Understanding the Impact of Power and Privilege in Community Change



Power, Leadership, and Community

Over the past few years, the Tamarack Institute has been exploring the role and impact that power and privilege have in community change work. This concept has come out in a variety of ways, from shifting to participatory or collaborative evaluation practices, to valuing the work of context expertise or those with lived/living experience

We've also hosted a variety of conversations that dealt more directly with the impact of power differentials in community change work. Last year, we sat down with Paul Schmitz, Senior Adviser at FSG, about the need for both influential champions (grass tops) and community stakeholders (grass roots) to work together to build communities which include all voices. The main question we tackled was "if we know that community change processes that include and empower community members are both more empathetic and effective, why is the community so often excluded from the processes that are designed to serve them?"

Last year, we also hosted a conversation with George Aye, founder of Greater Good Studio. George previously gave the keynote address at the 2018 and 2019 Community Change Festival, and joined us to give an overview on the role power differentials play in community change work, and an exercise to identify these differences exist in our own work. From his perspective as a designer working in the social sector, he brought forward three key ideas:

  • Power Asymmetry affects your relationship with clients and the people that they serve
  • Privilege is not evenly distributed - not everyone can take the same risks
  • Power and privilege shape your world

The response to these resources and conversations has been overwhelming. To continue the discussion, we're excited to partner with George Aye to bring a new event to Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto this spring. Designing for Social Change: Understanding the Effects of Power and Privilege will equip you with practical experience and knowledge about how to elevate the voices of key constituents and stakeholders. George will be sharing an interactive exercise that will ensure that you will walk away with new techniques, perspectives and understanding about how design influences outcomes. 

If you are interested in learning more about how to elevate the voices of context experts, community members, or members of marginalized groups in your work, we encourage you to join us for this workshop. 

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Shift Your Evaluation From Activity to Impact Reporting



Cities Reducing Poverty members are showing increasing interest in making the shift from evaluating and reporting on their activities – such as the number of volunteer hours worked or the amount of people who registered for a program – to measuring and talking about their impact.

Collective Impact initiatives, by nature, seek to “move the needle” on issues such as poverty, and with such complex efforts, it is important to have a shared measurement system to help keep efforts aligned, hold one another accountable, and to have data to indicate progress and for making strategic decisions.

From March – August 2019, 17 Cities Reducing Poverty (CRP) members participated in a pilot coaching program to gain knowledge, skills and resources to help them start or upgrade their tracking and reporting of their impact. Many finished the year by publishing a 2019 Community Impact Report, despite beginning with a number of common evaluation challenges, including:


  • Lack of capacity for the coordinator – or backbone – and partners to dedicate to evaluation
  • Uneven availability and quality of local data from partners who host programs, projects and services
  • Lack of a common definition of what constitutes “poverty” and shared indicators of success
  • Mis-match between goals and data availability to track progress against those goals

Led by evaluator, Mark Cabaj, President of Here 2 There Consulting, the program provided an evaluation framework - adaptable at the local level, and comparable against similar collaborative efforts across Canada – to guide collaboratives in clarifying and formalizing their theory of change and establishing short, medium and long-term outcome goals and indicators.

Several communities developed new impact frameworks to guide and communicate their work broadly and some were able to continue with and/or adapt existing frameworks.

Here are four good ideas learned from the program, for building your own impact evaluation framework and plan:

  1. Shifting awareness and will – Build a strategy and track how you are creating an environment that is receptive to poverty reduction efforts, through awareness-raising, education and advocacy efforts.
  2. Policy and systems change – Start tracking and tracing the collaborative’s and partners’ activities to see how you have incrementally contributed to local and regional policy and systems changes.
  3. Niche initiatives – Clarify the logic and describe how outputs and outcomes of projects, programs and services are contributing to your medium and long-term goals.
  4. Population-level change – Discuss and establish one or more imperfect population-level indicators of poverty, in order to keep your eye on whether the local “needle” is moving on poverty.

