone who’s been on both sides of this situation, the answer for me is unequivocally no. Pointing out an idea’s deficits is a great way to encourage people to self-filter – a major barrier to creative thinking. No one wants to speak up only to look foolish in front of others. Instead, everyone shuts down and avoids taking risks on half-baked ideas, or building upon ideas that have already been publicly critiqued.

This is an incredibly common situation – in most groups it happens daily, often leading to frustrated leaders who complain that they aren’t getting enough creative ideas from their community. What can you do instead?

Creativity Release #1: Separate generation from evaluation

One of the reasons that creative organizations have formal structures around idea generation is to provide time and space where ideas will not be judged. Using rules for brainstorming and specifying the time during which those rules will be active creates that safe space, and also helps us know that criticisms or judgements will eventually be given a space as well. Separating generation from evaluation makes a big different in the ideas that emerge, but this practice is not common in most groups, despite how easy it is to implement.

Creativity Release #2: Define the sandbox explicitly

We all have practical constraints on our work. It may seem counterintuitive, but constraints can actually inspire creativity. Knowing that we have limited budgets, time, and people-power gives us a clear sandbox to play within and clear boundaries to build from. When we don’t define the boundaries, ideas will inevitably emerge that are impractical. As a leader this can be frustrating and lead us towards criticism and correction. Remember the scene from Apollo 13 where the astronauts have to build an air filter using spare parts that they dump onto a table? That’s the gift you can give your group – clearly define the objectives and tools available, and let them get to work.

Creativity Release #3: Focus on the positives, not the negatives

Rewarding ideas for their positives rather than punishing them for their negatives is a great way to combat a fear of making mistakes. If we return to the situation I raised at the beginning, one approach could be to highlight the ways that the idea is good. Perhaps it approaches a relationship with one of your partners in a new and creative way. Maybe it brings up a resource that you hadn’t considered before. If nothing else, it is evidence that your group is trying to help you solve the issue. Regardless of what you choose, focusing on the positive aspects of a contribution during idea generation is a way to reward the behaviour that you want to see, and transition fear of making mistakes into excitement to be recognized.

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Community Tour VancouverWhat We Learned About Poverty Reduction and Economic Development in Vancouver


Last month, we hosted the first Western Regional Cities Reducing Poverty Summit in Vancouver B.C., welcoming more than 25 western cities to learn from one another, to align their collaborative work with different levels of government, and to be inspired by the momentum of citizens and all sectors to end poverty in our lifetime.

Amongst the stories of poverty reduction in-action that were heard from Saskatoon, Surrey, Whitehorse, and Edmonton, we had the privilege of being hosted by the City of Vancouver and exploring their strategy first hand. An experiential workshop took us out of the plenary room and into the community spaces where the poverty reduction innovations were brought to life. We visited key projects that comprise Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Community Economic Development Strategy: The LEDlab, Binners’ Project, RADIUS SFU, Hastings Urban Farm, Hives for Humanity, East Van Roasters, and the Potluck Café.

We learned that, targeting the unique needs of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), the Strategy proactively leverages the neighbourhood’s talents, ambition, and assets. It supports residents to access a continuum of employment and income generation opportunities, improves the health of the local economy, and creates a safe and inclusive community for all.

The City of Vancouver’s holistic approach to poverty reduction, based on the Healthy City Strategy (HCS), re-thinks and re-frames poverty reduction with a comprehensive healthy communities for all approach. It recognizes the complexities of poverty and the need for change to occur not only within, but across systems.

While Vancouver’s DTES is commonly seen as a neighbourhood of entrenched poverty that faces intractable challenges, we saw that the initiative supports residents bringing real skills, knowledge, ambition and creativity to their community. The Community Economic Development Strategy looks at community economic development in a radical new way, and applies the goals of improving the economic health of the DTES and reducing poverty in its communities. 

The 2017 strategy was co-created by staff and the Community Economic Development Strategic Action Committee (CEDSAC), which is comprised up of 35 community groups, businesses and local stakeholders. It was informed by extensive community workshops, roundtable discussions and committee deliberations that identified opportunities to be leveraged through coordination, capacity building, and key investments.

The Phase II strategy takes a view of the local economy as a continuum of opportunity, from survival-work to formal employment, and creates a full range of employment and income generation opportunities for people of all genders, ethnicities, ages, and abilities. It supports its residents to navigate the local economy and access promising opportunities that meet them where they are at in their lives and careers.

The strategy’s proactive and coordinated approach improves the health of the local economy, and forges new partnerships and collaborations. Its collection of strategic initiatives lends support to the City of Vancouver’s Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addictions priorities, incorporates City of Reconciliation and Truth and Reconciliation actions, and helps reach objectives of the Healthy City Strategy.

