5 Lessons to Effectively Engage Context Experts people images holding hands.jpg


Authentic community engagement – the intentional process of co-creating solutions in partnership with people who know best, through their own experiences – is now recognized as an essential ingredient in any effective community change process.  Sadly, not all community engagement efforts are authentic.  Anyone who has participated in a process where the hosts are only interested in creating an appearance of listening while working to “sell” their own solutions knows how tokenistic some community engagement processes can be.

The Context Experts is a paper written by Lisa Attygalle that discusses how to increase the authenticity of community engagement and eradicate tokenistic community engagement through the meaningful involvement of context experts. The terms 'context expert' and 'content expert' are used to describe the difference between people who know a lot about the experience and local environment versus people who know a lot about the subject matter.

  • Context Experts are people with lived experience of the situation, including children and youth. They are the people who experientially know about the issue.
  • Content Experts are professionals, staff in your organization, service providers, and leaders with formal power who have knowledge, tools, and resources to address the issue.

The paper includes three real-life stories of authentic engagements, and features five lessons to consider when designing community engagement processes, including:

  1. Elevating the voice of the context expert
  2. Providing context experts with ownership and the ability to shape the solution
  3. Honouring and recognizing the time and talent of context experts
  4. Removing barriers to participation
  5. Aiming for transformational experiences, not transactional ones

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How to Develop a Common Agenda for a Collective People Meeting Together.jpgImpact: A 5 Step Guide


How to Develop a Common Agenda for a Collective Impact: A 5 Step Guide may be the most practical paper on implementing Collective Impact that you’ve ever read.  Building a common agenda is fundamental to all community change efforts that embrace a collective impact approach. It is, however, one of the most difficult phases of a community change process, and if done incorrectly will cripple effectiveness as a community moves to implement its collective impact plan.  The five steps for creating a common agenda are:

  1. Form a Leadership Team – This team agrees to work together for 12-18 months and assumes responsibility for developing and promoting the common agenda and shared measurement of your collective impact work.
  1. Identify 100 Champions from Multiple Sectors – Identify and convene the top 100 people from the four sectors – community or not for profit; business; government; and, people with lived experience – whose knowledge, connections and credibility is critical to the success of your collective impact work.
  1. Engage the Entire Community – Implement a broad-based community engagement strategy that enables you to get input, feedback and really hear from your community about your common agenda.
  1. Develop Short-Term Action Teams – These teams – with mandates of no more than 6 months – are tasked with implementing early win strategies to demonstrate the possibility of your common agenda; and,
  1. Write Up Your Common Agenda and Shared Measurement Strategy – Take the time to articulate your plan in a simple yet compelling way and use this document to solicit partnerships and ongoing participation from your top 100 people and the organizations they represent.

Most of the literature written on collective impact is “idea-based” rather than as a “how-to” guide for good reason. Complex community change work is so context-specific that you cannot be prescriptive in how things are done. But on the flip side, you can learn so much from experiencing how someone else has tackled a problem and tailor it to your own specific situation. 

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FCM: Starting Local to End Poverty in CanadaFCM Ending Poverty Starts Locally Report


Last month, on behalf of 2,000 member municipalities, and representing 90% of Canadians, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) released Ending Poverty Starts Locally: Municipal Recommendations for a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy. The publication presents a vision of an equally prosperous Canada where each person can find genuine opportunities to thrive and seize their full potential. It speaks to the need to align efforts between all orders of government, businesses, and community groups, and recommends the most essential federal actions to prioritize through a Canadian poverty reduction strategy.

The federal role in maximizing the impact of poverty reduction efforts includes providing decisive leadership, bringing all orders of government together, investing in critical areas, and leveraging policies that complement, enable, and scale up locally anchored solutions. Municipalities, in turn, work as catalysts for change, building local solutions, developing and implementing poverty reduction plans and strategies, filling gaps in support systems, and complementing supports at other orders of government.

Engaging municipal leadership in poverty reduction is also one of Vibrant Communities Canada’s leading priorities, dating back to 2001 when 13 Trail Blazer municipalities joined forces with Tamarack, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and Caledon Institute of Social Policy to test how a place-based, multi-sectoral poverty reduction roundtable approach could move the needle on poverty. Over fifteen years later, we’ve developed numerous reports and resources that demonstrate how local governments are host to some incredible levers for change, including policies, programs, and investments.

Today, the actions recommended by FCM align more than ever with the work of Vibrant Communities Canada’s 57 Cities Reducing Poverty members from across the country, several of which also belong to FCM’s membership. 