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Taking a Whole-System Approach to Addressing Community Literacy at a Regional Level

By: Fiona Bramble, Co-Chair Greater Victoria Alliance for Literacy & Founder, President and Managing Editor, Here Magazine
Janine Hannis, Co-Chair Greater Victoria Alliance for Literacy
Keith Jones, Practice Lead, Challenge Dialogue System Network

literacyWe routinely hear from those with lived experience, service providers, funders, and other supporters about challenges in accessing various social support services. Unintentionally, these services are often fragmented, siloed, not well coordinated, and competitive. At a collective impact workshop in 2014, a small group of service providers pondered how they might better address these challenges, proclaiming—let’s form an alliance! This aspiration set us on a journey to better understand what was going on, why things were the way they were, and how they might be changed to achieve great collective impact regionally.

To begin, a broad range of literacy stakeholders were engaged in a community-wide dialogue over a two-year period to seek answers to these questions, which resulted ultimately in the design and establishment of a Greater Victoria Alliance for Literacy (GVAL). The results of a Challenge Dialogue in the fall of 2015 clarified the scope and shared intentions of the literacy community and informed the design of an Integral Strategy Roadmap™ in early 2016. The roadmap, co-created by multiple stakeholders in a series of facilitated workshops, is approximately 30 x 20” in size and comprises a comprehensive pattern of actions, and interconnected pathways of outcomes, and impacts. The roadmap embodies and supports the five conditions of collective impact: common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, communication, and backbone, which in our case, is a Stewardship Group.

In November 2019, GVAL was invited to present its work to the Peter Gzowski Foundation for Literacy (PGFL) Annual Forum in Calgary. This was a unique opportunity to be frank and share both our successes and our challenges with implementing a whole-system, regional strategy. Key successes include the establishment of a dedicated Stewardship Group that represents the regional literacy system, and securing funding for a coordinator to support the work of Stewardship Group. Challenges include the usual suspects of capacity and time—especially related to sustained and sufficient funding for implementation.

The Strategy Roadmap, designed to help guide the work of GVAL, is also a useful tool for other organizations and initiatives to think about systemic nature of literacy learning support.  Since Frontier College was among the participants in Calgary, we decided to apply our Roadmap to show how the findings of their recent national research report “Literacy and Essential Skills as a Poverty Reduction Strategy” were manifested in the GVAL Roadmap. Almost the entire Roadmap is illuminated. This kind of interpretive Roadmap was also done in early 2019 for the Immigrant Parents As Literacy Supporters (IPALS) program, a Decoda Literacy initiative of which UNESCO is making a case study as one of the best literacy practices globally!

Today, as members of the GVAL Stewardship Group, we are reflecting on our path of shared and collective exploration, learning, alignment, strategy, leadership and stewardship, commitment, successes, and serendipity.  That whole-system change is not for the faint of heart we now truly understand and appreciate. After all, collective impact is a leap of faith in some ways, and an ongoing journey of experimentation, learning, and adjustment.

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Calling all community changemakers! Join the Celebration of Neighbours in London, Ontario


IMG_5940Over the past three decades, there has been a shift in how we connect with one another. Today, people report fewer social connections, a decrease in tolerance and trust, and an eroding political and civic engagement atmosphere in our communities. Deepening community is a timely and powerful response to growing social isolation, loneliness, and disconnection. When residents choose to deepen community, they become empowered and engaged to build the trust and connections necessary to create vibrant, inclusive neighbourhoods.

In partnership with Fanshawe College, we want to celebrate the work that cities, neighbourhoods and communities are doing to deepen community. We are thrilled to launch our upcoming gathering, Celebrating Neighbours - Measuring the Impact of ABCD in London, Ontario on June 9-11, 2020. You are invited to join 300 of your peers at this unique and dynamic learning event that will celebrate the work that is happening and explore the critical role cities and neighbourhoods play in the creation of healthy, caring communities and municipalities.

Celebrating Neighbours - Measuring the Impact of ABCD is a three-day interactive learning opportunity featuring world-renowned thought leaders like Melanie GoodchildJohn McKnightLisa AttygalleJim Diers, Mark Cabaj and Paul Born as well as local practitioners, that will surely inspire you. There will be 15 workshops covering topics like building a sense of community, evaluating community work, community from an indigenous perspective, the role of caring in community, and two experimental tours.

