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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.

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Beautiful Thinking for July from the Tamarack Institute

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Engaging Unusual Partners in Collective Impact

BY: Liz Weaver

Group of people with arms in the air

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Engaging unusual partners is integral to successful Collective Impact efforts. The fresh perspectives these partners bring offers an opportunity to gain a richer perspective of your community and the issue you are hoping to impact. And, their connections and endorsement of the work of a Collective Impact effort can be tremendously valuable in advancing your efforts more quickly.

While the "why" of engaging new partners is clear, one of the challenges of working collaboratively is that most of us move too quickly to "doing" the work and, as a result, spend little time scanning to identify and connect with unusual partners in the community.

When communities are working to shift complex issues like poverty, homelessness, the environment, etc. the shared wisdom of diverse partners is essential. The challenge with engaging unusual partners - those we don't know well and/or may not feel as knowledgeable about - is that we may feel unsure or uncomfortable about how best to approach them. However, experience has shown that it is these unusual partners can be pivotal to successful collective impact efforts because of the fresh perspectives and additional resources they can bring.

I have recently been giving a lot of thought to "how" best to do this work of connecting with unusual partners and sharing concrete ideas and opportunities about meaningfully engaging other sectors, government, citizens and the business community in Collective Impact efforts and summarizing them in a series of blogs. I have shared highlights from the first two - of what I hope will become a blog series - that takes a focused look at the challenges and opportunities of engaging a diversity of unusual partners in collective impact efforts.

Unusual Partner #1 - Volunteer Centres

Volunteer Centres do not exist in every community, however where they do, I know that they can play a pivotal role in collaborative and collective impact efforts.

One of the core functions that a Volunteer Centre undertakes in a community includes recruiting volunteers and matching them with community opportunities. These centres are also experts in building local capacity for effective volunteer programs. At a recent presentation to the Corporate Council of Volunteer Canada, I also learned that currently many centres are also engaged in employer supported volunteer initiatives which makes them a great source of connection to the community's business sector.

Unusual Partner #2 - The Campus

A Campus includes the administrative staff, faculty, decision-makers, individual students and student groups that can be found on college and university campuses across Canada, the US and internationally. These large institutions can be complex and dynamic environments themselves.

Many campuses in Canada have specific departments that act as a broker between the campus and the community environments. Before engaging with your campus partner, do your homework and investigate whether this brokering function exists. For example, the University of Toronto has established a Centre for Community Partnerships and McMaster University recently appointed a new Director of Community Engagement.

Beyond the typical examples highlighted above, there is a growing force of community service learning initiatives that bring together students from various programs to contribute their learning and skills to community. The University of Alberta is one example.

Less typical is the engagement of the campus around a collective impact initiative or a policy change agenda. Over the last three years, Carleton University in Ottawa and a variety of campus and community partners have been engaged in a seven year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Project (SSHRC) that is specifically examining how to permeate the campus-community walls to move the needle on policy and systems change. This initiative, known as Communities First: Impacts of Community Engagement Initiative, is generating many interesting lessons including the many challenges that exist in both environments to grow strong collaborative relationships.

Communities may also wish to go beyond the teaching research aspects of community campus engagement to consider the potential opportunities provided by endowment investments offered to support such partnerships. For example, University of Winnipeg has a not for profit organization that has been tasked with making the university a contributor to sustainable community renewal. They also take very community led approaches to CSL and research.

My blog, Dancing with Unusual Partners (Part 2) - The Campus includes a table, drawn from a presentation about the campus-community partnership developed for the recent CU Expo in Ottawa, that offers some considerations for both campuses and communities when assessing the risk and reward of collaboration.

My hope is that these insights will accelerate the effectiveness of engaging unusual partners and incorporating their knowledge and wisdom into how Collective Impact efforts are implemented.

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NEW VIDEO: Neighbours Deepening Community

BY: Paul Born

A new rap video from award winning artists

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This beautiful video, Neighbours Deepening Community, debuted last month at the 2015 Neighbours: Policies & Programs Gathering.

It inspired the 200 community-builders who came to Hamilton, Ontario last month to discover strategies for mobilizing neighbourhood action, policies that support neighbourhood strategies, stories of place, the value of community hubs, how to create an ecology of care, and how to use Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) to build strong neighbourhoods.

Created by a group of young artists who recently won a global United Nations Award for their earlier Deepening Community video, Neighbours Deepening Community follows a young boy and his family on moving day. Upon arriving on their new street the boy discovers that it lacks the strong sense of community and social reciprocity of his old neighbourhood which leaves him feeling empty and alone. The boy and his mother decide to take matters into their own hands and reach out to their new neighbours to build trust. They decide to throw a neighborhood party to create relationships and deepen a sense of community in their new neighbourhood.

This video's message is hopeful, "We can do this", say rappers Mathew Steinman and Michael Epp Born as a story of neighbourhood building unfolds.

Enjoy, share and be inspired!

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Connecting to Change the World

By: Mark Cabaj

Cover of The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design

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I became aware of the power of networks in the 1990s while working in the field of community economic development (CED) overseas and in Canada. While the majority of the micro-enterprise programs were supporting individual entrepreneurs to establish their own businesses to generate additional income for their households, the pioneers at the Appalachia Center for Economic Networks were weaving together small and medium enterprises into mutually supporting economic networks. The difference in revenue, profits and economic activity was dramatic: networks really exemplified the old adage that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

The popularity and practice of networks has since exploded. People are building networks for every possible reason: from developing personal connections to mobilizing diverse organizations to address complex environmental, social and economic challenges. Policy makers use network frameworks to understand the resiliency of terrorist groups and business analysts study networks to assess the buying habits of consumers. There are now a bewildering array of networking tools and techniques (e.g. network mapping software).

