TransformTO: A Case Study in Multisolving


TransformTO Case Study

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them"
- Albert Einstein

Traditional approaches for addressing a complex issue like climate action have emphasized a siloed, single-sector approach that focuses on a specific set of manageable, achievable actions.  Growing interest in the Collective Impact framework and its effectiveness stems, in part, from its intentional emphasis on a multi-sector approach to tackling complex issues to generate new possibilities.  Collective Impact’s emphasis beyond programmatic solutions to also encompass solutions focused on changing the systems that help hold those issues in place has also been credited for its capacity to generate impact.

For many of us, the capacity to work across sectors and embrace a systems-change lens is one that lags behind our comfort and capacity to operate within a single sector and/or single organizational paradigm.  In fact, because we are “part of the system” it can often be extremely difficult for us to clearly see the multitude of ways in which we may, unintentionally, be contributing to the very problem we are trying to solve.  Collaborating across sectors enables these “blind spots” to be made visible.  This is how we begin, as Einstein urges, to see things differently and discover new, previously unimaginable solutions to the issues we are most wanting to solve.

Knowing how challenging it is to reimage our work through a new paradigm is just one of the many reasons I have been inspired by, and keen to develop a just-released Case Study entitled TransformTO: Multisolving in ActionThis case study profiles the work of TransformTO and highlights their inspiring work that embraces the concept of multi-solving – a new approach for tackling complex issues by focusing simultaneously on achieving multiple benefits across a broad array of sectors simultaneously. 

TransformTO is the City of Toronto's Climate Action Strategy to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.  It was collaboratively developed by the City of Toronto’s Environment & Energy Division and The Atmospheric Fund between 2015 and 2017 with input from 10 city divisions and 20 diverse community representatives.

The TransformTO approach exemplifies multisolving, an emerging approach for tackling complex problems in a truly holistic way that not only achieves ambitious environmental targets while at the same time positively contributing to health, the local economy and social equity at the same time.  In the case of TransformTO, multisolving has resulted in a plan to reach the city’s bold environmental targets while ALSO improving health, growing the local economy and improving social equity at the same time.  

Multisolving “is a strategic approach to finding solutions to the interconnected problems facing the climate and human society – producing multiple benefits in health, justice, equity, resilience and well-being.”  “A multisolving effort improves metrics in more than one sector with the same investment of time, money or political will.”  Climate Interactive, a Washington D.C.-based climate change think-tank is credited with developing the practice of multisolving that shaped the thinking of the TransformTO engagement team.     

The lens of multisolving has deeply informed the TransformTO team’s thinking about the work of stakeholder and community engagement.  The central mandate of TransformTO focused on the question: How will we reduce Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050?   Embracing a multisolving perspective led the team to pose a different question:  How can we mobilize diverse community intelligence and resources to address local priorities and contribute to an equitable, low-carbon city?

 This new question has certainly set the stage for greater collaboration with a diversity of partners.  This is positive since it has been shown that cities that collaborate with other actors deliver twice as many climate actions because they are able to take advantages of synergies and inter-dependencies that a single-sector, city-driven approach would never have access to.

TransformTO’s willingness to recognize the possibility of simultaneously achieving ambitious environmental, health and social goals in response to citizen and stakeholder input is inspiring.  It also highlights a promising new approach – multisolving – that fundamentally changes our traditional approach to addressing complex community issues. 



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Forming a Foundation to Build Great Things


Building Foundation

We understand that we need to bring a group of people together when we want to start a new project or develop a strategy. We go out and ask people we know, put an invitation in the local paper and hope people show up. Then we jump right into the “doing” and don’t spend time building the foundations of a good team or leadership group. This focus on results over process often leads to the same issues - team members not sure why they are at the table, don’t help, never show up or no one takes ownership of the strategy. 

Building the case for any project takes time and effort to make sure that you have the right people, it’s a diverse group, and there is an understanding of what the project/activity is about and why they are at the table.

Building relationships and trust is the most important aspect of starting your activity or strategy. As such, we developed a step-by-step guide for building the case for a neighbourhood strategy which outlines a process for bringing together your municipality, neighbourhood service organizations, local retail and residents to build a common agenda to create a healthy, vibrant and happy neighbourhood. Developing a neighbourhood strategy will help to guide programs, initiatives and development within each neighbourhood so that it builds a greater sense of community. 

This guide outlines the first step in developing a neighbourhood strategy - building the case to your city staff, organization, group, residents and Council. To build the case, there are four areas that will help shape the “why” the neighbourhood needs to come together and develop a strategy.

