Agency. Action. Emergence.

Since joining CKX as Program Director in August I have been holding space for reflection, dialogue and learning on the role of CKX as a social change agency amidst a rapidly changing and evolving world. These are some of my initial thoughts that have stemmed from this time, as well as some of the ways in which we as an agency have begun to articulate and act upon our shared values in this period of transformation…


While complexity, change and chaos are ever-present forces in our world, there are moments in which we acutely feel their presence — periods in which one feels as though they are “living through history.” At these junctures, longstanding institutions, approaches and beliefs are reexamined and challenged — the status quo abruptly becomes untenable, and the emergence of new norms becomes feasible. These are moments of opportunity, but also moments of incredible uncertainty — how will we respond, who will we listen to, and what lessons will we glean from the stories shared?

The late 1960s were such a time of potential transformation. 1968 alone saw the sanitation workers’ strike, riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ powerful salute at the Summer Olympics. Here in Canada, the period saw the decriminalization of homosexuality (1969), the release of “Citizens Plus” following the release of the infamous “White Paper” (1969-1970) and the October Crisis (1970).

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How will we respond, who will we listen to and what lessons will we gleam from the stories shared?

Now, 50 years later, we are in the midst of another such juncture. Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo Movement and Indigenous water protectors from Standing Rock to Burnaby Mountain have shed a powerful and inescapable light on the injustices of our era. We are confronting a rapidly warming planet, decaying democratic norms, and widening inequality — trends which have enabled the reemergence of autocratic leadership.

As I reflect upon these realities and look back upon a period of parallels in the 1960s, I am struck both by immediate gains and the missed opportunities for long-term systemic change. By the turn of the decade the White Paper had been repealed, and by the mid-1970s North and South Korea had entered a period of reunification. Yet these tangible victories belied larger, deeper truths. For Indigenous peoples, the White Paper symbolized the continued paternalistic, oppressive and destructive impacts of colonization exerted by the crown (and later, the federal government) — its repeal did not fundamentally alter this reality. The protests that swept the United States in the late 1960s were about more than opposition to a single war - they were also about the disproportionate impact of conscription upon minority groups, the human and financial costs of imperialistic pursuits abroad and the disregard of international human rights.

The collective response of existing power structures to these truths was procedural — actions (primarily political undertaken within the limits of the pre-existing frameworks of longstanding institutions. Thus, the “11 men in suits” of the Meech Lake Accord process exemplified the continued exclusion of Indigenous leadership in matters of constitutional consequence, the response to communism’s ideological successor in the form of the War on Terror both the longest and one of the costliest wars in American history. Systemic structural change was elusive, as the underlying ideology remained unchanged.

Today we have the opportunity to respond differently to similar societal upheaval - to move from a place of reactivity to intentionality, to explore more deeply our relationships with all beings and our accountability to them, and to truly transform the models and frameworks which shape our world. We have no choice but examine more deeply the underlying forces at play in our world, as we are witnessing the very real limits and consequences of our continual quest for growth at the expense of the lands and waters and those who we share this world with. Which begs the question: how do we show up differently, altering the lens through which we see the world? How do we create the conditions for truly transformative change?

The Impacts to Our Work

These audacious questions have been an undercurrent to my journey to date as Program Director at CKX. Though we are but one part of a much larger system, we have a responsibility to bring our full and best selves to our work, particularly at this time of marked complexity and change.

My explorations have been inspired by the work of adrienne maree brown on the idea of emergent strategy - “the way small actions and connections create complex systems, patterns that become ecosystems and societies.” As an agency whose position and privilege can influence a broader network of shift disturbers, how can we model new norms for social change work? And how can we employ our pillars of reflective practice, deep learning and knowledge exchange to support deeper societal shifts through a refocusing upon relationships rather than merely outcomes?

These are questions we are beginning to explore as an agency and within the broader social change movement, but I want to highlight two themes we are reflecting upon as we work to actualize some of these ideas:

Who is at the Table?

CKX has a responsibility to ensure that its spaces are rooted in decolonized approaches and a shared commitment to the redistribution of power and privilege traditionally reserved for an exclusive group of networked and resourced changemakers. Simply put, across a landmass of ten provinces, three territories and over 630 Indigenous Nations, we simply cannot turn to a small handful of voices to speak for all the communities we seek to serve through our work. The stubbornness and stickiness of the status quo is due in part to who is at the table (and not at the table), and how the perspectives they bring shape how the work is approached - a recent American study found that upwards of 80% of senior leaders in the nonprofit sector were white, limiting the perspectives represented at the strategic planning level of many organizations.

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How do we honour “nothing about us without us” in how we convene gatherings of diverse shift disturbers? How do we use our platforms and programming to elevate a wide range of voices, consciously stepping back when needed to listen, learn and grow?

Over the past month, the work of Dorian O. Burton & Brian C.B. Barnes, Aaron Tanaka and Anand Giridharadas, among others, have helped to ground me in the types of questions that inspire me to reimagine what is possible as a social change agency.

How do we honour “nothing about us without us” in how we convene gatherings of diverse shift disturbers? How do we use our platforms and programming to elevate a wide range of voices, consciously stepping back when needed to listen, learn and grow? We will soon be launching a series of program offerings which we hope will create the conditions for us to explore these themes more deeply.


Living Our Values

This fall we will also share Living Our Values, an articulation of our commitments to the communities we serve and the ways in which we intend to tangibly put into practice the values we hold. We have chosen our partnership and procurement strategy as a first step for CKX in this work, a space in which we are able to elevate and accelerate the work of values-aligned individuals and organizations.

I’m excited to continue to explore these themes through my role as Program Director at CKX, and am indebted to those that have provided support, guidance and insights around this work so far. And I look forward to hearing from others in the community as to how we can continue to push ourselves to do more (and do it thoughtfully) in the months ahead.

If you are interested in being a part of these conversations I encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter below, or reach out to me at alexander@ckx.org.

CKX Welcomes Alexander Dirksen

We’re thrilled to announce that Alexander Dirksen is joining Team CKX. As he settles into his new role as a program director in the coming weeks, he’ll be sharing his reflections and insights right here as fieldnotes.

In this introductory note, Alexander shares his thoughts on shift disturbers, Canada’s reconciliation landscape, and what his west coast perspective brings to the team.

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Alexander Dirksen

Program Director
alexander@ckx.org
@ATDG

Tell us a bit about yourself. What kind of work have you been doing over the last few years?

As a self-professed Métis policy wonk, I’ve drawn upon a background in public policy and social justice to explore how we can pursue meaningful reconciliation across sectors, communities and levels of government. For reconciliation to truly take hold in this country, all Canadians need to see themselves as having both a responsibility and role to play, and that is the space that has excited and engaged me these last few years.

What excites you about your role at CKX?

I'm really keen to explore what CKX’s social change agency model looks like and how that changes how we go about the work of social change. How do we ensure all voices have a seat at the table, and that these leaders have the comprehensive supports (personal supports, access to networks and resources, etc.) they need to do the work? That's something that I'm really interested in exploring.

The second thing I’m interested in is how we live the values of reconciliation through social change work. As we pursue and encourage reflective practice, how can we make sure those conversations are rooted in where we are as a country and where we're going in this age of reconciliation? And what does that mean tangibly within an organization and across broader systems?

What inspires you or influences the way you think about your work?

I’ve had the privilege of working alongside incredible Indigenous leaders, activists and changemakers in doing this work, friends and mentors who continually inspire me and shape my work.

Alexander Dirksen

How I show up in a space and how I carry myself is a reflection of the lessons I've learned from those that I've shared my journey with.

