Another View

“Walk a mile in my shoes.” It’s a common metaphor, almost to the point of cliche, but one that I’ve been living, quite literally, for the past few months. Back in November, a moment of inattention on a set of stairs sent me tumbling and ended with a fractured metatarsal on my left foot and me in a walking cast for a month. Just as I was finishing my recovery from that injury, I ruptured my Achilles’ tendon in my other foot playing badminton: that incident was a bit more serious, requiring surgery to repair (which I had just last week) and me looking at a six-month recovery period before I’m back to one hundred percent.

Both of these injuries have had an impact on my daily life, particularly my mobility. Normal tasks became much more difficult, especially with the Achilles’ injury as I’m not yet at the stage where I can put weight on that foot. I’m adjusting to life with crutches, and while I can go short distances, walking to work won’t be an option for some time. Both injuries also created difficulties with events or routines that I had previously taken for granted: take a community event or networking night, which often takes place in crowded spaces with few options for sitting. I also started noticing barriers in the world. Those two steps into a building that I would be hard-pressed to notice before turned into an obstacle. When the local transit agency substituted an older bus onto a route that usually had low-floor vehicles, I noticed (and cursed). Searching for an elevator only to discover it’s out of service (or non-existent) would definitely knock the wind out of my sails.

These two injuries have provided me with just a tiny bit of insight into what life is like with a physical disability that impacts mobility. Unlike many others, I know that this status will (hopefully!) not be permanent, and I have many supports that can help me through the next few months. However, the lessons from these experiences won’t leave me soon – while physical accessibility was always on my checklist when planning an event I’ll definitely be more conscious of those barriers, both now and after I’m back to walking on two feet.

In the non-profit and social services sector, we don’t often have the opportunity to take a literal walk in another’s shoes (though there are some neat roleplaying exercises that try to provide those experiences). When we think about evaluation or program feedback or research, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a questionnaire or survey: while these set questions have their uses, there is the risk that we’re reducing people to a couple of numbers on predetermined scales, boxing them into our predefined concepts, and ignoring important contextual differences. If I was running an organization that helped people with mobility issues but based our practice solely on my experience with temporary injuries, our service would be of little use to seniors, single parents, or people with multiple health issues (just to provide a few examples). Although there would be some commonalities, I would not claim that they will follow the same path, or that what helped me would help them.
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Retreat Is An Option

It all starts with an idea. A new way of doing things. A risk, but a calculated one: if it pays off, it could change the whole game. After gathering some information and learning a bit about the context, we’re off and running, first in one direction but always adapting in response to conditions and changes that could not have been predicted. We’re making progress and success can be seen in the far distance … but it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer, and one has to entertain the possibility that we’ve been running in circles. At some point, it makes more sense to stop for a minute or two, determine where we’ve been and where we want to go, and chart out a new course.

This extended analogy aptly captures the course of a social innovation, namely its combination of reflection and activity, taking stock and taking action. It can also be used to describe the course of a new business or enterprise that starts with a set plan but requires an eye to trends that may affect the bottom line. With my intention to run Strong Roots Consulting as a social enterprise – a business that prioritizes social and environmental bottom lines on an equal footing with the financial – I fall under both camps. In either case, it’s not enough to merely be aware of how the world is changing, I also need to know where I’m coming from and where I need to go.

At one point last week, I realized that I have been doing a lot recently, including work on several projects, general outreach and networking, and the infographics course, but my schedule has lacked that time to reflect on what I’m doing. My solution? A one-person, one-day strategic retreat. Those with a specific vision of what a “Retreat” is would have been disappointed – no heading for the woods (too cold in the prairies this time of year!) or a hotel meeting room, just setting some time and boundaries to get away from the daily routine.
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