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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.

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Beautiful thinking for January from Tamarack Institute



In this Issue

Strategy letters in cereal bowl
"Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast": Lessons from 2014
[By: Paul Born]

In December, Liz Weaver and I hosted Community Change: Lessons Learned 2014 a webinar exploring key community change lessons. It provided a great opportunity to generate deeper insights about our work over the past year with the 200 learners who joined the webinar. The dialogue and response energized us with the realization that our growing online community of learners has really become a movement for social change!

One theme emerging from our reflection was best illustrated by a quote from Peter Drucker that Liz shared: "culture eats strategy for breakfast." Drucker's astute observation echoes conversations that we have had with a few different groups in 2014 who are leading community change efforts - the importance of paying attention to the internal context and dynamics amongst leaders in collaborative work as much as we do external forces.

On a macro level Tamarack has provided resources and a platform for cities and collaborative initiatives to use in establishing their own regional poverty reduction initiatives. This approach enables community champions to address the issues and mobilize resources that are most relevant within their own communities. While those we have engaged ultimately have the same goal - fewer poor Canadians - the process and outcomes for achieving that goal can vary considerably from community to community.

Within each region there are additional layers of inner context, such as: a roundtable, a research project; or, an organization. Each faces its own unique challenges with internal politics, communication patterns, power imbalances, etc. So what does this mean for those of us wanting to affect positive change on a complex issue like poverty?

I believe we need to consider what the principles of collective impact mean for our own team. We shouldn't dedicate all of our energy to external threats and opportunities but instead deliberately take the time to reflect on our internal circles. How do we communicate with each other? Does everyone at the table speak the same language? Who has a bigger voice and why? How will this help or challenge our group? Have we been intentional about who is at the table? What are our individual priorities, and do they complement each other? How do we measure success, and do we all have a shared definition of success?

I would invite you to reflect on the relationships built through your work over the past year. Where these relationships have blossomed, can you identify actions that have enabled you to positively answer the questions I posed above? Where relationships have floundered, have you overly-focused on responding to external pressures? How might you establish practices that strengthen your own internal culture, and build trust?

I share these personal insights and questions for consideration in the hope that they inspire you to deepen your community connections. How does this relate to what you've experienced? In what ways do these insights resonate with your own reflections? Please let us know.

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Union Touch © aroasiCommunity Connections
[By: Dan Rubinstein]

Governments and non-profit community agencies often speak of their plans to eradicate poverty, yet the problem is extremely complex. Rooted in multiple overlapping causes, with unique manifestations across a wide range of demographic and cultural groups, poverty can be difficult to quantify. Everything from stress and social isolation to poor housing and health is part of the picture, and perceptions vary greatly. The multi-generational cycle of restricted opportunity is hard to break.

Universities are well equipped to help deconstruct and confront this challenging issue, but many researchers are reluctant to use such phrases as “the common good." Objectivity and neutrality, after all, are two of the main principles of the scientific method. Karen Schwartz and Adje van de Sande, associate professors at Carleton University's school of social work, argue that academic inquiry in their field need not be value-free. “We also believe that schools of social work have a responsibility to leave the 'ivory tower' and stay connected to the community."

Community First: Impacts of Community Engagement (CFICE) is a national Carleton-led research project, which launched in fall 2012, and is supported by a $2.5-million, seven-year grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The project is aligned with Carleton's strategic plan, specifically its emphasis on building sustainable communities. Mostly, though, its intent is to facilitate campus-community collaborations that spark progressive change.

CFICE (pronounced “suffice") is divided into five self-managed hubs: poverty reduction, co-helmed by Schwartz and Donna Jean Forster-Gill of Vibrant Communities, an offshoot of the national Waterloo-based charity Tamarack; food security; environmental sustainability; violence against women; and knowledge mobilization, which will really get rolling in 2016 as the other hubs shift their focus from research to policy change at all three levels of government.

The Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty Reduction (HRPR) - with support from CFICE - has teamed up with researchers at the McMaster Community Poverty Initiative and the university's DeGroote School of Business to explore the implications of instituting a living wage. The empirical evidence generated by this work is helping Cooper make a compelling case.

Another spoke in the CFICE poverty hub is based at the University of New Brunswick's Saint John campus (UNBSJ), where faculty and students are trying to help youth in two of the city's priority neighbourhoods through the Promise Partnership mentoring program. CFICE funding has allowed Chiasson and her colleagues to conduct research into the efficacy of Promise Partnership. The lessons learned in Saint John will be disseminated throughout Canada and used to push for policy change. “Education can help break the poverty cycle," says Chiasson. “All of us who do this kind of work have the same end goal. We're just approaching the problem in different ways, from different places."