Learning is an important part of CKX's work, but it's something we don't often pause to reflect on. What does it mean to learn? What does learning look like for you?

Great question. This is a piece of the CKX work that I was really drawn to, that idea of reflective practice. In the rapid-fire pace of the world we live in now, where we're constantly processing but not necessarily digesting information, where we're constantly switching between things and there are very few pauses in our day, the lessons that have resonated most in my own life come from listening, reflecting, and exploring how best to weave them into myself and my work.

In a lot of ways, reflective practices are the missing ingredient for a lot of change work. As changemakers our natural instinct is to leap into action and immediately try to find a solution. But one of the greatest gifts I've received from my time in some of these spaces is learning to listen, to situate yourself within the conversation. This is where I see tremendous value in positioning reflective practices as foundational to social change work.   

Listening is really the starting point for reconciliation, but there’s a lot of resistance to it for many people. Why is that?

Reconciliation is about reimagining relationships; it's about redistributing power; it's about ensuring there is equitable access to opportunity for everybody. If we think about the true pursuit of reconciliation, it means a fundamental transformation of how we carry ourselves in the world, how we connect with others on a deeper level and how we operate as a country. This can be challenging for some, as it calls into question a lot of myths and mistruths about Canadian history and identity.

How can CKX bring diverse groups of people together to start to figure some of this out?

What excites me is that shift disturbers are part of the ethos of what is CKX, and it's really a bit of a blank slate—it’s not a predefined space that carries with it a set of expectations (and equally, a set of barriers) for individuals passionate about social change.

For me, in the work that I do, it's not only just about who's at the table but who's not at the table. That's always the question I ask. When we think of shift disturbers, that really opens the conversation up to bring a lot of different people to the table.

You’ll be based on the west coast in Vancouver. Why is that important?

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It's not just about me being here physically, but also about bringing into CKX all of the amazing work that's happening on the west coast.

There are incredible leaders and changemakers that are doing really great work that doesn't get its full credit. It's bigger than just me; it's about how we can showcase some of the great work that's happening out here as well.

How can people connect with you and learn more about your journey and your work?

I love good conversations over coffee or a call— please feel free to reach out by email or Twitter and we can find a time!

Living the (Beautiful, Blasted, Terrifying, Life-Affirming) Questions...

So I sit before flowers
hoping they will train me in the art of opening up
I stand on mountain tops believing
that avalanches will teach me to let go
I know
nothing*
but I am here to learn.

― SHANE L. KOYCZAN, EXCERPT FROM FROM THE STUDENT

*Emphasis added

I have never felt like I know so little and so much at the same. When CKX welcomed me onto the team in March, I kicked off my first post with the excerpt above from Shane Koyczan's The Student. The poem felt poignant and aspirational — I know now it was foreshadow.

Over the last four months, I began to learn the art of opening up and letting go. I fancied myself a novice wayfinder, keen to learn how to navigate new waters after paddling the tributaries of social innovation into the deep lakes of reflective practice, adult education and fellowships. 

Image credit: Laney Stone

Image credit: Laney Stone

I relearned what it means to be here to learn. 

I experienced it as being vulnerable — terrified of not knowing. A sentiment much easier when learning is an act of curiosity rather than necessity (it's my job after all). Do other people struggle with not knowing because it may reflect on their job? I know they do and I spent years supporting time, space and place for people to live comfortably in that uncertainty so they can open their hearts and minds to new perspectives, mindsets and worldviews. I hadn't done it for myself. 

I know nothing, but I am here to learn.

I am here to be present to gifts I am given from beautiful strangers and new relations. 

Thank you to each teacher, stranger, new relation and dance partner for each of these gifts. 

You moved my heart. 

The Gifts

Be a gracious stranger. Show up humbly, gratefully and with gifts whenever I am the stranger; welcome and respect the stranger with all the care and traditions of my life. 

See across time. Learning is an act of remembering, a cycle of reflecting on and respecting moments past and moments in the making. 

Be open to all teachers. Tune into nature and the land to truly learn transformation. Learn from the land. The insights we believe we are developing intellectually are already alive in the earth; pay attention.

My 'enemies' or 'nemeses' teach me deeply about the depths of strength and forgiveness. 

Honour all teachers. What I know is the words and wisdom of generous and patient people I have met in the last few months and the many years before. My wisdom is theirs and ours together — it lives in the fabric of our relationships, above and beyond the moments we met or gathered. My teachers are the people I am in relation with and the earth. 

We cannot further compromise future generations or the ecological integrity of the earth.   

Listen deeply. With heart, mind, soul and body.  I did not know my body is one of my greatest teachers. She hosts the other three with tenderness and resilience, bearing most of the pain in her form.

"Listening deeply" is the necessary qualifier to move beyond surface listening, where my internal narrator is in dialogue with the person I am listening to, ready to respond. Quieting the narrator in my head to hear fully the story of someone else requires listening from the depth of heart, mind, body and soul to others. 

Ask powerful questions.  

Whose shoulders do I stand on? 

Where does it hurt? 

Appreciate to others' patience with my fallibility. I can stop being defensive to guard against my failure and show gratitude for the patience people offer me when I fumble.  

Train. Life trains us in powerful ways and is an ongoing training session. Enter each day prepared to train with discipline, with soul — even the wildness of soul — and with strength that may surprise me. I feel I know nothing, but my body knows how train. 

Welcome. Ask questions I don't know the answer to and welcome the answer. To live the traditions of welcome of my culture, family and spirit.

Welcome, the coffee is ready. 

Welcome, the coffee is ready. 

I gather up these gifts to continue in uncertainty. Because I continue to live the (beautiful, blasted, terrifying, life affirming) questions around the journey CKX will host for shift disturbers. I grumble at the confidence with which I wrote, "We will listen to people we know, find people we don’t, and listen more so that we can live our way into the answers." Ever since I read his words in a gift shop in Chicago ten years ago, poet Rainer Maria Rilke's words have inspired me: 

I beg you… to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

When I joined CKX, I promised to live everything until I live my way into the answers — without even noticing it. Rilke's call for patience rings loudly — echoing over his entreaty to "love the questions themselves." One I am cherishing dearly is this: Might we host an experience for shift disturbers to live their questions with love and patience? Might I welcome more people on my journey and, under the guise of a fellowship cohort, live our ways to the answers together?

One answer has been given to me: the beating heart of the cohorts has to be relationships. People will be here to learn from, with and through each other, their own heart, body, mind, souls, families, teams and the land. I know this because that is the answer alive in everything I've lived and learned. Goodness knows it's not my answer; it's a gift. I am privileged to be in a role to channel it into an experiential programme and to try ardently to be a humble warrior to protect it.  

A Licence To Be Better

CKX releases report highlighting results of a three-month learning journey for 32 social change experiments. 

All things being equal, if you could see the work you were doing wasn’t as effective as you’d like, you would probably change course. But when the work you’re doing affects dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people, knowing how to change or what to change, can be a tricky proposition. Couple that uncertainty with financial dependence on a system that is used to an old way of doing things, and you have few incentives to change.

But what if you were given the time, the funds and critically, the permission to try something new? Such was the case when in late 2017, Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), the McConnell Foundation and the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th offered grants to encourage and support research and development (R&D) activities embedded in social impact organizations and frontline services.

As part of the initiative, 32 experiments in communities across the country were given three months and up to $15,000 in unrestricted funding to test a social change hypothesis in their community. Our recently published synthesis report highlights some of the broad patterns observed from across the experiment cohort. It shares some of the lessons learned from the experiences including the anticipated unsuccessful experiments.

