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Balancing Doing the Work Fast and Doing the Work Right

Posted on February 7, 2019
By Hannah MacDonald
Relentless incrementalism is the key to social change. There are many fall-1072821_1920
external influences that, despite how hard we work, will push progress back or catapult it forward. Particularly, the social, economic, and political climate significantly shape the ebb and flow of our work. Making social change sustainable, first requires investing in widespread community engagement to raise awareness of unique local issues and to involve everyone in the solutions.
Time is one of the most important investments we must make if we are really going to move the needle on complex challenges like poverty. It requires time to meet people where they’re at and bring them along; time to build trusting relationships with the people, groups and organizations that will help us achieve this change; time to look at what we’re doing and whether we’re doing the right things.

Cities Reducing Poverty members from across Canada report some of their biggest lessons are the necessity of and significant amount of time it takes to build partnerships, include everyone in identifying priorities, and engage parts of the community who haven’t been engaged yet. Halifax, Peel Region, and New Brunswick are just a few examples.

We all feel the pressure of the tension between the need to end poverty as quickly as possible and taking the time to do the work right.  We want to work as fast as we can so that fewer people live in poverty.  However, working quickly, and doing the wrong things can be just as ineffective as not working at all.  So, the work necessitates slow progress, with frequent evaluation, to ensure that we are targeting the right people, and the right problems with the right solutions.

Toronto is a recent example of this tension. Four years ago, in 2015, Toronto City Council approved a 20-year plan to reduce poverty in the city.  The plan is ambitious and comprehensive, including a focus on improving housing stability, access to services, transit equity, access to affordable and healthy foods, improving the number and quality of jobs in the city, and systemic change.  

In the initial four years, poverty has not been eradicated in Toronto, but significant progress has been made in awareness and understanding of poverty, and how it effects certain Torontonians - particularly youth. The city has also made several significant strides toward reducing poverty. Transit passes for children under 12 are free. A significant portion of funds are being dedicated to two new youth hubs at public libraries in the city that provides a place for youths to connect and do homework. 5,000 fee subsidies were added to the child care system, so that families can afford to send their children to daycare.

Despite successes, food bank usage rates are still increasing, and homelessness is in an urgent state.

How do we balance the need to do things fast and the need to do things right?  How can we create change that fits our own communitiesA lot of it is exploration – researching what tools and practices would best fit your own communities, governments, and citizens.  That step can take time, but it is vital in discovering how to most effectively work in your community.  

If achieving sustainable change is ultimately what we’re working toward, going slow and engaging all parties must be a key tenant of how we work.  This delicate balance will look different in each community and is something that every collaborative needs to perfect in their own time.  

What have the conversations or debates about timeframes looked like in your community? Please share your experience in the comments section (below) on how your group has found the right balance.

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Cities Reducing Poverty, Poverty Reduction Strategy, Hannah MacDonald

Hannah MacDonald

By Hannah MacDonald

Hannah is a Community Animator, supporting Vibrant Communities members and online learning community in both Cities Reducing Poverty and Cities Deepening Community. Hannah recently received her Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management, with a specialization in Development Studies from Carleton University.

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