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About the Learning Centre

The Learning Centre, established in 2003, is designed to create a fluid, creative system of documenting community building activity and delivering this learning to organizations. The centre has a threefold purpose: to broadly disseminate knowledge gathered through research and practical experience; to help communities increase their power through learning; and to generate knowledge about community engagement so as to advance the field. Learn more about the Learning Centre here.

Resource Library - Explore Tamarack's community engagement resources - including research, articles and related links.

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.

Subscribe here or read one of our latest issues below.


Beautiful Thinking for November from the Tamarack Institute

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Technology & Community Engagement

By: Louise Merlihan

Dynamic WiFi City Illustration  Sigal-Suhler-Moran

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Fifteen years ago, there was no easy way for large sections of the community to share their opinion without calling a meeting, voting, or going door-to-door. The terms "social media" or "smartphone" weren't part of our vernacular, largely because they didn't yet exist. The first Blackberry smartphone was introduced to the market in 2003 and the first iPhone was released in 2007. Facebook was launched in a college dorm room in 2004, while YouTube arrived in 2005 and Twitter just one year later in 2006.

Today, our smartphones, tablets, wearable technology and the apps they run connect us to the cloud and to each other in ways few would have imagined just 15 years ago.

Increased access to information and the improved ability to share our stories have helped spur change, prompt dialogue and, in many ways, support people to feel more connected. With the tap of a finger or a voice command to our smartphone, we can find friends and colleagues working to create change in our own community and in communities around the globe. We can share broadly. We can speak out against injustice. We can engage differently.
New technologies are lending fresh perspectives and putting power back into the hands of communities. In "Forward: How technology improves community engagement," Tamarack's Lisa Attygalle makes the case for using technology to expand the breadth, depth and quality of engagement.

When online communication methods are layered onto the community engagement continuum, it quickly becomes evident just how many options there are to engage community in the online space alone.

This makes the work of designing engagement strategies both easier and harder, while raising a new series of considerations, says Attygalle, including understanding your audience, deciding how to leverage the resources at hand, determining the appropriate level of engagement and designing an iterative engagement process.

Engagement is not one-size-fits-all and what is appropriate for one initiative will not be appropriate for the next.

In the midst of this technological sea of change, the principles of designing an engagement strategy are still paramount. The growth in engagement methods available to us may feel overwhelming. But if you are strategic and keep your audience's needs central to your strategy, you will create real opportunities for people to engage with you.

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Embracing a Voyageur's Mindset

By: Al Etmanski

Old map with compass © Nikada

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Change is like a friend you haven't seen in ages… it needs to be embraced before you can both laugh about the good old days.
- Shane Koyczan

Prévoyance is the ability to prepare for the unexpected in a world of uncertainty while maintaining your principles.

It is a concept introduced to Canada by the great explorer Champlain. There is no English equivalent. Pity. We could use more of this ability today.

Prévoyance is different from foresight, insight or hindsight. It describes the mindset necessary to make sound judgments despite incomplete knowledge and imperfect understanding.

You can see why a prévoyance mindset was so important to Champlain. His voyageurs and explorers were strangers in a strange land. The unexpected was a constant companion. It was critical to let go of approaches that worked in other contexts and to nurture adaptability, versatility and comfort with ambiguity. These attributes were important for more than survival. There was an ethical dimension to Champlain's use of the word. Champlain's dream was bold and future focused. He wanted the principles of humanism and peace to take root in what he called New France.

Prévoyance is the perfect mindset for the turbulent times we live in. Cultivating prévoyance replaces fear of the unknown with preparation for the unknown.

When we are prepared, change and ambiguity become less threatening and more familiar. We are more willing to take a leap of faith. Less willing to jettison our principles.

Otherwise, fear and insecurity take root. We look for someone to blame. We exclude and ignore. We close our hearts. We attempt to force things back to the way they were.

Given that dramatic bursts of change are increasing on our planet, it might be wise to resurrect, elevate and cultivate Champlain's version of prévoyance in all languages.

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CIS 2015: Reflections on a Learning Journey

By: Yvonne Powley

Auckland north community and development logo

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I was one of more than 250 delegates from around the world who attended the 2015 Collective Impact Summit in Vancouver. I came to the CIS 2015 with three primary questions:

  1. Does Collective Impact offer a viable model for building and sustaining large scale social change?
  1. Does Collective Impact require a top-down approach or are there opportunities for it to include a strengths-based, bottom-up approach?
  1. What is the role of government in Collective Impact initiatives?

