Equity & Inclusion: Stepping Into the Role of the Learner
BY: Pamela Teitelbaum

working together 53As an outcome of the global pandemic declared in March 2020, we are bearing witness to seam-tearing changes to our socio-economic, health and political systems. All of this change comes the opportunity to re-design, re-create and re-focus how we want these systems to function, and how we as changemakers can participate in this process.

As practitioners of community change through our various practice areas an essential first step is to critically reflect on how we self-educate, and integrate reconciliatory approaches into our own practice. At the Tamarack Institute, we decided to do just that by engaging an internal process of critical reflection, and a series of talks with experts from the field to deepen our knowledge, skills and experiences around anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion.

Our first thought leader Suzanne Methot, was a special guest speaker for the Tamarack webinar entitled Creating a Culture of Equity and Reconciliation. She is also the author of the non-fiction book Legacy: Trauma, Story, and Indigenous Healing (ECW Press, 2019). The richness of this conversation with Suzanne was so illuminating that we wanted to share it with our network, in the hopes that it will also provide insights useful in your work.

In Conversation with Suzanne Methot

Where do we start? Can you share any advice you typically give to organizations once they’ve committed to a learning journey and to make meaningful change?

The first thing that always occurs to me when I’m supporting others through this process is that it’s imperative that we allow ourselves to be learners. Especially in the work environment, where we always think we have to be the experts. We have to own our expertise, but we need to also be learners. We need to allow ourselves to step back as the expert and engage in a process where you’re learning alongside your colleagues, clients, or participants. Stepping into the role of learner also means engaging in peer to peer education – helping each other in the journey. We need to ensure that certain things are present in the relationship:

  • Start by respectfully asking the questions that need asking. Don’t hold back. It’s your sacred duty.

  • Be sure to continuously, mindfully and respectfully challenge yourselves and each other.

  • Make sure you have a space outside official meetings where you can listen to and support one another too. It is an emotional journey and the process needs to be honoured. You can also find a community of practice, or a support space, with outsiders of your organization. It’s important to create a mindful, critically reflective space.

  • Another good starting point is always to engage with issues of power, starting with notions and roles of power within the system. Always consider your own roles individually, in groups, the group roles and power. For example, it sometimes happens in organizations where Indigenous community members are asked to take part in things where the staff are paid for their time making phone calls or sending e-mails, while the elders or other community members are not. This is about power, and it is deeply connected to privilege.

  • In parallel to the learning journey is the emotional journey. What’s really important is to make space for this, and to own your emotions. I often will do a centering exercise with those I work with – e.g., feet on the ground, connecting to the ground, what’s growing in the ground. Don’t let your emotions sideline the meeting and/or discussion. Sometimes when we’re talking about traumatic experiences as a result of colonization (i.e., residential schools, racism, etc.), emotional reactions can occur that derail the focus of the meeting. This is where I would bring back the notion of making space available outside the meeting room, because when things are derailed, it’s about power and taking up space. It’s better to deconstruct emotions outside of the room, rather than make the meeting or the discussion about the emotional reactions of the non-Indigenous people in the room.

  • Finally, I highly recommend that people read, read, read, read, and research, research, research… ask around for different sources, but stay critically thoughtful about these sources.

Take your learning further:

Share this article:

LinkedIn Icon Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

10 Ideas for a Community-Based COVID-19 Recovery

Community-Led COVID ResponseAs cities respond and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity to build back better—to center recovery efforts on improving the outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens, our civic life, and our planet.

These 10 Ideas were co-created by thought leaders and staff, and form part of a larger guide showcasing ideas, stories and resources for engaging the whole community through COVID-19 to work together for collective impact.

The full guide 10: A Collective Impact Guide for a Community-Based COVID-19 Recovery will be released later in the Fall.

1. Don’t let this crisis go to waste!

This pandemic shook the foundations of society. In environments that are traditionally slow-moving and bureaucratic, we have proven that we have the capacity for action, that immediate responses are possible, and that we can quickly pilot promising ideas and pivot our work to respond to community needs.