Reading through their findings, it’s impossible not to see the benefits of opening up room for this kind of R&D work - even when things don’t always go as planned. A quick scan of the intentions of participants reveal the desire to make service processes more transparent, more collaborative, more reflective of different worldviews and experiences. As example:

Alberta Recreation and Parks Association (ARPA) worked with respected Elders to discuss Indigenous concepts surrounding parks with a focus on the cultural and the spiritual significance of the land.

Community Living Parry Sound looked at communication and creating safe, neutral environments for people of all walks of life to come together and explore their similarities and strengths, with the objective to expand their social networks.

Critically, the outcomes point to the need for an all-hands-on-deck approach to co-creating a more effective social change sector. The freedom felt by participants to try something different was palpable - many expressed that being given license to experiment - meant finally being able to try something long desired to reach better outcomes. And there’s some additional insights for everyone working for change.

 

“The biggest lesson learned through this project is that doing things the right way is more important than doing things right away.”

- Teach for Canada

 

The value proposition of R&D too often sounds academic. Yet, this round of granting painted a vibrant picture of what could be a vastly different social change sector if practitioners and their institutional partners embraced R&D wholesale.

 

“There’s a danger, inherent in yet another new frame and funding line and language - which asks change leaders to jump again through hoops, re-language and reframe their work - to do the work that just needs to be done.”

- MetaLab

 

At its best, this sector would be listening to and co-creating services with communities, fostering leadership capacity and amplifying the experiences of clients and community partners. An R&D informed sector is capable of increasing empathy and a sense of belonging, while fostering community ownership and leadership over decision-making and service delivery. Ultimately, it would be more agile, more dynamic and truly, a living system.

Art & Democracy: Rodrigo Marti

For artist Rodrigo Marti, one of the most important forms of social change can take place in small, subtle increments.

“There are many ways in which you can relate to the world and show your support on pressing issues. Sometimes stepping away for a bit can be just as helpful, on a wider time scale, as being in the thick of the action,” says Marti.

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rodrigo marti

“For me, it’s not the megaphone conversation but rather the smaller-scale, face-to-face setting with a few people, where I feel I can have the most positive effect in the world. I’ve had moments of activism along the way, but I don’t see myself as an activist.”

 The Mexican-Canadian, Toronto-based artist often focuses on the intersection of politics and art in his work. While he uses primarily the mediums of drawing and painting, he previously dabbled in other forms of contemporary art, including a form of relational esthetics that involves making sculptures with a social and political bent.

Marti realized his aptitude for art early on in life after attending a liberal arts program at the high school in London, Ontario where he grew up. He continued as an undergraduate in Concordia University and later earned his master’s degree in fine arts from the OTIS College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. 

 “The grad program there was all about art for social change; part of my thesis work involved working with activists who were illegal immigrants in the US, called the Dreamers. I was also tapping into my own identity both as a privileged white man and also a Mexican person," he says.

 "I put together an installation that was a sculpture of my own personal furniture, accompanied by a built-in soundscape made up of months of sound recordings from activist sites and conversations with activists from the Internet. I also invited local activists from the area to organize events in my space while my show was ongoing.”

In contrast, Marti’s piece for CKX and Samara focuses on his current interests in face-to-face conversation and journalism in relation to art making. 

He was particularly inspired by Mexican religious portraits from the 16th and 17th century that feature a single descriptive sentence of text wrapped like a ribbon around central figures.

“The swirls in the background of my piece are stand-ins for all the writing, conversation, and notes that were taken away from the discussions held with Samara and CKX,” Marti explains.

“I also thought of Sarah Charlesworth, a 1970s-80’s artist of the pictures generation, who made a series exploring newspaper formats by erasing large portions of a typical front page. I liked how she worked in a series and how she brought attention to the way newspapers tell a story compositionally.

“I believe in people being given the space and dignity to be able to articulate what their strengths are, on their own terms and however they want to use them in relation to the world. Sometimes not being an activist or completely involved in social issues can be just as valuable as someone who is.

“Although representing some of the difficulty, tension, and fragmentation of the role discussion plays in a democracy may be more pressing now - I felt the sense of the ideal of communication, the optimistic view of this exchange and its fundamental role in a democracy made more sense with the general nature of the collaboration with CKX and Samara.”

 

As part of their #StrongerDemocracy collaboration, CKX and Samara Canada invited four artists to tap into their creative expression to demonstrate their relationship and experiences with Canadian democracy, and their visions for its evolution for the next 150 years and beyond.

The commissioned works will be showcased in a series of events, while visual art pieces will be donated to democracy organizations across the country. 

 

Art & Democracy: Marisa Gallemit

It was a difficult breakup that led Marisa Gallemit down the path to art, when making sculptures was the only way she could find solace in escaping the life she had built.

From her pain emerged one of her signature art pieces: a winged, feathered sculpture, fashioned out of discarded bicycle tubes from a previously owned business, that has since been featured in numerous shows. It inspired Gallemit to make smaller versions of the disembodied wing, as gifts for friends who are undergoing any kind of transition in their lives.

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marisa gallemit

"Becoming an artist was never an intellectual decision — I just went straight towards it to escape. And I was just making up the techniques as I went along, which has really set the tone for my practice.”

Born and raised in Ottawa, Gallemit is a first generation Canadian whose Filipino parents had set ideas on acceptable career choices — and art was not one of them.

“Being artistic was fine, but not an acceptable way to make a living in their eyes. As a kid I liked making art, but I wasn’t so sure it could be a job - I didn’t have role models who were living successfully as artists,” says Gallemit, who flirted with the idea of journalism, then mass communications, but settled on a degree in film studies.

Along the way she had her son — who entered a neuroscience program at the University of Toronto last fall — and started a business catering to triathletes with her now ex-partner, who was on the Canadian National triathlon team as well as a coach.

Today, Gallemit curates the arts program at three Ottawa restaurants, including Pressd, Oz Kafe, and the Manx, a social hub for the local arts scene where she has also bartended for the past decade. She’s also the arts editor for Ottawa Beat magazine.

“That’s four different organizations that have given me the role of advocating for my peers in the community,” she says. “I’m in such a privileged position to be able to put their work on display as it is a real game-changer. Being recognized is the difference between making stuff and identifying as an artist. It’s the act of focusing attention on something that creates reality – that’s the very foundation for metaphysics.”

Gallemit incorporates materials into her sculptures ranging from objects found on the street to disposable chopstick sleeves and old menus. But old bicycle tubes are a favourite of hers.

“For one, it is an endless resource. For another, each one of those tubes is from a flat tire, which means there’s at least a few hundred kilometres on them and a funny or tragic story of how a trip has ended. Incorporating them is a tribute to those stories,” she says.

In this sense, Gallemit sees a parallel to democracy. “Democracy tries to listen to those stories, to compile these voices and arrange for everyone to get seen and heard in a meaningful way,” she says.

It is fitting that Gallemit’s piece for the CKX/Samara project is in the shape of a branch, referencing both the notion of growth and the concept of the talking stick, an emblematic object in African and indigenous communities.

Her artwork is titled, “With Will to Choose,” after a line from Emily Dickinson’s poem, “#353.”

“When you think about this concept, the initial focus is on speaking — the group agrees that person who holds the object can speak uninterrupted. But what is more meaningful is the implicit listening it suggests, where one person speaks, and many offer their ears,” she says.

“Our civic leaders, particularly the ones I encountered through CKX and Samara, are keen and sensitive to how democracy can thrive in the future and the ways in which we can all improve the system so everyone is represented.”