Vibrant Communities was a natural choice to co-lead CFICE's poverty reduction hub. Community engagement and collaboration are at the heart of its anti-poverty efforts. So is a long-term, comprehensive outlook, says project manager Donna Jean Forster-Gill. Solutions can be found only by bringing together government, business, academia, social-service agencies and their clients; by reflecting on and learning from approaches that are working; by using “assets" that already exist, such as food banks and recreation centres; and by letting front-line services deal with the immediate effects of poverty, focusing instead on larger systemic changes that will take time to implement. “If you're talking about policy change," she says, “you have to have the research behind it."

Excerpt reprinted with permission Carleton Alumni Magazine, fall 2014

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Experiencing Mariposa: A Community Story of Place

[By: Michael Jones and Daphne Mainprize]

Too often the places we create are placeless because they don't include our stories
- Michael Jones

Every community and organization needs its own mythic story. The myth serves as a gateway into our deep life together. Leaders in turn shape the culture of a place through the circulation of these stories that convey their core values. Our places, in turn, become the public stage where the wisdom of these stories may be lived out.

Most places have personal and community stories that express these values. What they don't have, however, is the larger meta-narrative - a mythic larger-than-life story - that can inspire and contextualize the future they want to create for themselves. These larger 'founding' narratives are the lifeblood of any community and often serves as the most powerful building block for creating a regenerative culture for the future.

Seeing the source of our myth begins by paying attention to the extraordinary in the ordinary. We need to lift up into the imagination the mundane activities of everyday life and see within them the small miracles, the invisible vein of gold in the life of any organization or community.

For the past year we have been co-chairs of the Mariposa Roundtable 'mapping' the richness of our heritage by exploring the communities' storied connection to the mythical town of Mariposa as detailed by the much loved Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock. As the community embarks on an ambitious downtown revitalization and waterfront development plan - and struggles to reinvent itself and its identity following the decline of its once thriving industrial based economy - community leaders are asking: What is the story we want to tell? That is, what is the story that speaks to our unique identity and, how can this story help us learn from our past in order to create a positive, creative and sustainable future?

In mapping the mythic story, we take up the call to be anthropologists uncovering other untold stories, forgotten artifacts, mysterious images and hidden meanings. We polish and burnish them so they may shine again and serve as the foundation of something we may become immersed in and from which everyone can learn. In viewing Mariposa as a mythic fable holding within it many elements of a wisdom story, we may ask ourselves:

  • What does Mariposa mean to us now? What does it look like and how does it feel?
  • What can we learn when we think about the mythic story of Mariposa that we cannot learn anywhere else? What are the key images and themes of Mariposa and what can we learn from them?
  • How do we turn these images and themes into a storyline that will capture the imagination of visitors - or travellers and pilgrims - from around the world?
  • What are the key locations - culture, industries, neighbourhoods, networks, infrastructure, sacred sites - that interconnect in the telling of the Mariposa story?
  • If we were to imagine Orillia in twenty, fifty, or one hundred years, what will have changed and what will have stayed the same?
  • What would the storybook of the community look like? How would our built environment, streetscapes, parks, neighbourhoods, public places and place names be different from today?

We live in a world that is increasingly interconnected and interdependent. At the same time, it is more fragmented and polarized than ever before. In this turbulence it may be our mythic stories of place that serve as the bridge from our past to our future. We may not be able to retrieve our past, but we may still be able to learn from it and what this learning may lead to a vision of a future to which we can bring our gifts and unique talents to create a place in which everyone can grow and thrive.

If you are interested in discovering the roots of your own story of place - 'Your Mariposa' we would look forward to offering the Mariposa Experience in your community. As a festival, a teaching, a conversation, as an art form - 'Experiencing Mariposa' is an opportunity to discover your story of and for our time and for the future. Through the power of our stories we can bring the gift of place, community and belonging home again.

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The Power of Measuring Volunteer Impact
[By: Sylvia Cheuy]

For twenty-two years, The Optimist Club of Orangeville have hosted Christmas in the Park at Kaycee Gardens throughout the month of December. Countless volunteer hours go into creating this free, pet-friendly event that transforms a small local park into a magical winter wonderland with more than 50,000 bulbs lighting up several unique Christmas-themed displays. Musical groups and other local talent take turns offering live performances throughout the month, making this local tradition, a perfect way for people young and old to enjoy the holiday spirit.