2. Harness this opportunity for a Just Recovery

Let’s do more than recover. We can address the deep disparities of equity and race, end poverty, combat climate change, and address loneliness and isolation. Let’s be aspirational rather than return to the status quo that did not work for most people and our environment. Use this momentum to ensure diverse representation—centering the voices of lived experience including Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, and Youth—in the conversations that are had and when rebuilding our cities’ structures.

3. Take a learning approach to adapt and respond to emergent change

The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a long emergency. In emergent situations we need to learn as we go. We need to take in information from our global community to learn from what is happening ‘out there’ and combine that with our shared local knowledge of what is needed ‘right here’. Once we have responded, we need to turn and learn from our actions—what happened, what else is needed, what should we do differently? Working in emergence might be a new skill set that needs to be developed. 

4. Engage your community in dialogue to reflect and learn

Spend time talking with your community to learn about how they have been personally impacted during the pandemic. Hearing personal stories connects us to issues and to each other in a way that is more meaningful than data alone. Engaging in dialogue allows for reflection, learning, relationship-building, connection, solidarity, and mutual support. Create space for community members to offer insights and solutions. 

5. Support and Mobilize Citizen Action

As we create plans for building civic life through COVID-19, consider ways that we might harness community activity. How can we create space for community members to share their ideas and time? How can we support citizen action? So often when planning from a central place—like city government—we are trying to “do for” the citizens of a community. Instead, consider strategies that “do with” citizens, or better yet, create spaces and encourage ideas from neighbourhoods so that they are empowered to “do on their own”. 

We can have a central plan that is implemented in a decentralized way. By supporting and mobilizing citizen action we build social capital and human capacity which are valued assets both during a pandemic and in pursuit of a sustainable city.

6. Re-imagine and diversify how we communicate

Take stock of all of the new ways we connect with each other and how quickly these changes happened: Workplaces became remote, community members are using social media and community platforms to mobilize, family and friends are connecting through virtual meetups, and services that were purely offered in-person are now online.

7. Build on the shifting worldviews

Build on the shifting worldviews that the pandemic has created and consider the policy changes that were quickly implemented during COVID-19. Advocate for making these “pilot” changes permanent. How might we debrief the people of our community to understand the changing mindsets that arose during the pandemic? How do we hold on to the empathy that was shared and the ensuing policies that evoked shared responsibility?

8. Take a strength-based and human-centered approach

Build upon your community’s assets. Consider the notion of radical localism in order to build a circular economy that addresses interconnected issues such as poverty and climate change. Think of neighbourhoods as local circular economies—sourcing what we can at a neighbourhood level, supporting local businesses, employing local people. Radical localism is also about solving local problems with local solutions, empowering those closest to the issues to share their knowledge and work together to leverage community assets. 

9. Reinforce collaboration over competition. Embrace a collective impact approach.

Collective Impact uses the support of a backbone infrastructure to help many people to work together toward a common agenda. This approach is used to address complex and stubborn community issues by enabling large-scale systems change. With a common agenda comes a shared measurement of those things we really want to see changed. Through mutually reinforcing activities and continuous communication, communities can work together aligning government, business, charities and the needs of citizen action groups toward a collective outcome.

10. Consider the Citizen role Preparing for Future Emergencies 

During the COVID-19 crisis we seldom relied on institutions or formal systems to support us where we lived. They were on standby in case of an acute crisis to offer shelter, food, or care, but for the majority of people it was neighbours and family members that went grocery shopping for those in need. Friends united to combat loneliness, to help people make sense of what was going on, and to encourage each other to stay true. It was a sense of citizenship (with good advice from the institutional experts) that kept people at home.

Learn More:

Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

Disaster Recovery the Pandemic Way

Disaster Recovery Pandemic WayThe pandemic has affected our jobs, families, and communities. We now see organizations and groups looking for the right way to move into the recovery phase of the pandemic. Since these are unprecedented times there are no templates or formulas on how we can work through recovery. I have come across three publications that outline a path to recovery in which community is put at the center.