Participants will also have the opportunity to take part in one of four masterclasses on ABCD, Neighbourhood, Engagement or Evaluation. These masterclasses that are small interactive learning experiences to dive deeper into the content with your peers. Participants will earn a certificate upon completion. Each morning participants will hear from two world-renowned keynote speakers and panels. These panels will dive deeper into the work residents do to build community. This will include small and large group conversations, and creative design features that include asset mapping, active twitter feeds, share fair and much more.

This will be a unique event, hosted in an environment with many creative learning opportunities, that you will not want to miss. Learn more about Celebrating Neighbours - Measuring the Impact of ABCD.

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The Latest from Tamarack

Upcoming Events

Co-Design: Facilitating Community-Led Innovation

Marck 4-5, 2020 | Toronto, ON

How can you bring diverse members of your community together to develop creative new ideas, innovative approaches to persistent problems, and build alignment and momentum for action?  

Join us for a hands-on facilitation workshop on different approaches to engage the community to innovate together, how to understand what makes these kinds of gatherings distinct, and tools that you can use to host them.

Learn More About Co-Design: Facilitating Community-Led Innovation


2019 Co-Design Square


Participatory Evaluation: Community-Based Assessment + Strategic Learning Practices

April 6-7 | Vancouver, BC

The community-based evaluation terrain has shifted significantly: from relying solely on an evaluation professional, to involving members of the community throughout an evaluation process. This workshop will answer questions, give you the language, and deepen your thinking and practice about how to engage with participatory and collaborative evaluation to evolve your community change efforts.

Learn More About Participatory Evaluation 

_2020 PE Square


Turf, Trust, and Collaboration: Practical Tools for Building Trust 

April 28 | Edmonton, AB

Increasingly, communities are using collaboration to tackle some of their most complex issues. How can we do this effectively when we don’t build practices which engage others and build trust?

This interactive workshop focuses on the core leadership competency of trust building. Learners will walk away with ideas, tools and approaches to effectively engage diverse community partners and intentionally build trusting relationships and collaborative impact.  Come prepared to share your experiences and insights in how to build trust.

Learn More About Building Trust

2020 TTC EDM Square


Designing for Social Change: Understanding the Effects of Power and Privilege

May 4, Vancouver | May 5, Calgary | May 7, Toronto

How do power and privilege impact your community change work?

George Aye will share a point-of-view on how social change happens when you understand the role of power and privilege. By sharing examples of work from Greater Good Studio, he will share principles for how to create a meaningful social change that push back against common professional norms that maintain the status quo. Through a series of intimate, facilitated conversations, participants will leave with a greater appreciation about the power they wield and an understanding of how their actions can leave others feeling less or more powerful.

Learn More About Designing for Social 

2020 GA Masterclass Square


Asset-Based Community Development Conference

June 9-11, 2020 | London, ON

This three-day interactive workshop will feature world-renowned thought leaders like Melanie GoodchildJohn McKnightLisa AttygalleJim Diers, Mark Cabaj and Paul Born, as well as local practitioners, that will surely inspire you! There will be 15 workshops covering topics like building a sense of community, asset mapping, conflict resolution, and an experiential bus tour. This year, we also want to explore the Citizen role in climate change and community from an Indigenous perspective. 

We are also delighted to offer you a choice of four Masterclasses on ABCD, Neighbourhood Revitalization, Community Engagement, and Measuring Impact.

Learn more about our Celebrating Neighbours gathering 

2020 ABCD London


The End of Poverty - Save the Date!

October 14-16, 2020 | Calgary, AB

Over our two and a half days together, you will learn from inspiring keynotes and peer leaders, take part in interactive workshops, and engage in an energizing cultural celebration. Together we will learn to:

  • Reconnect  your passion for helping others and energizing your community
  • Understand what it takes to move from an emerging state to a sustainable community-wide initiative
  • Create a large-scale common agenda and form multi-sector leadership teams for your collaborative efforts
  • Harness the latest techniques for community engagement and effective communication
  • Involve those who will benefit most from the change you hope to see
  • How to influence the policy environment and align your work with Canada’s first poverty reduction strategy

Save the Date

PRS Calgary Square


Upcoming Webinars


The Courage to Lead

Date: February 18, 2020

Speakers: Lucie Honey-Ray and Liz Weaver



Asking our Communities: A Journey to Understand Participation and Involvement

Date: February 25, 2020

Speakers: Lidia Kemeny and Paul Born