Gallemit covered the stick in paper that mimics Canadian voter ballots, bearing the familiar black background and white circles for voters to indicate their selections. “The paper ballots cover the branch to resemble bark and leaves, suggesting our choices as individual voters are the seed, the cellular structure of democracy,” says Gallemit.

“Canadian politics never really captured my attention until later in life. After having experienced being a parent, a small business owner and a cultural practitioner, I became more aware of my position in my community and society.

“This awareness prompted me to look at where I stand within our democratic system and to ask how my interests are expressed politically.”

Recently Gallemit became more attuned to her own intersectionality as a woman of colour. “I continue to learn about how women, the LGBTQ community, people of colour, First Nations, Inuit and Metis voices are represented here and elsewhere. Because of this awakening, my relationship with democracy and its terms and limitations has become a priority.

“I care about how these non-dominant voices can be heard.”

 

As part of their #StrongerDemocracy collaboration, CKX and Samara Canada invited four artists to tap into their creative expression to demonstrate their relationship and experiences with Canadian democracy, and their visions for its evolution for the next 150 years and beyond.

The commissioned works will be showcased in a series of events, while visual art pieces will be donated to democracy organizations across the country. 

 

#CKX6: On Public Participation

First, a bit about myself: I first got involved in open data and open government in 2010 by joining a local citizen’s group that was lobbying the local government to embrace the idea of open data.

 In 2011, I founded Open North, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to enable citizens to influence government decisions in Canada. I stepped down from Open North in September, but I continue to work in this space.

There are a lot of things that I wish I knew, or that I wish existed, when I first started my journey in public participation and social innovation. Here are six resources that have been valuable to my work.

1. Participedia

Participedia collects ways for governments to engage, consult and collaborate with the public in democratic decisions. As a social innovator, there will come a point where you need to work with the government to take part in your innovation. When proposing new ways for the government to engage residents on whatever issue you care about, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel; there’s a lot of evidence for what methods work in what contexts. For example, citizens’ juries are an increasingly popular method, used to promote healthier eating in Australia and prioritize health issues in the UK. Participedia offers filters to help narrow down your search for an appropriate method.

 

2. Civic Patterns

Civic tech is “the use of technology for the public good.” Civic technologists create tools that provide services and information, help governments and institutions become more open, and engage residents in issues and decisions that affect them. Over the last decade, they have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Civic Patterns is relevant to anyone using technology in their work for social change. Whether you’re a civic tech veteran, or your only technology is your organization’s website, the lessons here are relevant.

 

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Some lessons I learned early on – and that I see a lot of first-time project leads struggle with – are “Have a Business Model” and “All Citizens.” If you want your project to last, you need to think hard about how it will sustain itself; Alex Howard made a good round-up of different options. If you want your project to have impact, you need to be super clear about who your audience is; Laurenellen McCann’s Build With, Not For is a great guide to get there.

 

3. Open Technology Fund’s list of funders

A major challenge for any social innovator is finding funding, especially in the early stages when your innovation isn’t yet proven and you need to experiment, iterate and explore options. In Canada, funding civic tech projects is a challenge. Civic tech is unlikely to qualify for charitable status, which eliminates many funders. Few Canadian foundations have a history of funding technology. If you’re looking to fund work in civic tech, digital democracy, internet privacy, digital rights or similar, then use this list. It would have saved me many hours scouring organizations’ websites for funding announcements in the early days.

 

4. Friedrich Lindenberg’s list of investigative tools

If you aren’t a programmer, working with data is challenging. A lot of tools exist, but they’re hard to discover and evaluate. Thankfully, there are several resources that collect, describe and evaluate these tools. This resource – intended for journalists but useful to a broader audience – introduces you to many of the best tools for finding, collecting, extracting, filtering, and visualizing data.

 

 

I picked Friedrich’s list because it’s the most concise; Source’s list is more comprehensive. I still refer to this list when looking for a tool to serve a specific need.

 

5 and 6. Required CanCon on Social Innovation

 

 

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Canada is host to some of the best researchers in social innovation, including Frances Westley, Sean Geobey and Darcy Riddell. Thanks to the social innovation learning program organized by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation (an Open North funder), I was exposed to this research, which informed Open North’s strategy. The two books I recommend are Getting to Maybe by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Patton and Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation by Al Etmanski. Impact dedicates 15-20 pages to each pattern. It’s a quick read that will improve your understanding of social innovation and give you ideas of what changes you can make in your work to achieve a greater impact.

So there you have my #CKX6 on public participation. I hope that something on the list sparked your interest or got you thinking about enhancing public participation.

 

Curated by the CKX Team and awesome contributors-at-large (Read: YOU), #CKX6 is a recurring series that shares six great resources, materials and insights on a particular topic, trend or issue related to our shared pursuit of social change. Think of it as a super-charged social change must read/watch/share/steal list!

This #CKX6 on public participation comes from our friend James McKinney, founder of Open North.

#CKX6: On Social R&D

The Social R&D Fellowship was involved in the early scoping of the McConnell – Community Foundations of Canada – Community Fund for Canada’s 150th’s initiative to support social change experiments and early stage R&D, and Jason has been supporting CKX’s animation of the participating organizations and groups. Given Jason’s experience in this space, we asked him to share six tips, tools or resources that might be useful for someone undertaking social R&D.

 

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The Social R&D Fellowship is an ongoing effort to seed an ecosystem of public good R&D in Canada. I was lucky to be exposed to this work, and welcomed into the peer community supporting it, early into my role at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).

Being part of the social R&D community exposed me to the latest thinking on shifting culture in established organizations, introduced me to non-profit professionals applying cutting-edge tools and techniques in complex issue areas, and demonstrated the many different ways organizations could test what’s possible in seemingly immovable environments – it really made a huge impact on how we pursued our mandate of increasing our department’s level of awareness and comfort with novel policy tools. On a personal note, having a community to lean on was of enormous personal value as it’s isolating working in a way that is radically different from the norm.

As our mandate was winding down at NRCan, I was invited to join the Fellowship to help build out additional peer-learning supports for social R&D practitioners.

So why is social R&D important, even urgent, in some domain areas? Well Canada spends close to $420 billion on social outcomes and wellbeing per year. Despite this, solutions are not keeping up with the pace at which social and environmental challenges are evolving. For example:

  • The suicide rate among Canadian girls has increased by 38% over the past decade
  • Food insecurity prevalence rose to 46% in Canada’s north – the highest rate since 2004
  • Hospital admissions for opioid poisonings have jumped 53% in the last decade, with 40% of that increase occurring in the last three years
  • Half (50%) of monitored wildlife species are in decline in Canada, from 1970 to 2014

It often feels like we have a problem with how we solve problems, which is why I find social R&D so intriguing – it helps us systematically explore and develop responses to complex social and environmental challenges.  

Thankfully, there are a growing number of social mission organizations doing R&D well.

Organizations like Kudoz (an award winning learning platform for people with cognitive disabilities created by a partnership between service agencies and a social mission organization), The Winnipeg Boldness Project (a community driven social lab transforming early childhood development policy and services in Manitoba), MyCompass (a cloud-based platform with tools to help people with disabilities plan together with their supports), Exeko (a charity that developed Intellectual Mediation, a new model for increasing social inclusion inspired by practices in art, philosophy and social work), and Roots of Empathy (a celebrated program, now delivered around the world, proven to boost empathy and interrupt intergenerational cycles of conflict and poor parenting).

So what does Social R&D look like in practice? Establishing a hunch then testing it, conducting research and/or seeking out the latest evidence, prototyping and testing ways to improve or transform programs and/or services, testing the utility of new tools and/or approaches, creating an organizational environment where insights from research and testing influence strategy, etc. – if you are continuously mixing these kinds of habits and practices together, you’re likely practicing R&D.