The first is the article, We’ve Done it Following Floods, Fires and Earthquakes, But Can Society Recover from COVID?, which emphasizes the need for disaster recovery agencies to switch from top-down management to supporting individuals, groups and communities and help them identify, prioritize and implement their recovery process. The article outlines five principles that should underpin a post-disaster recovery so that it focuses on community engagement:

  • Inclusiveness commitment
  • Building relationships and mutual respect
  • Integrity
  • Transparency and accountability
  • Feedback and evaluation

The second is an article written by Jonathan Massimi on the Asset Based Community Recovery Framework. This framework was created to help community learn from what has happened during COVID and move forward in a better way. In this article, Jonathan outlines that in order to recover from a pandemic or disaster, we need to build social capital in our communities. The asset-based renewal framework draws upon what has been disrupted in our communities, what has emerged and what has been revealed by recognizing gifts, fostering connections, and telling stories.

The three phases are:

  • Crisis is an event or series of events that suddenly and unexpectedly disturb patterns of life.
  • Discovery is the feeling that moves us from Crisis to Discovery, fatigue. Incessant activity, information overload and screened connections leave us tired and asking, “how long can we keep this up?”
  • Resurgence is marked by hope which in turn inspires action. It is the reclamation of a community’s power.

This framework is different because it is a bottom-up approach. It allows individuals, associations, organizations/non-profits, businesses and municipalities to think about what role people and communities play in moving forward.

And lastly, a report from New Zealand’s Inspiring Communities called Shaping the Future, Enabling Community-Led Change. This report outlines their pandemic recovery process, and reflections on what worked, what matters and what is next. They found that having clear messaging and expectations, a strong sense of shared purpose, empowering people to work differently and adequately resourcing were key to having a strong locally led responses. The report outlined the things that went well during the crisis:

  • High trust funding,
  • Use of technology,
  • Better coordination and mobilization of local resources,
  • Nimble, flexible responses

New Zealand is now looking to carry forward the things that worked well during the crisis and embed them into ‘their business as usual’ so that they can be more effective when responding to future challenges.

There are many more reports and articles about pandemic recovery, but what is very clear is the question of whether we can use traditional disaster models to recover from this pandemic or do we need to adopt a new community method that combines traditional disaster planning with an asset-based community lens.

One thing we know for sure is that recovery from this pandemic may last for years so our models and methods must allow time to be creative and experiment. We need to learn to manage risk rather than attempting to remove it. Recovery is not linear, there is no right or wrong answer, but we need to step forward and allow for mistakes and change. Remember constraints lead to creativity and innovation!

Learn more:

Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

5 Lessons for Shifting Systems


Early Childhood DevelopmentOver the past seven years, the First 2000 Days Network has invested deeply in an adaptive learning approach to fuel change in the early childhood development (ECD) sector. The Network didn’t provide direct programming or service delivery to families and children. Instead, it focused on inter-organizational capacity and systems change.

After seven years, the Network is in a period of uncertainty. There is no long-term funding, and it’s unclear whether it will be able to pivot to an even bigger, more impactful strategy or if the pieces of its work will be re-distributed to others in the sector or lost entirely.

We’re focused on sharing as much insight and experience we can so that the learnings of the past seven years are not lost. This report is a summary of the high-level lessons that came out of the Network’s efforts. Building a high-quality network is a long process, and the Network’s success and failures are informative for other collaborative & community development efforts. As we look towards a period of change and uncertainty, we hope these lessons are helpful to other networks, organizations, and changemakers as they look to shift systems.

Lesson 1: Don’t underestimate your ecosystem

The Network’s inception benefitted from a broader context infused with energy and resources for Early Childhood Development. Over time, as Alberta’s landscape changed, the Network’s strategic options became limited by broader resource constraints and uncertainty.