Collectively, our mission is to:

  • Align all levels of government
  • Hone in on Game Changing areas of poverty reduction (e.g. affordable housing, transit, and childcare)
  • Ensure initiatives support our communities’ more vulnerable populations (e.g. newcomers, Indigenous groups, seniors, and people living with disabilities)
  • Expand and renew existing programs (e.g. the Homelessness Partnering Strategy)
  • Explore innovative approaches (e.g. basic income models)
  • Support the needs of our country’s diverse geographies (e.g. telecommunications in rural areas)

We also look forward to the release of the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy in 2018 and how this will influence the work of cities.

Read FCM’s recommendations for the most essential federal actions that should be prioritized in a Canadian poverty reduction strategy: Ending Poverty Starts Locally: Municipal Recommendations for a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy

Learn More:  

Towards a Federal Poverty Reduction Strategy

Vibrant Communities Canada


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Do YOU Speak Translate?We Speak Translate


The We Speak Translate project is a unique collaboration between Google Translate and the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA), (Victoria, BC, Canada) that unlocks the potential of the Google Translate app to support refugee resettlement and newcomer inclusion in local communities.

In October 2016, ICA’s Community Integration Coordinator, Kate Longpre approached Google Translate with the idea for the We Speak Translate project.  The project objective was to address the number one barrier to new immigrant integration: language.  Furthermore, Kate was interested in repurposing technology, as a tool and symbol for welcoming communities, which value diversity and inclusion.  Google Translate was immediately interested in the project concept and in April 2017 the We Speak Translate pilot project launched in Victoria, BC, the first location worldwide to initiate the project.  Roque Silva, Interaction Designer with Google Translate articulates Google’s enthusiasm for the project well, “Google is humbled and excited to be supporting this project with the goal of helping New Canadians make the often-challenging transition to life in Canada through language and engagement.”

The project involves training community stakeholders, organizations and institutions in the Google Translate app.  Upon completion of the free, 40-minute training, participants receive a We Speak Translate decal, a visible symbol of inclusion and commitment to promoting diversity and communication across language barriers. Familiarity with the Google Translate app among community stakeholders establishes a common platform for communication while newcomers develop their English language skills.  Ibrahim Hajibrahim, a Syrian Resettled Refugee has high praise for this project, “When I see the We Speak Translate sticker in a window, I feel confident that people want to speak with me and get to know me.”

To date, over 600 community members and stakeholders have received Google Translate training through the We Speak Translate project. Project training has occurred for staff at local libraries, recreation centres, social service organizations, museums and banks.  Organizations, businesses and institutions that serve new immigrants and refugees benefit from participating in the We Speak Translate project and training.  Ben Fast, Programs and Communications Coordinator of the BC Museums Association describes the beneficial impact of We Speak Translate this way, “The We Speak Translate program opens up a world of engagement possibilities for immigrants, newcomers and tourists, especially in small communities where language resources may be lacking.  The Google Translate app, is a big boost to the museum sector in BC as we strive to be more inclusive, more welcoming, and better able to meet the needs of our communities and visitors.”

The scope of the project continues to expand, most recently, the We Speak Translate project was endorsed by the City of Victoria and training for all City staff will commence in the fall of 2017.  The Cities of Migration, a lead think tank for integration strategies globally, hosted a webinar with over 300 participants from all over the world. At a time where communities are looking for ways to welcome and integrate new immigrants, the We Speak Translate project offers a tangible, accessible, low cost initiative which can be replicated in communities around the world. 

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Governance Boot Camp: A Boost for Boards Group of people sitting.png


It’s a “camping experience” like no other…

Since 2009, over 400 chief executive officers and board chairs from not-for-profit organizations across Canada have attended 11 of Capacity Canada’s Manulife Board Governance Boot Camps.  Over three and a half days, participants increase their knowledge of Board roles and become more generative thinkers and innovative decision-makers. 

Led by a faculty of governance industry experts using a variety of teaching tools, and through insightful discussions, participants come away with new ideas and fresh insights to deal with challenges many boards now face. But the experience doesn’t end on the final day. About three months later, participants gather once again for a follow-up ‘graduation’ session to share their assignments and new-found knowledge. The boot camp is a great way for not-for-profit groups to start developing new ideas to meet the needs of not only their clients, but their own boards.

Boot Camp graduates overwhelmingly report they are very satisfied with the program, identifying the most valuable aspects to be: the people, environment, resources, and strategies.  In the words of one participant, “I would recommend this course to any not-for-profit!  My experience was fabulous.  The course was very well organized and the speakers were true experts!” 