SiG’s Getting to Moonshot report was the first effort to capture the R&D habits of social mission organizations in Canada. See this report for inspiration on how to pursue social R&D within your organization.

After a few years working in this space, here are my six thoughts, ideas and reflections on Social R&D:

 

Remember: You’re not alone.

 

Our working definition of Social R&D is the art and science of applying research and experimental processes on the frontline to generate new knowledge and new innovations that transform lives.

This is happening across different issue domains, tool or method preferences, and organizational size and structure. Though our contexts and focus areas may differ, social R&D practitioners are beginning to come together for community, to compare notes, and to be exposed to new tools, research and methods. Alone, the practice of social R&D was invisible, but together, we’re starting to legitimize this kind of work in the sector.

Want to be connected? Here are three easy ways: SlackEmailTwitter.

 

 

R&D is as much about organizational culture as it is about research, tools and methods.

 

If you’re organization is just getting into this space, starting small to show what’s possible is probably a good way to go, but eventually you’ll need to make time to help create an organizational environment that is capable of continuously generating AND integrating new knowledge, insights and experiences.

Not solving for culture – specifically, an organization that values and invests in R&D, and is able to absorb the insights from it – will mean that the impact of your R&D portfolio will be clipped.

This was what I spent most of my time at NRCan attempting to do.

 

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Connect what you’re learning to your organization, but also find ways to connect to other players, including the public sector, to transform systems.

 

While R&D can help social mission organizations achieve incremental improvements (i.e. be more efficient and effective) or develop radically improved programs and services, it can also provide essential insights that point to options for transforming systems.

To create an R&D program that enhances programs and services AND works towards system change share what you’re learning broadly and often, and invest time to find and connect with curious government officials and those in other established institutions. Making insights from the field visible to these folks (e.g. what’s working/not working, what are the cutting edge tools and evidence) can help drive more thoughtful policy, program and service design.

 

 

There are common challenges that all social R&D practitioners are grappling with – let’s work on them together.

 

Did I mention that this work is hard? Regardless of the issue domain – be it legal services, social services, or environmental conservation – it’s clear that certain conditions and infrastructure would make it easier to do social R&D well. Whether it’s dedicated funding for early stage research, a place to share data, or supports for staffing specialized skills like data science, ethnography, agile and experimental design, there isn’t a whole lot currently available to support R&D in charities and non-profits. R&D is simply not something that the sector is supposed to do.

 

Figure 1: From Renuka Kher’s (the Founder of Tipping Point Community’s T Lab) international keynote for the 2017 Social R&D Practice Gathering. Renuka described key difference in how money is allocated between for-profit and non-profit entities: the sector is rewarded for incremental improvements to accepted solutions, overhead is seen as a sign of inefficiency or lavishness to be minimized, and R&D isn’t something that the sector has the time or resources to do.

Figure 1: From Renuka Kher’s (the Founder of Tipping Point Community’s T Lab) international keynote for the 2017 Social R&D Practice Gathering. Renuka described key difference in how money is allocated between for-profit and non-profit entities: the sector is rewarded for incremental improvements to accepted solutions, overhead is seen as a sign of inefficiency or lavishness to be minimized, and R&D isn’t something that the sector has the time or resources to do.

 

Despite all of that, we’ve seen movement over the last few years – this joint funding initiative between the McConnell Foundation and Community Foundations of Canada is a great example. This shift in expectation and supports is being driven by a few things: practitioners making their work visible, the community advocating for change as a unit, and practitioners supporting each other when there is no other help in sight.

 

 

Find time to reflect and imagine.

 

Heading into the SPARK! Social Innovation Exchange last November, I asked Ashley Good of Fail Forward to reflect on some blind-spots for the social R&D community – she’s been involved for a number of years. She made a convincing argument for us to look up from our laptops:

Huge ambitions mean our time and resources will never be enough. One risk I see for this group is we get so busy we end up implementing all the time. It’s so easy to get caught up in the doing/operational mindset because there is always so much to get done.

Pausing to take care of one’s mental and physical well-being is important to maintain the stamina needed for this work, but it will also give you the mental space to discover non-obvious possibilities and opportunities.

 

 

Remember that R&D is not introducing a new program or service
and then doing a thorough evaluation.

 

R&D is a deliberate exercise to fill knowledge gaps and test new possibilities with appropriate levels of rigor. The outcomes from R&D will influence the design and delivery of new or modified products, programs, or services – essentially ironing out the kinks and maximizing effectiveness before bringing something new online.

If you’ve introduced a fully formed product, program or service and you expect it to work without doing the up-front R&D, you’ll probably miss the mark. If you’re updating a product, program, or service solely based on a previous evaluation – you’re likely at a higher risk of improving a solution to the wrong problem, or of spending precious capital on something that has become suboptimal due to changing conditions.

Summative evaluations are important, but they’re not a replacement for thoughtful R&D.

 

Resource List:

Develop & Deliver: Making the Case for Social R&D Infrastructure 

Start small – no more all or nothing experiments

Top 10 resources on experimentation that will help you with implementation

Lessons on embedding an experimental mindset

Key R&D behaviours for non-profits

Key principles for having an experimental mindset

Making evaluation more impactful

 

Jason is a SiG Fellow for Social R&D at the McConnell Foundation. Prior to taking a leave from government to pursue the Fellowship, Jason led ADAPT, a policy innovation & program experimentation team at Natural Resources Canada. Over its two year mandate, ADAPT developed a departmental framework for Policy & Program Experimentation, created the Policy Innovation Portal, scoped and co-organised the inaugural Policy Community Conference, and helped NRCan programs big and small explore how to leverage new policy tools like blockchain, hubs/labs, and open policymaking. Jason is also a co-founder of Impact HUB Ottawa and Future of Good.

 

CKX Welcomes Kelsey Spitz-Dietrich

We’re delighted to share the news that Kelsey Spitz-Dietrich is joining Team CKX as we embark on the next phase of our evolution into an independent social change platform. Read on to learn more about Kelsey and how her passion for karate, poetry and learning as an action will influence the work that she’ll be leading at CKX.

 

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So I sit before flowers
hoping they will train me in the art of opening up
I stand on mountain tops believing
that avalanches will teach me to let go
I know
nothing
but I am here to learn.

― Shane L. Koyczan, excerpt from The Student

 

My journey with CKX began in November 2014. I attended the inaugural CKX Summit as a newly minted Communications and Research Associate at Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National. I was excited and curious about CKX and the Summit sparked a deep appreciation for what CKX had set out do — which I later described as “building a community of exchange around knowledge (and know-how) that is valuable for driving social change together” in a blog post following the summit.

As I join the CKX team, my reflections from 2014 remain a guiding force:

  • CKX [is] not just about an exchange of ‘community knowledge,’ but about community + knowledge + exchange and the relationship between them;
  • The power of community knowledge is that collectively there is knowledge — as stories, data, experiences, failures, success — enough to collaboratively improve our communities;
  • If we can develop new tools and norms to embolden knowledge exchange and coordinated/collaborative action, we can unleash our collective strength.

CKX came out of the gate sparking fundamental shifts in the pursuit of social change by building and sharing knowledge across communities and communities of practice. It is now undergoing a fundamental shift of its own, integrating with the Carold Institute to become an independent social change platform to support shift disturbers through reflective practice, deep learning and knowledge exchange. 

