Outcome Harvesting: Principles, Steps, and Evaluation Applications 


outcome mappingAll throughout 2018 and into 2019, the Tamarack Institute has seen a large spike in interest in our Evaluation resources. This trend towards evaluating community change efforts is an encouraging one – it represents a move beyond programmatic interventions towards systems change, and how to evaluate the impact of our change efforts.

Mark Cabaj, a Tamarack Associate, has largely led our exploration of Evaluation and in his most recent offering, profiles the work of expert evaluator Ricardo Wilson-Grau and his book Outcome Harvesting: Principles, Steps, and Evaluation ApplicationsThe book review introduces us to what Mark describes as “one of the most important evaluation methodologies to emerge in the field of social change and innovation in the last 20 years” – Outcome Harvesting.

The most meaningful distinction Wilson-Grau makes in his methodology is between the concept of impacts and outcomes. Impacts are end-states that changemakers work towards, such as reduced rates of poverty. Outcomes are the specific and incremental changes in behaviour that are required to reach that end-state. Focusing on outcomes allows the evaluator or social innovator to approach complex systems by analyzing discrete outcomes that are produced along the way, with each outcome analyzed in three ways:

  • What was the outcome? (e.g. action, behaviour change)
  • Why is the outcome significant?
  • What was the contribution to the outcome?

Beyond introducing a new and fascinating evaluation lens, Outcome Harvesting: Principles, Steps, and Evaluation Applications provides a solid structure for implementing the methodology itself, along with practical tools, tips, and examples. Mark’s review is an approachable introduction to this new way of thinking, and Wilson-Grau’s book itself promises to be a rich source for inspiration for changemakers across North America and beyond.

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Informing the Renewal Process with Lessons from the Past 


MississaugaGetting all parties to commit to a strategy targeted at reducing poverty is a challenging task.  Many poverty reduction strategies are limited to a period of a few years.  So, what happens when that time is up but poverty persists? How can your collaborative use their learnings from the first cycle to better inform the next iteration?

The Peel Region Poverty Reduction Committee identified their first priorities for poverty reduction in 2012, which has informed and impacted municipal policy since.  They initiated Peel’s Affordable Transit Program, the Living Wage Initiative, the local Food Map and Food Charter, among other successes.  They created awareness around the existence of poverty in Peel Region, and how it affects rural and urban community members.  It also allowed key stakeholders and community members to work together to achieve results.

The next phase of the process was a three-year period of renewal whereby the Committee expanded on some priorities and retracted on others.  They narrowed the scope from raising overall awareness of poverty in Peel and how it affects people, to three specific priorities: Income Security, Economic Opportunity, and Well-being and Social Inclusion.  The strategy also targets specific populations who are impacted by poverty due to discrimination and other systemic barriers. 

This Case Study details how the Peel Region Poverty Reduction Committee built from their first strategy spanning 2012-2015, to renewing a long-term 10-year plan for 2018-2028.  The Committee shares the difficulties they encountered during the initial cycle and the renewal process, some surprisingly easy processes, as well as some advice for other collaboratives who are attempting the renewal process.


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Where Can Your Work Have the Most Impact?


Post It WallLast year I began a series of papers focused on exploring current methods and approaches for Community Innovation - methods that can help changemakers discover and steward opportunities for positive change in communities. The first paper in that series, Design-Based Methods¸ explored the potential of those methods for community change. However, design-based methods aren’t the only possible pathway to Community Innovation.

In the past few months I have worked with a number of different organizations to develop their Theories of Change - a strategy framework that can help groups think through their intended impact and how they will get there. One of the central question many groups wrestle with is, “Where should we focus our work to have the greatest impact?” While design-based methods can provide some ways to approach answering that question, there are many other possible approaches.

Systems Thinking encourages us to understand the interconnections inherent in our contexts. In a living ecosystem, changes made in one area have ripple effects throughout the ecosystem (as demonstrated in the delightful video, How Wolves Change Rivers). Our social systems are no different. A Systems Thinking approach suggests that we should seek to understand our broad social systems and relationships to identify the places where our work can have the greatest impact. Systems Thinking helps us zoom out and examine our broader context to pinpoint where we might act.