Lesson 2: Culture Matters. A lot.

High-quality networks require a culture that is authentic, transparent, and facilitates distributed leadership. Building this culture requires a proactive investment by those within the network to create a sense of belonging and of responsibility, and to value learning openly and being frank with one another.

Lesson 3: The nature of the funding has to match the nature of the (changing) challenge

The Network couldn’t have been born without the three years of incubation funding that supported exploration and building a strong network approach. Over time, funders expected the Network to fit into more traditional funding buckets and programmatic outcomes. The disconnect between the Network’s funding and the change it was seeking to make became more stark over time.

Lesson 4: A Network approach adds unique value when you’re trying to make systemic change

The Network created value through successfully sharing, linking, aligning, and leveraging elements of the early childhood development system. Its power increased significantly as it gained legitimacy and recognition in the sector.

Lesson 5: Invest in collaborative capacity

The ability to take a collaborative approach to social change depends on a high-performing team that is compensated for their time.

We hope that this report can, alongside many other resources, guide whatever comes out of these turbulent times. We’ve assembled more information and resources on these five lessons learned, as well as a number of launching pads to help guide our systems change work into the future.

There will always be a need to support the youngest members of our communities in a way that acknowledges the complexities – and possibilities – of the systems that impact our everyday lives.

This is one piece of the puzzle.

Learn More

Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

The Latest from Tamarack

Upcoming Events & Courses

Participatory Evaluation: Community-Based Assessment + Strategic Learning Practices

Virtual Workshop 

September 22 | Sold Out - Join the Waitlist

October 20  | Register for the October Workshop

Engaging in participatory community-based assessment and strategic learning practices enriches community relationships and strengthens overall ownership and outcomes. This virtual workshop will provide you with a solid overview of the theory, concepts, approach, and practical steps needed for designing and conducting participatory evaluation. 

Join Pamela Teitelbaum and Lisa Attygalle and start reflecting on your own evaluation experience and gain an understanding of participatory evaluation approaches, concepts, and steps to strengthen and support how they design and conduct evaluation into their own community-focused work.

Learn more and register

2020 PE Virtual Square


Turf, Trust, and Virtual Collaboration

Virtual Workshop 

October 29 | Register for the October Workshop

Communities use collaboration to tackle some of their most complex issues, but we often dive into collaboration without truly understanding or embracing the human side of this work. This is even more challenging in a virtual environment.

Join Liz Weaver for an online workshop designed to equip you with
simple, practical tools and approaches to building trust in a virtual environment, and effectively engaging diverse community partners.

Learn more and register

_2020 TTC Virtual Square


Foundations of Community Engagement

Online Course | Access course materials anytime and learn at your own pace

Join Tamarack's Lisa Attygalle, Director of Community Engagement, in this new online course designed to build a foundation of knowledge and practice for your community engagement work.

Through video lessons, case studies, readings, and activities, you'll dig into the role of community, who should be engaged, community engagement techniques, how to overcome challenges, and how to evaluate your engagement activities.

This course is available to use at your own pace, but you'll be learning alongside a diverse group of Tamarack Institute learners. Engage in comments and questions on the online platform, and join Lisa for monthly small group coaching to get more personalized feedback and insight.

Learn more and register

2020 CE Foundations Square


Upcoming Webinars

Turning Uncertainty into Bold Action

Date: September 9, 2020

Speakers: Diana Renner and Liz Weaver

Rekindling Democracy - A Discussion with Cormac Russell

Date: September 16, 2020

Speakers: Cormac Russell and Heather Keam

A Just Recovery For All

Date: October 14, 2020

Speakers: Catherine Abreu, Natalie Appleyard and Maya Menezes

People, Practice, and Transformational Change

Date: October 21, 2020

Speakers: John Kania and Liz Weaver

Meaningfully Engaging Youth in Evaluation

Date: October 28, 2020

Speakers: Corliss Bean, Marika Warner, Bryan Heal and Pamela Teitelbaum