I have the great joy of guiding the design, development and launch of CKX’s signature program — a cohort experience that will wrap reflective practice, deep learning and knowledge exchange around issue-based shift disturbers to catalyze their impact and that of their communities.

The first steps will be inspired, in part, from my experience co-creating the Alberta Social Innovation (ABSI) Connect Fellows initiative, working to create a culture of continuous social innovation in Canada with SiG National, facilitating learning journeys for activists and changemakers on and off for ten years, and reflecting deeply on lessons from the SiG story in co-authoring Social Innovation Generation: Fostering a Canadian Ecosystem for Systems change.

They will also be inspired, as I am, by the arts, theatre, karate and engaging directly with community and nature, where the vitality and essence of exchange stem from empathy, spirit, soul, understanding power and discipline.

And, in a major way, they must model and be grounded by the same principle of exchange, reflection and learning that we seek to seed and nurture with shift disturbers. As Lee shared with me during our discussions these past few weeks, and as we will carry forward in our work, CKX itself will be shaped by and through reflective practice, deep learning and knowledge exchange. We are embarking on a learning journey ourselves, in order to best support the learning journeys of others.

 

I beg you… to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1903-08

 

To accomplish this, we will live the questions we have for a time: how to proceed, why, with whom? We will listen to people we know, find people we don’t, and listening more so that we can live our way into the answers. We therefore not only invite, but ask for and welcome you and your communities to engage with us as peers, collaborators, mentors, wise council, wayfinders and provocateurs. Please feel free to reach out to me or Lee. We can’t wait to hear from you and learn with you.

#CKX6: On Swimming Against the Current

Over the last year, the Carold Institute has made it possible for me to enjoy a sabbatical as the 2017 Alan Thomas Fellow. After 25 years of activism, largely in Quebec’s feminist movement, I was definitely ready for a break. 

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You see, like many of you, I had been swimming against the current for a long time. My body and mind were tired, injured to be more precise. I had spent the last six years front and centre in some of society’s most divisive debates: rape culture, the Quebec Charter of Values and anti-muslim racism, austerity and neoliberal policy, to name just a few. And I paid the price for refusing to toe the party line. Faced with ridicule, insults, threats to my life, scapegoating, pigeon holing and gaslighting, I withstood the pressures for quite some time, but eventually I cracked.

The fellowship timing was perfect. I needed a different pace, away from the pushes and pulls of everyday activism. Most of my time was spent writing a book (Les angles morts: Perspectives sur le Québec actuel) about the blind spots facing Quebec and Canadian society, regarding feminism, relations with indigenous people, systemic racism, violence against women and rising inequalities.

It was time to take a step back in order to better understand the violence that often comes with breaking the rules. One of the challenges we have is to sustain healthy social movements, able to withstand the pressures associated with swimming against the current, without people burning out. This requires a high degree of thoughtful practice on the part of activists and shift disturbers.

Looking back on my experience both as a career activist and with the benefit of a year of reflection, here is my list of six ways to develop a sustainable culture of rebelliousness:

1. Recognize that you are dealing with deeply entrenched power dynamics

People and organizations will defend their power, their place in the world and their worldview. If you are involved in a movement that gets in the way of a government agenda, be prepared to feel the effects of its power. If you are challenging something that has become normalized in the culture or the economy, you will get a push back. If you are attacking a deeply held belief system, expect resistance, denial, unfair tactics, marginalization, and more nastiness. We can’t afford to be naive.
 

2. Acknowledge that working surrounded by a lot of opposition can be draining

Burn-out is not the result of individual weakness or failure. It is a result of unhealthy, sustained levels of stress, feelings of powerlessness and overwork. Factor in rest and renewal into the planning of the movement, the campaign or the controversial work. Make sure people take turns taking the hits. Find ways to work consciously with the cycle of life, with its ebbs and flows, births, deaths and renewals. In the spirit of working with these cycles, honour the work of those that have come before you as a way to get perspective and to feed into timeless energy.
 

3. Develop and sustain a culture of bravery

Many people are afraid to speak truth to power. That’s totally understandable because we are taught very young to conform to authority. We learn to pipe down, to avoid confrontation, to be nice. We are afraid of being punished, excluded or hurt. In order to be able to share the role of shift disturber in hostile climates, we need more people to be ready and able to speak up and take risks in the name of struggles for justice and self-determination. If piping down is a learned behaviour, then so is speaking up. Factor this into your education and awareness work. Encourage people in your movements to practice speaking truth to power even inside your organization and to foster the openness required to hear when we are also challenged to see power dynamics at play.
 

4. Deepen solidarity

As a shift disturber, know when to ask for help from people and organizations around you. They tend not to offer help and support by themselves. They are too busy to notice that you might need them. Make sure to ask. Be ready to return the favour. In fact, make practices of solidarity a priority. Plan for it. Think about who might need it. Think about which voices are most marginalized and why when making this choice. Take initiative. Decide which struggles you want to pay attention to and which networks you will stay in close touch with.
 

5. Imagine what a better world looks like and be ready to name it

Many social change actors focus on resisting the unjust or the dangerous. And rightly so. We need to stop terrible things from happening to the environment, to indigenous communities, to public services, to refugees facing deportation. Resistance, disturbing the status quo, strikes and demonstrations, direct action are extremely important forms of action for change makers. The challenge lies in avoiding getting stuck in a defensive position, constantly trying to just avoid the worst. It’s important to make sure to eek out space for imagining and working towards a better future. What is it we want? Let’s name it and work towards it. This is especially important for those seeking a radical reimagining of power and society.
 

6. Never underestimate the power of social change work

It is highly likely that what we are defending is legitimate and relevant even when the media and key actors don’t take you seriously or even ridicule you. Sometimes, it takes years for what gets held as the truth to get shaken up. The current frame of thought will define what is worth knowing. I have been told so many times that I exaggerated. Now I know that I’m onto something when this happens. You never know when people are ready for a shift in awareness. Keep that in focus when it appears as though we are not gaining ground.

Finding better ways to sustain our movements is a collective, not just personal responsibility. It is also a question of gender justice for, when we neglect to share this work, it befalls far too often on women who pick up the slack at the expense of their own well-being. The politics of care and of self-care have been developed by Black and Indigenous feminist thinkers who know only too well how to sustain life in the face of death and destruction. Most of what I have learned has been by paying attention to the indigenous and Black feminist activists with whom I’ve worked but there are also some important texts that connect issues, organizing and experience.

Here is a small sample of important resources to get started:

  • bell hooks: Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, All about Love.
  • Audre Lorde: Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Essays and Poems
  • Devon Abbott Mihesuah: Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism
  • Winona LaDuke: Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming

 

Curated by the CKX Team and awesome contributors-at-large (Read: YOU), #CKX6 is a recurring series that shares six great resources, tools or insights on a particular topic, trend or issue related to our shared pursuit of social change.

#CKX6: On Evaluating Advocacy

How do your social change efforts measure up?
 

Policy advocacy takes place in complex fields with many actors. The time frame is usually years if not decades. At the same time, the context for an advocacy effort can shift in the blink of an eye, an election, an industry downturn, a public tragedy, or a scientific discovery. How, then, can an organization or grant-maker know a strategy is on track?

It isn’t easy. Most of us working in nonprofit advocacy value strategic learning, but we face considerable time and resource constraints. We can also be daunted by the challenge of measuring something as amorphous and vast as systems change. The practice of advocacy evaluation has grown fantastically over the last decade. Here are six of the most inspiring and useful resources I have come across from this ever-widening pool.