Another perspective can be found in the world of Behavioural Insights. This field looks at human psychology: the ways we make decisions and how the design of our environments shape our decisions. By understanding these connections, small changes that we create to our environments can result in dramatic changes in behaviour, such as the connection between the organ donation registration process and donor registration rates, or the importance of placing store products at eye level to increase sales volume.  Zooming in to understand how we make decisions might allow us to make small changes for big impacts.

Over the next few months we’ll explore both of these approaches to unpack how they might help us answer the question, “where can your work have the most impact?”

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Vibrant Communities Working to Involve Cities in “Opportunity for All”


CityThe Tamarack Institute’s Vibrant Communities (VC) is excited to be working to identify and illuminate ways that community-based organizations and cities can be active participants in “Opportunity for All - Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy.”

During the development of the strategy, the Cities Reducing Poverty network worked with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) to support data collection and consultations. For example, Vibrant Communities and the Cities Reducing Poverty network partnered with ESDC to host 33 community conversations from coast to coast. Cities Reducing Poverty members and the Tamarack Institute also submitted written submissions during the consultation period. We were excited to see the results of these consultations and their lessons in both the Federal What We Heard report and the strategy itself. In addition to welcoming “Opportunity for All,” the Tamarack Institute formed a four-year partnership agreement with ESDC to support community-based Collective Impact projects in Canada. One component our partnership agreement included was support for developing tools to help cities be actively involved in the national federal poverty reduction strategy.

We will be supporting cities by hosting a conference and developing a guide. Vibrant Communities’ Cities Reducing Poverty will host a conference in 2020 focused on ways that cities are involved in the national poverty reduction strategy. Our guide will be produced this year in consultation with key stakeholders and municipal leaders. This guide will follow Tamarack’s trusted “TEN” guide formula and highlight ways that cities are already being successful, good ideas for moving forward with the strategy, and key resources for cities.

As part of our work on the TEN Guide for cities implementing the federal poverty reduction strategy, we recently produced an article that looked at the federal strategy, the importance of cities in poverty reduction, key ways that place-based strategies were already engaging with federal poverty reduction tools and some possible ways that this work could be strengthened. Some of the powerful ways that cities were already using Federal programs include Vibrant Calgary’s tax clinics supporting modest income individuals to receive $3,721,649 in refunds and benefits; Smart Start Halton increasing the uptake of the Canadian Learning Bond so that $8,744,000 was made available for lower-income families to support post-secondary education; and End Poverty Edmonton supporting a low income transit pass that was providing accessible transit in Edmonton.

Over the coming months, Vibrant Communities will be working with key stakeholders and members to identify ways that cities can make use of new resources that emerge as part of “Opportunity of All.” However, some of the initial thoughts that have emerged include the improved availability of data and metrics for poverty reduction such as the market basket measure and developing dashboard, new resources to support community-based tax clinics, new research to support housing strategies, and the new Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy. The above, of course, is just the start of a welcome conversation on how cities, as key leaders in poverty reduction, can integrate the federal strategy into their work to move both forward. This is a project that we look forward to advancing in the coming months and year.

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Conserving our Natural Environments:  A Capacity Challenge


Golden Gate BridgeFrom time to time, the Tamarack Institute is contacted to be a key informant in different studies.  Last Fall, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and its partners were interested in understanding how capacity building could improve sustainability and outcomes for the California Landscape Stewardship Network. 

The results of this research study have been released and provide useful recommendations for those working on environmental issues as well as those working across systems and geographic boundaries.  The Capacity Building for Collaboration:A Case Study on Building Sustainable Landscape Scale Stewardship Networks in the 21st Century looked at the unique challenges facing landscape scale stewardship networks.  Primary is the challenge of financing the capacity of the stewardship networks; finding sufficient stable funding to steward and sustain conserved lands; and increasing public and funder awareness of the importance and vitality of natural environments. 

