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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 May from the Tamarack Institute

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The Global Momentum of Collective Impact

BY: Louise Merlihan


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When a sufficient number of people adopt an innovation in a social system, the innovation can become self-sustaining and create further growth. Are we at that point of critical mass for Collective Impact?

At the recent Champions for Change: Leading a Backbone Organization for Collective Impact (C4C) three-day workshop in Calgary, Alberta, 270 participants from Canada, the United States, as well as Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and New Zealand came together to learn and share their experiences with leading Collective Impact initiatives.

"Talking about the countless dimensions of systems change with these colleagues - both new and old - is always an eye-opening experience," writes Jess Meyer of the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved (CCMU). Launched in 1997, CCMU seeks positive change for all Coloradians in the health system and has been part of several collective impact movements in communities across the state.

In her blog, Gaining Perspective is for the Birds (And the Worms) Jess writes, "One of the biggest lessons I've walked away with this week is about perspective," Jess continues. "A bird's eye view - the kind that shows us the big picture, keeps our priorities straight, and identifies new opportunities - is critical when you're working in collaborative strategies and the health system. However, a worm's eye view - the kind that reminds you of your personal role and situation, lets you work through the details, and keeps you grounded - is important for leadership growth and development."

Mette Margrethe Elf, another C4C participant, shared her reflections in her blog Collective Impact: An Action Tank. Not a Think Tank. Mette is head of Collective Impact at Realdania, a member-based philanthropic organization whose mission is to improve quality of life for all through the built environment throughout Denmark. Realdania supports projects in cities, buildings, and built heritage. Mette believes that the Collective Impact approach is the way forward for her organization's work.

"At a time when there is noticeable pressure that is the result of complex challenges to society, the demand for new ways of thinking and a public economic framework that is in decline, Collective Impact is perfectly timed as a working form," she writes. "Whether we are able to translate the working method to actual results in a Danish context remains to be seen, but is definitely worth a try."

We're not sure if we're at the point of critical mass just yet, but all signs indicate that Collective Impact is gaining momentum around the globe.

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The Role of the Citizen


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After one of seven Deepening Community with Collective Impact workshops in Australia and New Zealand, I was interviewed by Paul Bishop in Redland City, Australia, about the true cost of deepening community - both socially and economically.

I shared that fundamentally when a sense of community is not strong, it is very costly to government. It costs tens of millions of dollars to pay for services to fill in the gaps where a deepened sense of community and caring for one another should be. From trips to the emergency room, to public safety, to parks and recreation - we all pay the price when we don't take care of one another and work together to build a sense of community.

Recently, there has been a swell of cynicism and criticism of our governments and politicians for not doing more for us. There has been emphasis placed on the gaps in our system. However, rather than deferring all responsibilities for these gaps to the government, we, as citizens, should be asking ourselves more questions, such as what roles can we be playing in making our community a great place to live? How are we making this world a better place to live? How do we build a deeper sense of connection? At the same time, we need to find a seamless way in which local governments and state governments see the valued role of citizens. Their job is, in fact, to reach out to and engage citizens in the life of the community.

It's not about creating a revolution, it's about fostering an evolution that re-imagines ourselves and embraces what we have. It's about recognizing and celebrating the assets that we share and finding ways to work together to create a better world. As I share in my book, it's about moving from a fear-based society, to one that finds joy in the gifts that are right in front of us.

Paul Born #02 interview (with Paul Bishop) Redland City 2015 from Paul Bishop on Vimeo.

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Community Engagement in Rural Areas

By: Lisa Attygalle

Map of Ontario - evolving the Competitive edge
Rural community engagement Community Reduction Summit

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Community Engagement so often relies on citizens feeling an affinity and commitment towards their local area or an issue, but what is unique about engaging community in a rural area? What methodologies can be used to increase participation? How can we ensure that all voices are heard? In rural areas it is often harder to focus on one shared issue and to unite a community when individuals are geographically dispersed and each encounters their own nuanced lifestyle and related issues.