Despite the "mainstreaming" of network concepts and methods, there are few comprehensive resources to help practitioners attend to all the practical tasks of building and managing these productive webs. Until now. The book, Connecting to Change the World: Harnessing The Power of Networks for Social Impact by Peter Plastrik, Madeleine Taylor and John Cleveland, more than fills the gap. Drawing from diverse examples of urban sustainability, manufacturing, homelessness, and faith-based community-building, the authors have put together what may well be the best guide for practitioners to date.

It is comprehensive. The first chapter discusses the different wants that networks can add that can make a difference to would-be change-makers. Chapter Two reviews the eight key characteristics of networks (e.g. purpose, governance, operating principles). Chapter Three explores the art of weaving a network's participants. Chapter Four lays out the phases of evolution of networks, while Chapter Five uncovers the key functions that network stewards need in order to manage the entire process. Chapter Six provides a clear framework for assessing frameworks and Chapters Seven and Eight offer a (brief) summary of key challenges and simple things to keep in mind when the going gets tough.

Beyond this comprehensive content, the book is also a gold mine of resources. The appendices include lists of relevant websites, books, case studies as well as a number of sample tools (e.g. a guide to collaboration software).The book's own webpage is one of the most generous I have ever seen for a book of this kind and includes regular updates to keep people coming back.

This book is a significant contribution to the field of social change. Whether your work focuses in the realm of creating policy coalitions, collective impact roundtables, social movements, or communities of practice, veteran and novice network builders will wonder how we ever managed without this rich resource.

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18Blocks Helps Neighbours Share More than a Postal Code

BY: Susan Levinsky

18Blocks Logo

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Social media platforms connect us with people around the world. But how do we start a conversation with our neighbours?

Enter 18Blocks - a free, hyper-local, online network designed to help neighbours connect around common interests. By posting notes with photos, neighbourhood residents, community organizations, and local businesses can reach out to discover one another, or be easily found. In turn, neighbours can comment publicly or respond privately to the note's author.

Unlike other social media platforms, a post on 18Blocks is the first step to actually meeting the people in your community: organize a running club, a block party, or a car pool; launch a community garden, or a fundraiser.

Sharing your time, resources and interests with those that live around you helps build stronger connections. The neighbourhood becomes more than a postal code; it becomes a community. And community is at the heart of 18 Blocks.

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Photo Contest - Win a Free Seat to a Learning Event!

BY: Lisa Attygalle


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A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well, how does a free seat to a Tamarack learning event of your choice sound instead!?

Tamarack is hosting a photo contest and you are invited to submit photos that speak to the theme of "Possible". One lucky winner will win a free seat to the learning event of their choice (a potential value of $1,895), and five more winning submissions will each receive a $100 cash prize.

POSSIBLE is our theme for the coming year, and was sparked when Paul Born read a New York Times article that ended with the quote: "But we know for sure that these are days where the improbable can become the inevitable."

  • What does Possible mean for you?
  • What was something that you never thought would be possible but you made it happen?
  • What is improbable but you have hope it can be overcome?

Reflecting upon the theme, I look to nature. I see light coming out of darkness. I see flowers blooming out of a crack in the concrete. I see a mountain summit.

What does this theme spark for you?

Tamarack is publishing a magazine in September 2015 that will include the latest thinking around Community Change, and the photos submitted for this contest will be featured throughout the magazine.

You are invited to submit up to 10 photos for your chance to win! Send photos by email to lisa@tamarackcommunity.ca. Photos must be submitted by 5pm EST on July 17th, 2015.

Here's the rest of the fine print:

  • The image format should be a JPEG with a long dimension of at least 1000 pixels.
  • Photos can be colour or black and white.
  • One first prize will be awarded with a prize of a free seat to any Tamarack learning event being held between September 1, 2015 - September 30, 2016 (potential value of $ 1,895.00). This seat is transferrable to another person if desired.
  • Five merit prizes will be awarded with a prize of $100.00 cash.
  • By submitting a photograph, you give Tamarack the rights to use that photograph.
  • This contest is open to anyone so please share it with your colleagues!
  • Photos will be judged and winners will be notified by July 31, 2015.

We look forward to your participation!

Learn More:

  • Submit your photos to Tamarack's Photo Contest to Lisa by 5:00 pm EST by July 17th, 2015
  • Check out some of the upcoming Tamarack Learning Events

Tamarack 2014: Progress & Impact Report

BY: Paul Born


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Over the past twelve years, Tamarack has worked toward making the work of community change easier and more effective for community leaders. We believe that true community change occurs when citizens and organizations adopt a new way of thinking and working together. We entered 2014 confident that our approach was indeed helping communities to move the needle on important issues, and we set clear goals to expand our current work and share it with new audiences. I invite you to read our Progress & Impact Report which features highlights from 2014 and our plan forward over the coming years. We thank you - our partners, members and key supporters - for your contributions to this robust learning network. Your combined efforts enable this network to be a connected force for community change.

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Upcoming Events


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