Two years ago, Optimist Club Members asked themselves: Does this event still have impact? Is it something we should continue with or should the club consider doing something new? Through their involvement with local trails projects, some of the club members had heard about an infrared trail counter loan program that had been established by Headwaters Communities in Action (HCIA) to help local trail advocates obtain data on trail usage.

In December 2012, HCIA loaned The Optimist Club a trail counter for the month so they could get an accurate count of the number of people visiting Christmas in the Park that year. The club was astounded to discover that more than 10,000 people visited their display! The data had a remarkably positive impact on the club's volunteers because it provided a tangible measure of how much the community appreciated and valued this event. The event's 2013 counts demonstrated a growth in the popularity of Christmas in the Park with a total of 13,000+ visitors that year. This was a particularly significant increase given the poor weather that year, which included the ice storm which shut the part for a day.

The Orangeville Optimists credit the data from the trail counters as being tremendously valuable in their efforts to secure contributions from local businesses. They also suspect that having their event profiled in an HCIA Trails Counter Infographic which compiled and shared results generated from all the region's trail counters helped raise their profile as well.

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In 2015 Make a Resolution to Invest in Yourself
[By: Liz Weaver]

The Tamarack Learning Centre is undergoing some dramatic changes this year. As part of Tamarack's new strategic vision, we are increasing the investment we are making in our learning community members.

Last summer, we surveyed Tamarack members about the services and supports provided by our team. Your feedback was important as we began to think about re-designing the learner experience and the Tamarack Centre. This will include more learning events in different locations across Canada and with international partners. We will provide you with more options to build your learning agenda and will, through our learning community websites, continue to provide you with useful, topical and timely resources.

To meet your changing and diverse needs, Tamarack is launching new workshops in 2015 with a renewed focus on community engagement including Community Engagement and Technology; Mobilizing Neighbours and Communities: the Collective Impact Opportunity; and Deepening Community for Collective Impact. In addition, we will host new learning workshops and webinars led by Tamarack associates which will be announced during the year.

The Tamarack Learning Centre team will be led by Liz Weaver who moves into this portfolio after several years leading Vibrant Communities. Joining her will be Carrie Fisher, Manager Learning Events and Zoe Fleming, Community Animator. Carrie brings a wealth of event management experience from both her work in Calgary with the University of Calgary conference centre and more recently in London with a number of corporate partners. Zoe is based in Calgary and brings to this role volunteer management and event experience as well. Zoe most recently worked with Volunteer Canada on a project focusing on volunteer centre outcomes.

With this new energy and focus, we are really looking forward to increasing our support to you, our members. We welcome your feedback, engagement and involvement as we design for a purpose. We invite you to invest in yourself in 2015 and register for a Tamarack Learning Event.

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Updates from Tamarack's Learning Communities
  • Change Agent Leadership for #socialgood - Jo Cavanagh invites feedback on her thoughts about Change Agent Leadership which she describes as a mindset that, "requires us to embrace the tensions in complexity and the controversy ignited by challenging the status quo - by asserting the way we do things now is not good enough, and that we must work together to change the factors and structures which create and generate enduring social problems."

  • A Residency in Social Innovation - This unique 28-day integrated residency program gets underway this summer at The Banff Centre. It's designed to support social entrepreneurs and system leaders as they strive to make our communities better places to live.

  • Payday Lending and Municipal Strategies - Natasha Pei profiled the work of Mike Brown and Joe Ceci of Momentum who recently spoke about how municipalities can tackle the issue of predatory moneylenders.

  • Poverty Reduction Summit: Every City, Province & Territory Working Together - Amy Zoethout shared information about this unprecedented national gathering being held in Ottawa from May 6th - 8th, 2015. It will bring together senior leaders from across the country and beyond to align their efforts and merge their passion for poverty reduction.

  • Working Remotely - Christie Nash explores her new experiences working from home and offers a review of the book Remote: Office Not Required, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson which illuminates the bonuses and challenges to working remotely and concludes that the pros FAR outweigh the cons.

  • Seize the Opportunity to Rebuild Community - Jim Diers examines how community building can rise from the ashes of crisis and illustrates this point with powerful stories of Christchurch New Zealand's recovery from devastating earthquakes.
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About Engage!

Engage! e-magazine is published by Tamarack - An Institute for Community Engagement, 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.

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