From February 10-12, 2015, the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO) hosted their annual conference which included a session co-hosted by the Rural Ontario Institute (ROI) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) entitled "Rural & Small Communities - Evolving the Competitive Edge: Rural Community Engagement." I was invited to speak about Community Engagement and share ideas and tactics for deepening community engagement. Session participants then joined roundtable discussions to share success stories, resources and tools; discuss barriers to engagement; and to brainstorm solutions. Students from the University of Waterloo's Local Economic Development (LED) program volunteered to facilitate the discussion and take detailed notes, resulting in a report entitled Evolving the Competitive Edge: Rural Community Engagement which provides an overview of the session and synthesis of the key findings and outcomes produced through the discussion.

What are the Barriers to Rural Community Engagement?

Through the roundtable discussions, participants revealed barriers to successful community engagement within rural communities. These challenges can be found during the initial consultation phase, as well as in subsequent phases as a project or initiative moves towards implementation.

Barriers identified by participants included:

  • Gaining initial traction can prove difficult if there is little political will
  • Public officials may see community engagement as foolhardy and may feel that they are elected to speak for their constituents. This view was most prevalent in communities where elected officials have been in office for a long time
  • Tensions may exist between newcomers, seasonal residents and established residents and reconciling the views of these distinct groups might prove difficult
  • In some rural communities, residents without deep local roots were viewed as outsiders
  • In communities considered 'bedroom communities', the level of interest amongst residents is often diminished because of the lack of a personal connection with their place of residence
  • Rural communities often face unique logistical challenges organizing community engagement sessions, particularly given the large geographical areas they cover. Lack of public transit can also be a barrier to participation
  • Municipal leaders may struggle with turning feedback into action
  • It may be necessary to manage public expectations about what is possible within financial and regulatory constraints
  • Municipal leaders and community members are often risk averse to participating in community engagement efforts

Being aware of these potential barriers is helpful. It is easier not to get stuck when you can foresee the potential tough points and assign resources and efforts accordingly. Even being in a room with others who had experienced similar barriers was a worthwhile step in sharing, commiserating together and generating options for effectively moving forward.

What Does Successful Rural Community Engagement Look Like?

Participants were asked to think of organizations or groups within their communities who are demonstrating exceptional leadership in community engagement, and to share what success looks like.

Principles for success include:

  • Always use multiple channels for engagement to capture a diversity of perspectives and reach all corners of your community. The mechanisms for outreach and engagement have expanded rather than changed, so social media and other technologies need to act as a complement to rather than a replacement for traditional outreach and engagement techniques, especially in rural areas.
  • Successful community engagement requires organizational and political leadership. Having political leaders visibly involved in the engagement process helps dispel the common perception that politicians may withhold information and allows for the engagement to be more sincere, open and transparent. Local officials are also able to set clear objectives and goals to help guide public participation and engagement that is aligned with other activities.
  • Successful community engagement also requires public leadership. Utilizing local social capital is vitally important, and allowing citizens to take on such roles not only increases the level of public impact, but frees up local staff to take on other projects.
  • Feedback and follow-through are critical. The public wants to know that their voices mean something and that the time they have invested has made a difference and has had an impact. Participants should know what stage of the planning process they are stepping into so they can provide appropriate input. This also helps to manage expectations around how much the community can affect the outcome.
  • Smaller scale efforts can often achieve greater results since citizens or key stakeholders may only have an interest in certain aspects of a project. Use targeted, smaller scale events, surveys, and meetings that all connect into a larger project or issue.

Read the full report to learn more about the unique barriers, successes, and tools for community engagement in rural communities and be inspired by two case studies of successful rural community engagement initiatives.

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A Community Innovation in Senior Care

BY: Sylvia Cheuy


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Deep River Ontario is a small community of less than 5,000 people nestled on the shores of the Ottawa River. A 2-hour drive north-west of Ottawa, it is home to the Chalk River Nuclear Research Laboratory, Canada's foremost nuclear research lab.

Like many smaller communities in Ontario and across Canada, Deep River is an aging community. In 2006, with more than 20% of its citizens over the age of sixty-five, Deep River began experimenting with a number of innovations in caring for seniors. As one example, in 2006, Deep River was the only place in the Ottawa region where seniors had a full range of housing options - long-term care, supportive housing, respite care and day programs - all offered through the same facility.  