As an Executive Officer with Auckland North Community and Development, I am one of a core group representing some twenty agencies who are working together to create The Auckland North Family Violence Prevention CI Project. Our shared goal is to develop a new way of working together to prevent family violence in Auckland North using a Collective Impact approach.

My summary report of this Gathering is both my personal account of 5 days of experience of the Tamarack Summit as well as Tamarack's own documented highlights. I have been deeply inspired by the stories shared by practitioners from around the world.

I believe that in the years ahead Collective Impact is going to continue to gain worldwide popularity as a framework that can make a significant difference to communities. I appreciate the many useful online resources now available and recognize both Tamarack and FSG in America as leading experts in this developing field. My scepticism of it driving too much of a top down approach has been allayed as it appears you can work with a strength‐based, bottom up approach.

I have come to deeply appreciate that the difference between the possible and impossible depends on a person's determination. Specifically, this means that:

  • Progress is not always clear but always iterative
  • We need to get rid of the notion of a 'white coat evaluator'!
  • Power of building space of community
  • Collective impact is moving change in scale - Little efforts, big results!
  • We all benefit from stories of the success of things.

My questions regarding the role of government have been answered, in part, by noting the success that Tamarack appears to have gained across Canada for its work with Vibrant Communities. I fear it may be challenging to get the same support here in NZ, but time will tell.

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my time and have returned inspired by the many success stories I heard.

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Developmental Evaluation Exemplars: Principles in Practice

By: Mark Cabaj

Re-Imagining your Civic Commons graphic

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If you are serious about tackling complex issues and changing systems in an ever-changing world, then you should be serious about Developmental Evaluation (DE). Michael Quinn Patton popularized the approach in his groundbreaking 2010 book, Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use. In it, he provided a comprehensive account of how evaluative thinking and practices could assist - rather than short circuit - the efforts of social innovators.

Since then, DE has become wildly popular. A search of DE generates nearly 6 million entries on Google, it is one of the most popular themes at the American Evaluation Association conference, and there are thousands of would-be changemakers and evaluators who claim to be "doing" Developmental Evaluation.

Patton has now teamed up with two experienced evaluators from New Zealand, Kate McKegg and Nan Wehipeihana, to explore how others have applied DE concepts in practice and to develop an upgraded account of the approach. Their findings are remarkable.

In the opening chapter, Patton reviews the foundational concepts of DE, which he organizes as responses to ten common questions. He reconfirms some of the points made in the original book (e.g. that methods in DE must be adapted for each evaluation, how DE is distinct from approaches such as action-research). He also expands upon and refines some of his original thinking, such as the skills required by would-be Developmental Evaluators and how to balance DE and the need for accountability. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. 

But it gets better. Each of the next twelve chapters describe a developmental evaluation "exemplar" prepared by their evaluators and innovators. They cover a variety of domains (i.e. education, youth homelessness, sport, poverty, science, arts, health, reconciliation and agriculture) and scales (e.g. neighbourhood, city-wide, regional, national and international). The diversity of their experiences, coupled with the honest manner with which many of the authors relate the challenges they encountered in their assessments, means the book contains the best collection of DE cases to be found outside of Patton's original work.

In the second last chapter, McKegg and Wehipeihanas help make sense of it all. They provide a solid synthesis of common and divergent themes across the examples, draw some conclusions about the state of DE practice and surface new questions for evaluators and innovators to wrestle with in the next cycle of DE development.

In the final chapter, Patton describes eight principles to guide evaluators and innovators in the craft of quality evaluations, with the reminder that principles provide direction, but must be interpreted and adapted to the unavoidably unique context in which each innovation and evaluation unfolds. They include such things as the importance of employing a complexity lens in DE to get a more rounded picture and the necessity of real time evaluative feedback to ensure that they keep pace with the unfolding intervention. The principles are clear and practical and help create an even clearer framework for DE practice.

A mere five years ago, DE was a set of novel ideas and emerging practices embraced by a small number of pioneers. Today, Developmental Evaluation Exemplars confirms that there is now a pattern of DE principles and practices ready to be embraced by a larger pool of early adopters.  Thank you Michael, Kate and Nan.

Register for Developmental Evaluation: Principles in Practice, an upcoming webinar with Michael Quinn Patton and Mark Cabaj.

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Complexity, Community and Navigating Change

By: Liz Weaver

Liberating Structures

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There are times in our lives when a book or resource hits our desk and it seems to be the right book for right now. That was the case when I first read about and then ordered 'The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures - Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation' by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.

The work of community change calls for a focus on shifting the needle on complex challenges or problems. There are different players, different perspectives and different understanding or knowledge about both the community and the issue that is being tackled. Bridging these multiple perspectives can make community change efforts more challenging and less effective.