Heather Engage Blog July

  • Determining your vision - Determine why a community needs a neighbourhood strategy, what is the motivation behind wanting to have a strategy?  Have issues precipitated the need?
  • Community Scan - Doing a community scan allows you to talk to residents in the neighbourhood, organizations, groups to determine the scale of the strategy and if there is support and potential champions. 
  • Engaging Stakeholders - Understand the level of resident support for the potential neighbourhood strategy and clearly communicate why it is important to have a strategy. You will need to think about different neighbourhood stakeholders, champions or partners whose opinions on the issue are important.
  • Leadership team - A leadership team will play a key role in overseeing the plan process. The key to a successful leadership team is to form a diverse group consisting of individuals that have the trust and respect of others in the community. 

The guide is divided in to four sections that provide questions, resources and tools to support groups through the process of building the case.  It is also the first of a four-part series that will walk groups through the process of developing a neighbourhood strategy.

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How Does the Design of our Communities Make Us Healthier and More Socially Connected?

BY: Charito Gailling

Public SpacesEver notice how the design of public space can shape the behaviour and interactions of people within it?  Think about how likely you would be to ride your bike to the park instead of driving, choose healthier foods, or stop to chat with neighbours if you didn’t feel safe or if the services you need are not accessible or affordable.  Our health is significantly influenced by the design of our communities, and partnering with local governments in our public health efforts is a powerful strategy to encourage healthy living and prevent chronic disease.

To support the integration of health considerations within community planning and design, BCCDC Population & Public Health maintains a reference resource called the Healthy Built Environment Linkages Toolkit: Making the Links Between Design, Planning and Health (Version 2.0, 2018).  Since its original release in 2014, the HBE Linkages Toolkit has been rapidly adopted by health professionals and others who collaborate with local governments for credible health research and key messages. 

Based on literature reviews and weighted assessment criteria, the HBE Linkages Toolkit considers five core “features” of the built environment: neighbourhood design, transportation systems, food systems, natural environments and housing.  These five features are unpacked to present a synthesis of research relationships between planning principles and health outcomes.  Heathier weights, for example, are associated with the walkability of our neighbourhoods and transportation systems.  The current version also includes new practice considerations for small and medium sized communities, research findings related to the economic co-benefits of promoting healthier built environments, and highlights health outcomes related to social well-being.

In addition to promoting healthy living behaviours, community design can also reduce environmental health risks associated with chronic diseases and conditions like cancer, cardiovascular conditions, mental illness, as well as preventable injuries.  There is strong evidence that expanding natural elements across the landscape can decrease cardiovascular mortality by mitigation of urban heat islands and air pollution. Site and zoning bylaws which minimize exposure to environmental hazards are also associated with a decreased incidence of cancer via the intermediary effects of decreased radon exposure.

Interestingly, positive health outcomes can often be triggered through more than one aspect of the built environment.  Improved mental health and social well-being, for example, can be supported across all aspects of the built environment via potential planning interventions described in the Toolkit.  This allows health professionals the flexibility to weigh planning options and consider multiple health priorities and diverse contexts when in consultation with local governments on local area planning processes.

Intentional community design can even help shift broader social determinants of health when planning principles acknowledge and address inequities.  For example, the inclusion of different types of housing in a community is shown to positively influence residential instability and financial stress.  Equitable access to affordable healthy food options is strongly associated with improved diet quality and food service options.

The HBE Linkages Toolkit is supported by the BC Healthy Built Environment Alliance (HBEA) Steering Committee, and is maintained in close collaboration with partner organizations and content experts from regional health authorities, universities, local government and non-profit organizations.

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The Four Phases of Successful Poverty Reduction


Four Phases MoonAs a national network, Cities Reducing Poverty (CRP) now supports more than 70 cities and communities, representing over 250 municipalities, to reduce poverty locally. The CRP team convenes online peer discussions, hosts webinars, co-authors stories with members, and leads workshops; while their experiences are being captured, the CRP team listens to members and learns from their stories.

This convening and learning has surfaced four broad phases that successful poverty reduction collaboratives go through. They are:

  1. Early development
  2. Establishing a community-wide common agenda
  3. Implementing the plan
  4. Sustainability

Early Development

The earliest phase of development in a successful poverty reduction initiative starts with some interest in the community to tackle poverty in a different way, and the energy of just a few people - holding key positions - who are willing to commit the time and resources to bring the community together and build the momentum to create a common vision.

Establishing a Community-Wide Common Agenda

The second significant phase of development is establishing a community-wide common agenda. During this phase, the momentum to act on poverty moves beyond the initial group or roundtable and engages the entire community – including all four sectors – in establishing a common goal and complementary ways of working.

Implementing the Plan

The third phase is moving from planning to implementation. At this stage, the work shifts from planning to action, people take on new roles with the collaborative, and organizations work differently to achieve the community priorities.


