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Welcome to Tamarack - an Institute dedicated to the art and science of community engagement and collaborative leadership.
This site is home to Tamarack's growing learning community of practitioners, from different sectors, who are working together to change the world one community at a time.
We are learning with and from one another about addressing complex community issues and creating positive change. We share responsibility and leadership for building vibrant communities across Canada and beyond. Together, we are advancing the field of community engagement and collaborative leadership.
Join us - explore, learn and engage!
Tamarack Website Highlights
Are you keen to learn more about community engagement and collaboration? You've come to the right place! On this website you can:
Our Resource Library contains a wealth of articles, frameworks and tools that we have amassed from our own experience and research. This accumulated wisdom is freely shared in order to enrich the understanding and practice of community engagement.
Our Aides for Action are resources developed by Tamarack and Vibrant Communities coaches from our work with Canadian communities that can be taken and adapted to support your own work.
Our Bookstore is where you can order - and view excerpts from - Tamarack's latest publications.
Our Online Audio Seminars and podcasts offer free access to interviews with thought leaders on a comprehensive curriculum of topics related to community engagement and poverty reduction. Each seminar also includes a summary webpage with additional resources and related links.
Participate in free Tele-learning Seminars with leading thinkers and policy makers from across Canada and abroad. Join in conversations about new developments in the fields of community engagement, multi-sector collaboration and poverty-reduction.
Join select Communities of Practice to share and learn about specific topics related to multi-sectoral, comprehensive and community-based approaches to social issues
Attend upcoming Tamarack sponsored, face-to-face Learning Events to build new relationships, gain insights, and share knowledge to inspire one another. Also find or share information about other events sponsored by partners and friends.
Be sure to sign up to receive Engage!, Tamarack's free monthly e-magazine, that helps you to stay current on the latest developments in the field of community engagement.
In April 2013, Tamarack, FSG Social Impact Consultants, Social Innovation Generation and Maytree hosted a workshop in Toronto for 150 leaders of collective impact backbone organizations. Called Champions for Change, this three day workshop explored a number of topics including: a detailed look at the roles played by backbone leaders; dealing with complex issues in a changing and emergent environment; collective governance; shared value; and, exploring the development of a collective impact initiative over four phases of maturity.
A particularly relevant session had the participants explore the development of a collective impact initiative over four phases of maturity: from generating ideas and dialogue through to sustaining action and impact. Fay Hanleybrown of FSG Social Impact Consultants presented the four phases of collective impact (see visual) and the distinct elements including governance and infrastructure; strategic planning; community involvement; and evaluation and improvement.
Workshop participants brainstormed what was working well, what was challenging and what was missing in each of the four phases. Below are highlights of their discussions.
What works well?
What is challenging?
What is missing?
Phase 1: Generate Ideas and Dialogue
Engage the community in conversation
Identify the value proposition, common ground, shared values
Have a core group of dedicated people to lead
Spend time on relationship and trust building by inviting usual and unusual suspects
Competing priorities and competing agendas
Developing a laundry lists of activities but not focusing on the core goal
Identifying who needs to be at the table and keeping them there - legitimacy of decision-makers
Agreement around the issue and early milestones
Dealing with the tension of being the convener without being the driver
Identifying an urgent issue that has community ‘buzz'
Managing community engagement and action
Establishing shared leadership from the beginning
Phase 2: Initiate Action
Using data to inform work
A focus on building engagement
Funder works with you
Invest in incubation
Working across different systems and timelines
Agreement on a common agenda and shared measurement
Building collective capacity
Skilled facilitators to help navigate this phase
Embedding data and communications in the process
Dealing with impatience
Phase 3: Organize for Impact
Early adopters and champions
Process experts and funders at the table
Leveraging community assets
A backbone with capacity
Building and maintaining trust and commitment
Decision-making, governance and sustainability
Defining communications strategies
Managing multiple stages and phases of work
Phase 4: Sustaining Action and Impact
Communicate results often through stories and data
Focus on renewal with strategies to re-motivate and re-energize
Being an open, welcoming table
Being nimble and responding quickly
Power dynamics and politics
Negativity and pessimism
Information overload and fatigue
Need for innovation and adaptability
Sustaining and integrating community interest
Building capacity for others to step forward
Continued community support for backbone and collective impact effort
Navigating collective impact initiatives can be challenging work. The community issue is often very complex whether school achievement, poverty, neighbourhood revitalization or youth engagement. There are multiple actors engaged in the issue with diverse and sometimes incongruent expectations about services and outcomes. When you add in the voice of individuals with lived experience to this mix, urgency is created but simple solutions become more complex.