1. Tanya Beer – Center for Evaluation Innovation

For an excellent framing of advocacy evaluation, especially for funders, check out this 20-minute talkrecorded at Philanthropic Foundations Canada’s 2015 symposium. Tanya Beer with the the Center for Evaluation Innovation in Washington D.C. is one of the leaders in the field of evaluation in North America. My favourite soundbite from her talk: “I can think of exactly zero examples of policy change in which the timeframe matched a grantmaking timeframe.”

 

 

2. Innovation Network survey

Full disclosure: I ♡ surveys. Sometimes survey results confirm my hunches built through nonprofit practice. Sometimes they surprise and debunk myths. This survey of 211 U.S. nonprofits does both. Only one in four organizations, all of whom were engaged to some extent in advocacy, had undertaken evaluation of their advocacy work. Policy influence is rarely the primary focus on a nonprofit; the majority of respondents combine it with other activities such as direct service delivery. The overwhelming reason why advocacy evaluation was thought to be useful was to fuel learning and strategy refinement.

 

3. The Advocacy Strategy Framework

Because advocacy is usually undertaken at many levels at the same time by many actors, it is helpful to have a roadmap to make sense of all the strategies and their hoped-for results. This diagram is the best one I’ve come across. It is the basis for The Advocacy Strategy Framework, a refreshingly concise guide that assists organizations to create theories of change without forcing linear thinking. The guide helps you identify which medium-term changes your advocacy effort could achieve, vitally important mid-points in the long game of policy change.

 

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 4. The Advocacy Progress Planner

This online tool offered by the Aspen Institute walks you through several steps to build an advocacy strategy and evaluation. Often we already have answers to the types of questions the APP asks (“Inputs: What do you have? What do you need?; Context: What else is going on?”). The genius of this tool is that it organizes our responses into a format that is clear and shareable, as well as revealing what elements we have yet to figure out. APP is free but you need to create a login in order to start making advocacy plan magic.

 

5. Data gathering methods from Spark Policy Institute

Care for an “intense period debrief”? How about some “champion tracking”? These are some of the evaluation methods developed specifically for a policy change context. Spark Policy Institute has compiled many of the most useful evaluation tools in this resource. They’ve even managed to make them sound fun. When it comes time to figure out how to measure what you want to measure, this is an excellent place to start.

 

6. What’s your part in the change? Contribution analysis

How do you know your work, or that of a grantee partner, actually played a role in effecting change? In complex fields, few shifts in policy or public opinion can be attributed to just one organization. Contribution analysis is a systemic approach that has been developed to draw plausible lines of causality between an organization’s actions and the results of advocacy. As systematic as it is, the method boils down to storytelling: going back and forth between evidence gathering and story refinement until you arrive at a narrative that a “reasonable person” could agree with. 

 

So there you have it – my #CKX6 on evaluating advocacy. How are you measuring your own work in this space? Have you come across any other tools or resources that have been invaluable to you? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Curated by the CKX Team and awesome contributors-at-large (Read: YOU), #CKX6 is a recurring series that shares six great resources, materials and insights on a particular topic, trend or issue related to our shared pursuit of social change. Think of it as a super-charged social change must read/watch/share/steal list!

This #CKX6 on public participation comes from our friend Juniper Glass. Juniper has been active in the nonprofit sector for two decades, working to improve strategy, operations, research and external communications at organizations addressing violence against girls, youth leadership, affordable housing, forest preservation and food security. She holds a Master of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership and is principal of Lumiere Consulting.

#CKX6: On Shared City Making

Cities are the economic and innovation centres in our country. More than 80% of Canadians live in cities. Migration nationally and internationally often happens to cities, not countries, as people vote with their feet. And yet, cities are stretched to be able to provide a fertile environment for people and places to reach their individual and collective potential.

 

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Much is being said on what characteristics make a city livable, vibrant, or resilient. But livable cities don’t happen by accident. A city is the range and multitude of decisions and actions taken by its people to make themselves and their neighbours happier, healthier, smarter and safer.

Imagine what would happen if we began to see our city as a commons where neighbourhoods and communities awaken and enhance a sense of aliveness that recognizes people’s needs and identity as well as the health of the eco-systems supporting the individual and the collective. By doing so, we discover that people are the city and the vibrancy of the commons gives rise to all of us learning, connecting, creating, prototyping, inventing, and making together by whole-heartedly engaging our minds and our hearts in taking action.

Here are six ingredients to making a vibrant and resilient city, together.

1. Busting Silos & Sharing Power

The complexity of issues facing cities requires us to break down the silos between departments, organizations, sectors, governments, civil society, and citizens. The interconnectedness of issues requires shared responsibility. This shared responsibility requires greater trust and connectivity between all the actors. And perhaps the most revolutionary shift that’s required is for the national government to entrust cities with more revenue and powers to assure health and happiness for everyone.

 

2. Citizens as Co-producers not Clients or Consumers

Citizen perspectives are required in shaping our future. Too often policy and programs are developed for citizens by “experts”. These policies and programs may have served us well in the past, but in a fast paced global environment where migration and knowledge are key drivers, we need to tap into diverse, representative groups of citizens to co-create timely and sustainable solutions. A city is it’s people and thus we need to think about citizen-centred democracy. It doesn’t mean governments don’t play an important role, it just means they aren’t the central focus.

 

3. A Responsive Capable Citizenry

Too often we hear that people don’t care, are lazy, and have great apathy about government. That’s just not true. People may feel disconnected from government and power (both formal and personal), but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. Lack of knowledge, lack of confidence about issues and process, past negative experience with participation, and physical and financial barriers are just some of the challenges to participating. Thus, if we want citizens to act for the public good, we need to support them in understanding their role and responsibility as citizens in everyday actions and critical moments such as consultations and elections. More importantly, we need to provide opportunities for successful participation that builds a culture of belonging, impact, responsibility, and ownership.

 

4. Public Institutions Embrace Citizen Participation

The thought of engaging with citizens often provokes much fear: the same people always show up; anger and blame will fuel the conversation; results will be inadequate; costs are high; and creating an expectation to deliver and/or promise on outcomes. Most public institutions refer to the Spectrum of Participation, a conceptual framework for community consultation, especially in government.

 

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Citizens want to know what they are being engaged for, how their participation will make a difference, and when can they expect feedback on next steps. Moving towards higher levels of participation takes time and money, but the outcomes would be more sustainable and supported by the community. Building a culture of learning and listening (both informally and formally) and developing internal institutional capacity to engage would revolutionize and revitalize engagement to the 21st century.

A project that has recently captured our attention is the Wyndham City Listening Post.

 

5. Failing is an Option!

Innovation requires failing, iteration, and prototyping. If we are to innovate for our cities so that we live our collective potential, we need to accept that together, government, not-for profit, and businesses will fail. Failure is certainly gaining acceptance, but more so in business, less so in not-for-profit, and rarely in government. To create policies and programs that allow people and places to thrive in cities, we need to embrace governments and not-for-profits to take risk with public funds.

 

6. Citizen Spaces

We need to be human together. Cities need to create spaces where people connect to make sense together. There are several different processes used to develop shared spaces: human-centred design, participatory development, lean start-ups, systems thinking etc. All of these invoke a unique perspective, but in the end, they all value the need for diverse perspectives and experiences to come together to learn, appreciate, understand, have empathy, and move towards possibility. A citizen space could be a community commons where citizens have the tools and resources to create together or it could be spaces created by institutions and professionals to ensure that the heart and mind shifts that are required for generative thinking and systemic change can happen.

A livable, vibrant and resilient city is an invitation for people from all walks of life to engage, connect, and make a shared future together. When a city moves closer to reaching its full potential, it’s people come closer to reaching theirs. The two are inseparable because a city is its people.