Vancouver was the ideal setting for our first western summit exploring poverty reduction innovations. The local co-organizers helped to bring to life exemplary CED work that engages senior levels of government, funders, partners and residents in a comprehensive and cohesive vision for making the DTES a healthy, safe, and inclusive community with opportunities for all.

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Wishing TreeCreating a Dynamic Neighbourhood One Wish at a Time


Victoria’s Fernwood Neighbourhood is an inspiration for anyone wanting to create a dynamic neighbourhood.  What’s their recipe?  Take an engaged network of citizens and local business owners and mix them together with a tree full of wishes.  Add in an array of street festivals, community art projects, a community café, communal gardens and a resident-run neighbourhood newspaper. Add a couple of affordable housing projects that welcome young families and sprinkle in some well-designed forums that regularly encourage neighbours to dream and plan together for their future.  Combine this with a trusted community agency and social enterprise that serves as a catalyst and champion for translating these ideas into reality.  The result is a dynamic neighbourhood that attracts visitors from far and wide who are drawn to its eclectic vibe that is a source of pride by those who call it home.

Fernwood NRG (Neighbourhood Resource Group) is a local non-profit providing childcare, family programs and recreation in the neighbourhood for almost thirty years. In 2004 Fernwood NRG began its own transformation into the successful social enterprise it is today by hosting a visioning forum that was “the first instance of our neighbourhood working together to co-create the future of Fernwood.”  Inspired by the community ideas, Fernwood NRG purchased the Cornerstone Building, “a boarded-up eyesore” in the heart of Fernwood and turned it into small retail spaces with affordable housing apartments above that provided homes for four families. The revitalization of the Cornerstone building also enabled Fernwood NRG to open the Cornerstone Café, an important venue for local arts and musicians as well as a source of local employment. 

The success of the Cornerstone Building Project gave Fernwood NRG confidence to undertake the next stage of its transformation: the building of Park Place Apartments which is an affordable housing complex for six families.  The organization’s work is guided by a Declaration of Principles and Values which included commitments to become more financially self-reliant and to report back to the neighbourhood annually on how the organization has lived up to its principles and values.

I first learned about Fernwood – and its neighbourhood wishing tree – at my recent one-day workshop, Building Authentic Community Engagement, in St. Catharines.  Sherry Madden from RentSmart Ontario inspired all of us at the workshop with the story of her recent visit to Victoria’s Fernwood Neighbourhood and its Wishing Tree. 

Fernwood’s Wishing Tree is an ornamental cherry tree on the sidewalk in front of the neighbourhood theatre at the heart of Fernwood. It’s branches hold more than one hundred tags which sway in the wind and catch the eye of passers by.  Each tag holds a wish.  Some examples: “For my mom to get better and be big and strong like she used to be:” “To be able to fly”  “For Fernwood to stay as it is and not be spoiled”  It is beautiful to read these heart-felt messages and even more powerful to witness people’s hopes being shared so openly.  No one knows exactly how Fernwood’s Wishing Tree came to be. However it is a powerful symbol of the power of possibility and the importance of rooting a neighbourhood’s future in an aspirational vision that reflects a strong, shared sense of hope.

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The Latest from the Field

Upcoming Events

Community Change Festival

October 1-4, 2018
Toronto, ON

The Community Change Festival will bring together over 250 community changemakers to celebrate and build capacity around five interconnected practices vital to making real impact on complex challenges – Collective Impact, Community Engagement, Collaborative Leadership, Community Innovation, and Evaluating Impact.

Through immersive city learning experiences, tool sessions, impact accelerators, community provocateurs, art showcases and more, this three and a half day gathering will provide you with the skills and connections to move from ideas, to practice, to impact.

Learn more and Register

Community Change Festival Square

Cities Innovating to Reduce Poverty

September 18-19, 2018
Peel Region, Ontario

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 with peers from across the eastern regions of Canada. Together, we will celebrate our successes and will co-generate impactful solutions to eliminating poverty nationwide.

Learn more and Register

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Turf, Trust & Collaboration: Practical Tools for Building Trust

Ottawa, ON - September 17, 2018

This interactive workshop focuses on the core leadership competency of trust building, and will equip you with ideas, tools and approaches to effectively engage diverse community partners and intentionally build trusting relationships and collaborative impact. 

Learn more

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Upcoming Webinars

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

Introduction to Reconciliation

Speaker: Charlene Seward
Date: Today (July 5, 2018) | 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. ET


Co-design in Collaboration - Moving from Buy In to Shared Ownership

Speakers: Max Hardy and Liz Weaver
Date: July 26, 2018 | Pre-recorded webinar released to registrants by email