Framing collective impact through four phases is useful. Each phase builds on the one that preceded it but there are common challenges that backbone organizations encounter in this work. FSG, Tamarack and Innoweave will collectively develop resources that will help collective impact initiatives move forward.
The word "innovation" conjures up positive imagery. We see it as something we want to be known for. It's creative, desirable, inspiring, and we sense that if we can do it, if we can achieve it, we will lift ourselves up above the status quo, not to mention those who are quite comfortable in the box of convention.
How to be innovative is of course the question and that is what this little article is about: the way of innovation and a call for the kind of leadership that fosters innovation throughout the organization.
This is both a mindset and a discipline which requires that a leader accept that anticipation is rife with uncertainty. In other words, at the same time as a leader must try to plot the future course of the organization, he or she must also understand it is impossible to do so with certainty.
This means one's view of the future is a mixture of projection based on current momentum and one's sense of various scenarios that could unfold. This "sense" of things might also be seen as the result of educated, creative, and courageous "guesswork."
An example: demographics enable us to project current realities into future scenarios. We understand that by 2031, the aging of the population and a low birth rate will result in fewer workers supporting more seniors than in the past. In that year, Stats Can predicts there will be 2.3 workers for each senior. Today there are 4.2 workers per senior, and in 1971 there were 6.6 workers per senior.
One can argue that Stats Can doesn't have it quite right, but getting the exact ratio is not the issue here; the issue is the direction of the trend. Could the trend be affected by an increased birthrate or increased immigration? Yes. But those factors are, at this time, unpredictable even though they may be desirable.
What we anticipate is that there will be a much lower participation rate in the workforce in the future and that, along with the aging population, implies an impact on tax generation, wages, and in the case of non-profits a deleterious effect on hiring and sustaining employees.
Leaders who anticipate a future based on these projections recognizes that the impact of the 2031 scenario is taking place now. It is a structural reality that a leader of an organization cannot change, but what can be done is to explore innovative ways of operating in such an environment. So how might such exploration take place?
There are those who suggest that culture change is by nature a slow, difficult process rife with resistance from those who are comfortable with the current pattern of beliefs and practices that make up the organization. I suggest that accepting this as the norm lacks ambition.
My experience tells me that most people are not by default resistant to change but rather lack clarity of what change to make and/or how they might engage in change-conversations, which restrains their willingness to take risks and venture into new territory.
This calls for leadership that is aspirational and more focused on the exploration of tomorrow's possibilities than on stipulating and then managing the changes people must make. Aspirations built together will not only shine light on tomorrow but also on the actions required to move toward the light.
Our propensity to want blueprints of change, chart duties via job descriptions, and limit actions to the prescriptions of best practice are not innovation-seeking attributes or activities. Rather they often create a culture that over-values the status quo and under-emphasizes possibilities.
In a W.K. Kellogg publication, Intentional Innovation, Gabriel Kasper and Stephanie Clohesy stress the importance of "setting the required conditions to support innovation." In effect, these conditions are about creating space in the organization to seek out new and actionable ideas that are focused on solving a problem or exploiting an opportunity.
The implications of "creating space" are structural and systemic in nature while also calling for a discipline to not only create the space but to then live and work in it. As Kasper and Clohesy point out this space has a democratic mien in that it is there for the entire organization to populate and contribute to - not just leaders or managers, but front line service deliverers and functional staff as well.
It is a space in which routines, history, and best practice are welcome but not as confining forces to limit free thinking and the collective generation of new, if not radical ideas. In other word it is an open space for taking chances, postulating the wild dream, mixing colors together never before mixed and not being chastised or disciplined for experimentation that ends up failing.
It is a space that desires the view points of the boat rockers, the lone ranger, and the outliers, while also enabling collaboration, group think, and collective sense-making. Here is where true dialogue occurs purposed to explore and understand before running to the gates of resolution or submitting our minds to the machinations of logic models and unrealistic expectations of ordering actions into a matrix of outcomes and indicators.
Of course the space cannot be created unless accompanied by the time required to enter it. Again this is a structural challenge. If we are content to fill staff time with status quo work, we will be hard-pressed to engage in "intentional" innovation. How staff meetings are designed and lived out have to change to allow for generative conversations. Hierarchy - while always present - must be de-emphasized, if not absolved of being present, within innovative space. Idea generation will not happen if staff are assessed as being successful only if the ideas produced are the right ideas.
Innovation is a response - whether to a problem or crisis, a possibility or opportunity, or an issue or trend that poses harm to the organization. To seek out innovation necessarily means we wish to journey beyond the status quo because we have determined or at least sense that the status quo will not serve us well. Acting on such purpose also requires discipline. We have to ask key questions like:
What isn't working and what do we envision will work. Do we require a new theory of change in order to craft new actions?