In November 2016, nearly 50 people representing 19 organizations took part in a camp held in Kitchener, Ontario and Capacity Canada organizers plan to double that number when the next Manulife Board Governance Boot Camp is held on November 16-18, 2017 at the Holiday Inn Kitchener-Waterloo Conference Centre. The follow-up session is scheduled to take place in mid-March of 2018.

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Enhancing Capacity to Shape Public Policy Board room with people meeting.png


Non-profits championing community change efforts know that sustainability often requires focused strategies for policy and systems change. However, it can be challenging for them to build the capacity to engage effectively in the public policy process. To address this challenge, Maytree has launched the Maytree Policy School.

Beginning in January 2018, this six-month Toronto-based program will support 20-25 individuals working on public policy to develop their skills and competencies, and enhance their organization’s strategic engagement in the public policy process. It will combine a series of learning approaches including in-person sessions and a peer mentoring component which pairs participants with public servants.

If you are responsible for the policy work of your organization and are looking to strengthen your “public policy muscle,” this is an opportunity you will want to consider. 

The deadline to submit applications is 5:00 p.m. on October 6, 2017.

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The Latest from the Field

Upcoming Events

Community Change Institute:
Cities of the Future: Co-Creating Tomorrow

September 25-29, 2017
Vancouver, BC

The Community Change Institute is our signature event at Tamarack and will be taking place in Vancouver, BC this year from September 25-29th. This year's theme is Cities of the Future: Co-Creating Tomorrow and will feature a stacked cast of keynote and workshop speakers, fascinating city walk-abouts, a co-creation lab and many opportunities to dive deep into the content with your peers from across the globe and apply what you're learning to the local context and projects in which you work. It will feature leading thinkers to inspire us daily, including:

  • John Helliwell, co-editor of the World Happiness Report
  • Shauna Sylvester, Director of Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue
  • Julian Agyeman, McConnell Cities for People Fellow
  • David Korten, Co-founder of YES! Magazine
  • Ben Hecht, President of Living Cities
  • Jayne Engle, Leader of Cities for People
  • Mark Cabaj, President of Here to There Consulting
  • Cedric Jamet, Associate at Percolab

Learn more and join the growing number of change makers who have already registered.

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Evaluating Community Impact 

November 14-16, 2017
Saskatoon, SK

Mark Cabaj and Liz Weaver have received overwhelming praise for the success of this three-day gathering, and now it is back for one last session, but with updated curriculum and a new workshop format that will help you develop concrete elements of an evaluation strategy for your work back in your own community. 

Highlights will include:

  • Three frameworks to organize and communicate the “progress” of community change initiatives
  • Four scenarios for using hard and soft indicators to capture outcomes
  • A new method for demonstrating a group’s contribution – rather than attribution  to outcomes
  • Five aides to improve the chances that social innovators and evaluators develop evaluations that are used
  • A continuum of strategy – ranging from emergent to traditional – and their implications for evaluation

This is the final workshop in the Evaluating Community Impact learning series. If you are interested in evaluating community change and impact, you will not want to miss this. 

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Deepening Community for Collective Impact

September 19, 2017
Caledon, ON

Join Paul Born for a one day workshop where you will learn how to engage and deepen your community in order to build a common agenda for large scale change.  Paul will share not only the fundamental principles of Collective Impact, he will provide key insights as one of North America’s top Community Engagement leaders on how Deepening Community can sustain us as leaders and produce the outcomes we so desire.

This workshop is almost at capacity, Register Now.


Upside Down Thinking for Collaboration

October 12, 2017
Edmonton, AB

A one day workshop with Mark Holmgren where he explores how Upside Down Thinking helps us think more clearly about the pressures in our organizations that maintain the status quo. He will show how thinking differently can challenge our most basic assumptions, and how these assumptions can sometimes reinforce the systems we are trying to change.

Learn more.



Can’t make it? Don’t fret.
By registering you will also receive a recording of the live session along with related resources.
Social Innovation: Leveraging Systems Thinking to Improve Community Partnerships
Speaker: Yassaman Nouri 
Date: September 14, 2017 | 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. EDT
Collaborating with the Enemy: Part Two
Guest: Adam Kahane, Director of Reos Partners
Host: Mark Cabaj, Here to There Consulting Inc.
Date: October 17, 2017 | 12:00 - 1:30 p.m. EDT