The final stage of a successful poverty reduction effort is ensuring the initiative is sustainable enough to meet its long-term goals and is contributing to sustainable change. This requires continuing momentum; financial and leadership commitments; continually learning, improving and scaling efforts; and working towards policy and systems change. 

CRP Members EngageWhile there is a greater percentage of CRP network members that have poverty reduction strategies and are in the early stages of implementing them, of the 70+ members that Cities Reducing Poverty supports, 44% of members do not have plans yet. Members join the network at all different phases of development and are supported to progress from wherever they are, to the next phase(s). The breakdown is depicted in Table 1.

Due to the range of experience and capacity in the network, members come with a variety of challenges to discuss with peers and experts, which range from just beginning local conversations about poverty reduction actions, to how to influence regional-wide policy and systems changes.  

The case study Four Phases of Poverty Reduction in Saint John provides an overview for members in Stages A and B – or those considering/renewing their initiative – of what all four phases are, and an example of what each of those phases has looked like on the ground for a community that is successfully reducing poverty.

Living SJ, the collective impact poverty reduction initiative in Saint John, started with just one influential champion changing the conversation. The group is now reporting real changes for families living in inner city neighbourhoods, including closing the education-achievement gap for children living in those communities, thanks to investments from cradle to career.

Learn about how Saint John got started, adopted collective impact, created a truly community-wide strategy, and scaled to the level of influencing provincial policy changes. Explore the leverage points – key people, relationships and moments - in their system that helped them scale their efforts, as well as their lessons at each stage along the way.

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How Do Power and Privilege Affect Your Work?


George Aye Thumbnail 2

We recently had the opportunity to speak with George Aye, co-founder of Greater Good Studio: a strategic design firm focused on advancing equity. George shared his experiences as a designer confronting issues of power in the social sector, the challenges with overcoming these issues, and three observations that are critical to charting a path forward. Many of us wrestle with issues of power every day and George’s insights and experience provide useful guidance for navigating them.

Observation #1: Power is the ability to affect an outcome

This is a lovely, simple definition of power, and it gives a very quick and easy way of assessing how much power we, and those around us, hold. How easy is it for you to affect an outcome, in comparison to those that you hope to support through your work? Acknowledging this power asymmetry encourages us to find ways to share power with others, particularly those with lived and living experience.

Observation #2: Privilege is not easily distributed. Not everyone can take the same risks

We all have different types of privilege, but what George helped us recognize is that our privilege affects the types of risks we can take. There has been a lot of focus recently on vulnerability, ‘leaning in,’ and ‘failing fast,’ but as George illustrated, these behaviours are inherently riskier. For those with greater privilege, these risks are easier to take than for those without. Understanding this point helps us reevaluate the expectations we put on ourselves and others and seek better ways of working with those who do not have the same types of privilege.

Observation #3: Power and privilege shape your world

George shared some fantastic illustrations of how power and privilege affects how we see the world. How do we refer to people who migrate from one country to another? If the group in question holds power and privilege, we might call them expatriates. However, if they hold less power and privilege we might call them immigrants or refugees. This type of labeling profoundly affects how we view each group and the ways in which we work with them. What labels do you use in your work, and what do they convey?

These observations give us quick and powerful ways to reflect on the ways in which power and privilege affect the work that we do. While we may seek to help others, these observations provide a lens through which to ask the question, ‘Are we actually helping, or are we actually reinforcing inequity through our work?’ While there are no easy answers to this question, George’s presentation is a great reminder of the need to be vigilant and challenge our assumptions of the impact of our work.

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The Latest from the Field

Upcoming Events

Community Change Festival 

September 30 - October 3 | Vancouver BC

Join changemakers from near and far to deepen your knowledge of the 5 practices needed to move your community change agenda from idea to action to impact. Learn the latest thinking, understand your role as a changemaker, and replenish your toolkit with practical ideas and tools you can use in your own community.

Join your peers from Canada, the US, Australia, and beyond to get feedback and insight from international peers, and return home with the latest thinking and resources on complex community challenges.

Equip Yourself as a Community Changemaker

2019 CCF Square

Upcoming Webinars

Hosting Great Virtual Meetings

Date: July 9, 2019
Guests: Maggie Chumbley & Sylvia Cheuy
Webinar Hosting Great Virtual Meetings

Navigating Community Change Trends with Future of Good

Date: July 11, 2019
Guests: Vinod Rajasekaran & Liz Weaver
Webinar Navigating Community Change Trends

Yes We Can! Federal Policies That Reduce Poverty

Date: July 15, 2019
Guests: The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development

Yes We Can! Federal Policies that Reduce Poverty