Collective Impact work sets the stage for Saskatoon’s Inter-Agency Response

Posted on July 28, 2020
By Elle Richards

The COVID-19 crisis has undoubtedly intensified vulnerabilities across communities. Saskatoon's Inter-Agency Response was created out of recognizing the unique challenges the pandemic would bring to agencies supporting vulnerable people. Born out of initial discussions through the Safe Community Action Alliance, it emerged into a comprehensive operation with over 65 organizations.

COVID responseThe response was structured with multi-sector partners and their diverse assets, and an Incident Command at the helm. Organized around specific actions and activities carried out by the response, the Incident Command Structure offered everyone on board incident command 101 training and implicit trust in carrying out their roles. As part of the process, a COVID-19 Vulnerable Sector Strategy was developed in order to chart a path of supports on priority areas of vulnerability, and prioritized support for agencies focusing on issues of deep food and housing insecurity – two key areas vulnerable people have been most affected by in the crisis and the two key areas that ensure people are safely isolated.

A number of important insights have been illuminated:

  • Communication pathways are critical as is understanding the structure and chain of command, necessary for quick decision-making at a time of crisis and urgency

  • Though Collective Impact work may not be about urgency, it is crucial in laying the groundwork; established relationships with partners has enabled trust and mobilizing into quick action

  • The response must meet people where they are at in order to keep them safe, including embracing a Harm Reduction model

  • Advocacy had to be built into this Incident Command Structure - conventional emergency responses do not have this, but community organizations inherently know and understand it

  • Every step has required front-line warriors to get things done, and created a wider recognition of barriers in place and how difficult navigating the system(s) can be

  • A collaborative approach means every person involved in the process is understood and supported in a connected way

This experience has seen a re-writing of a social contract whereby community is being valued for their knowledge and experience in adapting services and support. The response has now moved from an Incident Command Structure model into a maintenance committee resuming a Collective Impact model – one in which all stakeholders have consensus with a common agenda.

Saskatoon has a long history of paving the road to equitable change through collective impact efforts. Saskatoon’s Inter-Agency Response demonstrates what is possible when collective will and action come together. Moving forward, Saskatoon’s Poverty Reduction Strategy 12 Bold Ideas is being re-worked, taking into account the effects of COVID and in commitment to better outcomes, applying learnings from COVID-19 to poverty, including a call to make poverty an urgent public health crisis.

A special thanks to Colleen Christopherson-Cote in Saskatoon for her contribution to this article. 

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Collective Impact, Cities Reducing Poverty, Elle Richards

Elle Richards

By Elle Richards

Elle has joined the Vibrant Communities team as Manager of Cities, Cities Reducing Poverty. Her experience spans corporate, academic, health and community environments, and working on national, regional and local programs of work, both strategically and operationally. In recent years, Elle has focused her work around issues of food security, poverty and inequalities in health.

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