Another Deep River innovation in caring for its most vulnerable seniors emerged from the discovery by the Town's paramedics that the majority of their 911 emergency calls were coming from seniors who were living alone. Digging a bit more deeply into these statistics, they discovered that seniors with anxieties or in need of health advice who were living at home often had no one else to call except 911. Knowing that the community's nursing home faced long waiting lists, they decided to do something about this issue themselves.

Within five years, the number of 911 calls from vulnerable seniors had been cut by 50% with the introduction of an innovative Community Paramedics Program that makes regular, frequent visits to the community's 32 vulnerable seniors. During these visits, the paramedics perform basic health checks that can include monitoring that clients are eating well and helping them with their exercise regimes.

Not only has Deep River's Community Paramedics Program been successful in reducing 911 calls, data shows that the program has been credited with:

  • Reducing hospital visits by these vulnerable seniors by 50%;
  • Removing a number of these seniors from nursing home waiting lists;
  • Saving an estimated $1.6-million-dollars to Ontario's health care system by supporting vulnerable seniors to remain in their own homes;

It costs about $75,000 per year to operate Deep River's Community Paramedics Program. Each week, 4 out of Deep River's 12 paramedics rotate through weekly shifts visiting seniors. Organizers estimate it costs the health care system about $60,000 a year for a bed in a public nursing home and note that the community paramedics program offers similar care, at home, for nearly $50,000 less. Michael Nolan, chief paramedic for the County of Renfrew, is a real advocate for the program. He states, "I have a very strong belief in community paramedicine and preventive medicine, not just the more reactive and emergent calls. We're starting to see that more and more Canadians want this sort of care," he says, "and actually, this care is often cheaper to provide than institutional care."

Pilot projects based on Deep River's Community Paramedics Program are now in York Region, and also being considered by governments in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Mike Nolan envisions a future where "the steady hand of a paramedic, some good advice from family members and the watchful eye of the community" can help keep seniors across the country living at home throughout old age.

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Thinking Differently Together

BY: Sylvia Cheuy


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There is a wealth of innovation underway in communities. Confronted with a range of interconnected and increasingly complex challenges, leaders from every sector are searching for new ideas and approaches. What is most surprising is that often the innovations that show the most promise are those that combine existing resources in new ways. This pattern of social innovation is often referred to as bricolage.

Learning new ways to think differently together is the capacity we need to develop in order to harness the possibility of bricolage. Fortunately this is a capacity is one that can be cultivated and accelerated using a range of facilitated thinking tools that are designed to encourage groups to cultivate their collective wisdom. Liberating Structures and Gamestorming are just two of several sites offering an array of ready-to-implement exercises for thinking differently together. One of my personal favorites, from Liberating Structures, is called TRIZ. TRIZ offers an innovative and fun way for groups to identify and stop counter-productive activities in order to make room for innovation.  
Einstein wisely noted that, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." But, who would have guessed that the most promising solutions most often arise when existing ideas and resources are recombined in new ways!

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Upcoming Events


Community Engagement - Technologies for Change

May 28, 2015
Red Deer, AB

This workshop will examine Community Engagement theory and practice and highlight the multitude of ways that technology can be used to enhance your community engagement efforts.


Neighbours: Policies and Programs 2015

June 8-10, 2015
Hamilton, ON


Community-based organizations play an important, catalytic role in making positive community change possible. Join us in Hamilton from June 8th - 10th, 2015 as we think and act together and advance the discipline of neighbourhood-building that is at the centre of this desired shift in our collective thinking.


Collective Impact Summit 2015

September 28-October 2, 2015
Vancouver, BC

The Collective Impact Summit is an exclusive learning experience that will bring you the most current thinking and resources from the emerging field of Collective Impact. It is an opportunity to be part of a dynamic group of practitioners who are discovering new ways to lead, engage, and transform communities by tackling our most complex issues.

Collective Impact Summit 2015



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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