The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures is both a guide to thinking differently about engagement and a treasure trove of tools, exercises and reflections on how to plan and work differently with a complexity and community change lens.

"We believe Liberating Structures are transformational because they are purposefully designed to make it easy to accomplish what is missing in most organizations, namely to include and engage people effectively and to unleash their collective intelligence and creativity."

The book is constructed in five parts: the first part focusing on the hidden structure of engagement; parts two and three providing ideas for getting started and application stories from the field; part four includes a repertoire of 33 tools that can be easily applied alone or in tandem to unleash creativity and engagement and the final section is an afterword and additional resources. Lipmanowicz and McCandless have also created a website which includes the key components of the book as well as videos of the tools in action.

My book is already dog eared and I have incorporated some of the Liberating Structures to help groups move forward. If you are working in the field of community change, this is a must-have resource for your bookshelf.

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The People Have Spoken

By: Megan Wanless


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In last month's edition of Engage! we turned to you to help us select a winner for our photo contest searching for the perfect picture to encapsulate the theme of "Possible." We had 65 people submit their selections and with 43% of the vote, Patrick Firth was declared the winner and will receive a free seat at a Tamarack learning event in the future (potential value of $1,895).

We'd also like to congratulate our five merit winners who will be receiving a $100 cash prize: Joyce Wong, Beverly Barker, Carol Penner, Catherine Roller White and Sandi Howell.

Thank you so much to everyone who submitted their inspiring photos as well as everyone who participated in the vote. Looking forward to engaging with you again soon!

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The Latest from the Field

Tom Kelly

Impact, Influence, Leverage & Learning: Evaluation that Makes the Case to Funders
By: Tom Kelly

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The City of Kitchener

Lemonade Gets Neighbours Talking
By: The City of Kitchener

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Christie Nash

How to Combat Loneliness in the Age of Working Remotely
By: Christie Nash

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Mayor Don Iveson

What Would it Take to End Poverty in a Generation
Featuring Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson

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Natasha Pei

Living Wage: Engaging Employers
By: Natasha Pei

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Tom Klaus

A Reflection on Reflective Leadership
By: Tom Klaus

Read the post >

Upcoming Events


Community Engagement: The Next Generation

November 24-26, 2015
Edmonton, Alberta

Explore the latest Community Engagement thinking and practice with this new three-day workshop. Learn engagement techniques and interact with the technology that will transform how you engage your clients, customers, funders and partners. Dialogue with leaders in the field of engagement and social change, enhance your capacity to effectively hear the voices of those you serve, and learn key strategies to mobilize them toward a collective impact.

Community Engagement: The Next Generation

Accelerating Community Change with Collective Impact

November 26, 2015
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Join Liz Weaver for a one-day Collective Impact workshop in Halifax!

  • Learn how collaborative tables can organize for change
  • Explore how the application of the three preconditions of collective impact and the five conditions for community change can enhance your local efforts
  • Advance your community's agenda with tools and techniques that move toward impact
  • Embrace the power of citizen engagement and collective impact
Accelerating Community Change with Collective Impact

Deepening Community to Accelerate Collective Impact

December 1, 2015
Ottawa, Ontario

Paul Born is coming to Ottawa this December! We invite you to join the conversation as Paul challenges community members to think and act differently when approaching complex social issues.

In this workshop, Paul shares the fundamental principles of Collective Impact and provides key insights on how Deepening Community can build social resilience and sustain us as leaders to achieve outcomes we desire.

Community has the power to change everything. In this workshop Paul will show you how.

Deepening Community to Accelerate Collective Impact

Developmental Evaluation: Principles in Practice

Speakers: Michael Quinn Patton and Mark Cabaj
Location: via webinar
DateNovember 16, 2015 - 12:00 - 1:00 pm, ET

Developmental Evaluation (DE) can be used to evaluate innovative initiatives in complex, dynamic environments, including a range of fields and international settings.

Join Michael Quinn Patton and Mark Cabaj for a conversation on DE, what it takes to do this work, and the results that can be expected. And get a preview of the case studies and learnings shared in Michael's new book, Developmental Evaluation Examplars: Principles in Practice.

Michael Quinn Patton
Mark Cabaj



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About Engage!

Engage! e-magazine is published to bring you inspiration, ideas, and resources to envision and create vibrant communities. We would love your ideas to help us improve our format. Please email us with your comments.

Engage! e-magazine is brought to you by:

Tamarack Institute
140 Westmount Rd N 
Waterloo, ON
N2L 3G6, Canada
Tel: 519-885-5155 
Email: tamarack@tamarackcommunity.ca
Web: http://tamarackcommunity.ca