The Case Study includes several success stories from the field of land conservation including examples of foundations who have invested in network and capacity building as well as land conservation. It concludes with 14 key recommendations which are useful to all systems change practitioners not just those involved in stewarding and conserving natural environments.  These recommendations include: 

  1. When initiating collective work, strategically align and leverage partner budgets and funds to maximize the impacts and benefits.
  2. Seek to include diverse interests and understand your role within the larger network’s efforts.
  3. Develop landscape-scale funding priorities through the network; create a menu of investment opportunities; and leverage network staff expertise to pursue joint funding from diverse sources.
  4. On large-scale, cross-boundary projects, determine which partner is best positioned to negotiate the most cost-effective rates with contractors, universities, and other involved agencies.
  5. Never rely on a single sector for funding. Develop a multi-year business model that leverages multiple funding streams (e.g., public and private funding; fee-for-service income).
  6. Avoid accepting money that is not aligned with your goals and approach.
  7. Don’t scope a particular problem according to a particular grant opportunity. Resist the temptation to do a smaller project or approach that doesn’t achieve your desired outcomes.
  8. Strategically leverage existing funder relationships to source additional funding opportunities.
  9. Know the funders and policymakers in your region and actively include them in your network.
  10. Think of funders as key influencers first; find opportunities to align with them beyond just financial resources and cultivate relationships built on trust. Avoid transactional thinking and behaviours and instead plan for the long term.
  11. Generate impact! Then make every effort to tell your impact story.
  12. Use non-technical language and the power of metaphor to increase resonance and visibility with policymakers and funders.
  13. Track and measure your progress and develop network-relevant metrics tied to increased scope and scale of relationships and trust; systems-level problem solving; resource sharing; operations and communications efficiencies; crisis preparedness; diversity, equity and inclusion benefits; and community resiliency.
  14. Keep working to improve your business strategy, fundraising, and communications efforts. Seek out resources, specialized training, peer-to-peer learning, and mentoring.

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The Latest from the Field

Upcoming Events

Collective Impact: Leading Theory to Action
A Train-The-Trainer Workshop

March 19-20, 2019
Toronto, ON

Collective Impact: Leading Theory to Action is focused on backbone staff and/or consultants and facilitators supporting Collective Impact efforts.  Participants will be immersed in Collective Impact content so that they can provide capacity building training to their leadership tables and community volunteers.  Participants will leave the Train-The-Trainer session with the capacity to train others.  In addition, participants will be invited to join a Community of Practice of skilled leaders who are working to advance Collective Impact efforts.

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Citizens at the Centre: A Community Engagement Thought-Leader Series

Halifax, NS | May 1
Ottawa, ON | May 2
Toronto, ON | May 3
Calgary, AB | May 6
Vancouver, BC | May 7

Citizens at the Centre is a brand new one-day workshop designed to build your Community Engagement capacity. Max Hardy, a leading voice on the use of deliberative democracy in community change work, will be joining Tamarack's Liz Weaver and Sylvia Cheuy all the way from Australia, to share his insights and experience to help you develop your Community Engagement toolkit while taking a people-first approach. 

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ABCD: Healthy Neighbourhoods, Healthy Cities

May 28-30
Edmonton, AB

Tamarack's Cities Deepening Community, in partnership with the City of Edmonton, is excited to announce a three-day learning opportunity, ABCD: Healthy Neighbourhoods, Healthy Cities in Edmonton, CanadaWe will bring together over 250 community and neighbourhood development practitioners to explore the use of Asset-Based Community Development and explore leading neighbourhood revitalizing techniques.

The workshop will feature masterclasses led by world-renowned thought leaders in the field and the opportunity for learners to earn a master’s certificate in either ABCD or Neighbourhood revitalization.

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Upcoming Webinars

Re-thinking Democracy: Strategies That Put Citizens at the Centre

Date: February 14, 2019
Guest: Max Hardy
2019 Webinar Rethinking Democracy

Power, Leadership, and Community Change: Common Ground or Crisis?

Date: February 25, 2019
Guest: Paul Schmitz and Liz Weaver
2019 Webinar Power, Leadership, and Community Change

The Systems Change Evaluation Canvas: A Tool for Planning to Evaluate Systems Change

Date: March 12, 2019
Guest: Mark Cabaj and Galen MacLusky
2019 Webinar The Systems Change Evaluation Canvas