 

Curated by the CKX Team and awesome contributors-at-large (Read: YOU), #CKX6 is a recurring series that shares six great resources, tools or insights on a particular topic, trend or issue related to our shared pursuit of social change. Think of it as a super-charged social change must read/watch/share/steal list! This #CKX6 on shared city making comes from our friend Manjit Basi with Citizens Academy.

#CKX6: On Language and Social Change

How often do you think about the language you use in your quest for social change? Unless you’re in the communications department of your organization, you may not consider it. Yet language is a tool so powerful it can influence our perception of reality.

 

Plain language is easy to read, understand, and use. It avoids convoluted language and jargon. This is so important that it’s the law for the American public service. — the Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires “clear Government communication the public can understand and use.” (Canada doesn’t have legislation, but does have its own plain language handbook.) Inclusive language is free from words or phrases that reflect prejudiced views of people or groups. Using plain and inclusive language helps you clearly and powerfully communicate your ideas.

 

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Here are the six resources, tools, and articles that have helped to make my language clearer and more inclusive.

1. Great Mission, Bad Statement – SSIR

In this article, Erica Mills argues many nonprofit organizations have a big problem: they use language no one can understand. She gives practical advice to use when refreshing the wording of your mission statement or writing copy for your website. The money quote: “But if you tell someone everything, they generally remember nothing. Less is more.”

 

2. George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing

“Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.”

This sentence is as true now as when it was written 70 years ago. George Orwell’s entire essay Politics and the English Language is excellent. Its five rules for effective writing are essential for social change communicators to communicate effectively. Following rule number 3 alone – If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out – will make your writing much clearer.

 

3. A Progressive’s Style Guide

“Language is a key ingredient in a winning theory of change. Language can build bridges and change minds,” declares the introduction of A Progressive’s Style GuideIts four central principles – people-first language, self-identification, active voice, and proper nouns – ensure clear writing, and also writing that acknowledges the humanity and autonomy of the people you are writing about.

This style guide will also challenge the beliefs and assumptions that underpin the language you use. You’ll come away with a more critical lens on the language you use, and how it is perceived by others. A must-read.

 

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"But if you tell someone everything, they generally remember nothing. Less is more."

 

4. This Surprising Reading Level Analysis Will Change the Way You Write

Did you know the New York Times writes at a grade-nine reading level?

This article by Shane Snow will show you why using complex language (a tendency of many nonprofits) to sound sophisticated and intelligent can be counter-productive. As Snow writes, “The other lesson from this study is that we should aim to reduce complexity in our writing as much as possible. We won’t lose credibility by doing so. Our readers will comprehend and retain our ideas more reliably. And we’ll have a higher likelihood of reaching more people.”

 

5. Hemingway App

Hemingway App makes your writing bold and clear by highlighting long, complex sentences and errors. It also tells you what the readability level of your text is. Hemingway would approve, I’m sure.

(And yes, I used this app to edit this post and make it stronger.)

 

6. The Wordifier

Nothing spruces up copy like replacing tired, over-used words and phrases with fresh language. The Wordifier is a tool for making your language pop with words not used by 95% of other social change organizations out there.

 

So there you have my #CKX6 on language and social change. Remember that your cause is unique, and using fresh and memorable words will make it stand out from the crowd. I hope that something on the list sparked your interest or got you thinking about enhancing public participation. If there’s something you’d like to add to the list, please feel free to comment below.

 

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Curated by the CKX Team and awesome contributors-at-large, #CKX6 is a recurring series that shares six great resources, materials and insights on a particular topic, trend or issue related to our shared pursuit of social change. Think of it as a super-charged social change must read/watch/share/steal list! 

This #CKX6 on language and social change comes from our friend Allison Jane Smith
a writer and communications consultant who has worked with charities and businesses both in Canada and internationally. She has written on charities and international development for The Guardian, ONE, and TakePart World among others.

 

 

#CKX6: On Field Building

When talking about our work in the community knowledge and social change spaces, I often describe CKX as an exercise in field building, so it seems somewhat appropriate for me to use our first #CKX6 to share some of the great resources that have been helpful to us on the journey so far.

But first, what’s a field? and also, what’s field-building?

A field is essentially a community of actors (individuals, institutions or communities) that are working together towards a common goal and using a set of common approaches to achieve that goal. The medical field or economic field are two examples that may jump immediately to mind. Field building is the active coordination of the efforts of those actors and the creation of the conditions for them to be successful.

With those definitions out of the way, on to the #CKX6…

1. The Strong Field Framework

This guide and toolkit from the Irvine Foundation continues to be one of my most-referenced, highlighted and marked-up resources on field building. Proof of that lies in the fact that I’ve not only printed it – double-sided of course – but also dug out my Swingline and actually stapled the printed pages together.

The table below neatly summarizes the five components of a strong field and provides examples of activities and actions needed for each.

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The toolkit also offers practical examples of how to go about your field building efforts with two case studies – one at a high-level and a second that outlines a more comprehensive approach.

 

2. Building to Last: Field building as philanthropic strategy

This report and toolkit from Arabella Advisors takes a similar strategy and approach to the Strong Field Framework, but applies it specifically to the field of philanthropy – and explores why and how a funder would choose to engage in field building instead of funding individual or a portfolio of grants.

It’s a great resource for funders – but I think it’s also quite valuable for a cohort of field-builders who might be looking for insights on how to pitch this type of activity to a range of funding and program partners.

 

3. How to start a movement

What can a ‘lone nut’ dancing shirtless at a music festival teach you about field building? A lot actually. This TED Talk brilliantly shows you how simple it can be to start a movement – and that it can actually happen in less than three minutes. The biggest take-away from this for me is that leadership is overrated and that followers – especially ‘first followers’ – play a critical role in movement or field building.

 

4. Health Nexus Network Mapping

A big part of field building is understanding who the actors (individuals, institutions or communities) are and how they are engaged in and connect to each other and the field that you’re building. That’s where network mapping comes in.

Network mapping is a way of visualizing and interpreting connections between actors in a field. Mapping your network helps you understand the relationships and connections between actors – and the process can help identify strengths, weaknesses, gaps, opportunities, clusters etc. that you can leverage or improve as part of your field-building work.

Health Nexus has developed a suite of network mapping tools and resources that you might find interesting. Originally designed with the health promotion field in mind, they’re easily applicable to any field. If you’re interested in learning more about their network mapping work, you can also reach out to Penny Scott on Twitter.

 

5. Lucy Bernholz

I could easily have made this entire #CKX6 list up with resources, insights and ideas from Lucy Bernholz. A self-described philanthropy wonk, Lucy gets her kicks exploring how we create, fund, and distribute shared social goods in the digital age – what she calls the future of good. She’s one of the co-authors of Building to Last (#2 above) and has also published a great many other insightful articles, posts and reports, many of which are available on her website.

I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Lucy in person, but would welcome the opportunity to wonk-out with her over coffee sometime with the promise to share what I learn here on the blog.

 

6. Field of Dreams

It somehow seems fitting to end our first #CKX6 with some literal (read: imaginary) and aspirational field-building. While at first it might seem entirely ridiculous and implausible to build a baseball diamond in a cornfield, as Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) learns in the 1989 film Field of Dreams, sometimes there’s a kernel of truth to the idea that if you build it, they will come.

 

So there you have it. Our first #CKX6. I hope that something on the list sparked your interest or got you thinking about how you can go about your own field building efforts. If there’s something you’d like to add to the list, please feel free to comment below!

Interested in curating and sharing your own #CKX6 list? Let us know!