What are we doing and thinking that inhibit our progress toward our desired or anticipated future?
Are we seeking to produce the right results for the circumstances we are trying to address? If our clients are failing is it because of us, a system, them or a blending of all three - and then how do we adjust our programs or actions accordingly?
How might we alter or reinvent our functional work, whether to streamline, save money, enhance quality, add to our business intelligence, and so on?
Such questions and others like them are not for leaders and management to address and resolve. Instead it is their job, if not innovative mandate, to create the space and conditions for everyone in the organization to ask and address such critical questions.
Leaders who work hard to anticipate the future must also work as hard to increase their knowledge and their tool box about innovation and practices that empower its presence and practice. I suggest a good place to start is to read the Kellogg report but also take a look at some of the other resources offered within my blog, which you can access here.
Changing the Equation: Measuring Financial Vulnerability [By: Michel Frojmovic, MCIP RPP PMP]
The Low Income Cut-Off (LICO), The Low Income Measure (LIM) and The Market Basket Measure (MBM) are the tools and acronyms by which Canadian poverty is currently defined.
A group of national non-profit organizations - The Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD), the Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) and SEDI (Social & Enterprise Development Initiative) - is now collaborating with an aim to change the equation when it comes to measuring poverty. In building a better measurement system, the group must overcome several obstacles and limitations embedded in our current tools:
Canada's established measures are "blunt instruments": LICO, LIM and MBM all rely heavily on income, but ignore critical dimensions such as assets, savings and debt.
Our analysis tends to be national, with no reliable way to measure financial vulnerability at the neighbourhood or municipal level.
An unknown proportion of the population is "off the financial services radar" and therefore does not appear in any databases or participating in any surveys.
Better evidence in the discussion of financial vulnerability in our cities, neighbourhoods, towns and villages will help us prepare for situations like this one: An inevitable increase in interest rates will have a negative impact on areas with high levels of debt, but will be good for those with high savings rates. Which neighbourhoods will be at-risk, which stand to gain? A more sophisticated measurement system will also enhance our national and local advocacy efforts, and, ultimately, contribute to better designed policy and program interventions.
One way out of the LICO-LIM-MBM box is to acquire the analytical tools used by our major financial institutions and adapt these to the world of community practitioners. This would make it possible to:
Measure the risk of bankruptcy in our neighbourhoods based on methods developed by credit rating companies;
Measure assets and savings rates at the neighbourhood level using data constructed by data analytics companies; and,
Rely on administrative data extracted from our income tax forms.
While these data source are expensive, complex and unfamiliar, the Canadian Council for Social Development (CCSD)'s Community Data Program (CDP) is designed to overcome these barriers. Established by the CCSD in the mid-1990s as a gateway for municipalities and community sector organizations to access complex and costly data, the Program now supports over 1,200 data users working for over 400 municipal and community sector organizations in over 20 Community Data Consortia across Canada.
To learn more about the CDP and how to measure financial vulnerability, join community practitioners from across the country as part of a one-day interactive Community Data Canada (webinar) Roundtable on Wednesday, June 19th. Contact Michel Frojmovic at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to sign up for the Roundtable.
Michel Frojmovic is the CCSD’s CDP Lead and Director of Community Data Canada.
Innovation emerges when our thinking about typical or habitual activities is reframed in new ways. It involves a willingness to pause; reflect; and, consider the assumptions we hold about "how things are" and also consider "how things should be". Through this process of examining - and trying on - new ways of thinking, new possibilities for action are revealed.
The 2008 economic downturn precipitated a dual pressure for non-profit organizations. For many, the demands for service began increasing while simultaneously, shifting donor patterns and an increased number of charities heightened the sense of urgency and competitiveness regarding fundraising efforts.
For non-profit leaders who find themselves here, perhaps this is a good time to innovate your fundraising strategy by considering not only what your strategy involves but also re-evaluating how that strategy is implemented. What else could be possible and what new opportunities might emerge by reconsidering your own fundamental assumptions about fundraising?
A recent video on Sacred Fundraising by Paul Born is an excellent starting-point to encourage you to think about raising funds from a completely fresh perspective. Drawing on his own successes in securing funds for large scale, complex community challenges, Paul shares from his own experience of interacting with a multitude of philanthropists to reveal a valuable snap-shot of what it is like to "walk in their shoes" and how that ultimately leads him to frame the task of fundraising in an innovative new way.
We would like to acknowledge Maytree for helping to profile this timely video to their network and helping to disseminate Paul's important message to the non-profit sector.