Tuesday Seeds for Thought – Home

Last week saw me in the Big Smoke for a family event. It was great to reconnect with relatives and friends, but as always with travel, it’s nice to come back home. This week’s Seeds (loosely) follows that theme of home, whether it falls under developments in my geographic neighbourhood or what constitutes a professional identity “home”.

From Last Week

I had hoped to get last week’s Seeds written and posted before I left, but that didn’t happen. However, I did submit a conference proposal with my friend and colleague Chi Yan Lam. If accepted, we’ll be co-hosting a “Birds of a Feather” gathering at this fall’s American Evaluation Association conference to bring together people interested in developmental evaluation. We’re not calling it a Community of Practice ( … yet) but hopefully we can help connect practitioners who may be otherwise isolated in promoting this approach.

Around the Web

  • I have considered the non-profit sector to be my home for some time, even though I’m technically on the for-profit side now (with a social purpose, but still a business). Gordon Brown provides his take on What You Need To Know About Working For A Non-Profit – I don’t agree with everything he wrote, but it’s a good overview.
  • During last week’s trip I had a conversation with my sister-in-law about experimental designs, and the next day came across this Chris Lysy cartoon set on the closely-related Randomized Controlled Trial. Given that I “grew up”, academically speaking, in traditional research psychology, I have seen how experimental designs can be elevated as the best (if not only) way to conduct research: however, my understanding of what constitutes knowledge and ways to understand the world has expanded since then. That being said, feel free to call me out if I ever call someone a “randomista”.
  • Helping people understand research and evaluation is often about finding metaphors that resonate. Charles Gasper at the Evaluation Evangelist uses the analogy of picking your March Madness bracket: I’m not a basketball fan, but hey, if it helps you understand evaluation, I’m all for it!

Around Toon Town

  • Leadership Saskatoon is holding a Lunch and Learn session tomorrow (Wednesday) on the topic of innovation in organizations. The session takes place at the Saskatchewan Abilities Council site on Kilburn starting at 12:05 and participants are asked to RSVP.
  • Leadership Saskatoon is also accepting nominations for their Community Leadership award (due April 1) and applications for next year’s leadership development program (due June 10, but as there’s usually a wait list so best to submit ASAP!) – more information on their website.
  • Next Wednesday (April 2), catch the Fuze Conference on marketing and communication, which includes some great speakers on community engagement.
  • Shameless plug: the Saskatoon Community Band (I play trombone in their wind ensemble) is welcoming the arrival of spring with a concert next Wednesday at 7:30 at the Broadway Theatre. Tickets are $10 ($5 for students) – contact me if you’re in Saskatoon and interested!

Feeling at home with this format, or ready to pack up and move on? Either way, let me know through comments below, on Twitter, or the standard contact means.

Tuesday Seeds for Thought – Snow to Slush

A new pond at the corner of 9th and Broadway

After last week’s crazy-cold weather, spring has definitely arrived in Saskatoon. Temperatures are hovering just around the freezing point, which has allowed us stoic prairie folk to shed a couple of layers: on the downside, we’re now facing potholes and puddles. I’m sure winter has at least one parting storm up its sleeve for us this year, but I think we’ll be firing up the grills, hitting the patios, and soaking up some sun not long from now.

On to the news!

From Last Week

Around Toon Town

  • As mentioned in the previous instalment, this week marks the launch of the Poverty Costs campaign. There’s a Poverty 101 session this Thursday night and a benefit concert at Amigo’s Saturday!
  • Also listed last week is the Brain Blast educational event, taking place on Sunday March 16 between 12-3 at City Hospital. Sounds like a great opportunity to see how much I forgot remember from Psych 100 all those years ago.
  • In case your schedule wasn’t full enough, the University of Saskatchewan is hosting Aboriginal Achievement Week to celebrate Aboriginal achievement, reflect on traditions and ceremonies, and connect with the community. Tonight I’m hoping to catch Buffy Sainte-Marie’s presentation at the Broadway Theatre!
  • More happenings at the Broadway: Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Inc is hosting a screening of”Beethoven Lives Upstairs” on Friday March 14 starting at 7pm, with an interactive discussion following the film.
  • Saskatchewan Co-operative Association is hosting a webinar next week (March 19th) with Vanessa Hammond on the topic of co-operative governance.

Around the Web

"How's your Developmental Eval presentation coming?" "It's still in development ..."

Thoughts? Accolades? (Constructive) Criticism? Ideas for future posts? Please share!

The Right Questions

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the benefits of learning more about those individuals who aren’t accessing your services or programs. Before sharing some ideas on connecting with these groups, I wanted to raise an important point: more than mere “wordsmithing”, the way you ask the question matters.

Let’s back up a second. How many times have you heard something along the lines of “How do we attract more […]?” The blank can be “youth”, “women”, “newcomers”, “low-income participants”, “visible minorities”, “people with disabilities” or any other label. On the surface, this question appears innocuous: you’re simply asking what can be done to reach out to a group that’s not present. That phrase comes with some troubling undertones though. People are reduced to a single overarching identity, ignoring their unique experiences and (as discussed in the original post) the potential that what you see as a unitary population may in fact consist of multiple subgroups with different strengths and challenges. At its extreme, it can make you seem like you want them in your program just to check off the box that you have sufficient representation from whatever identity you’ve labelled them with, making your outreach efforts seem tokenistic.

That type of question also has a paradoxical relationship with action. On the one hand, you’re predisposed to doing something (anything, perhaps?) to pave the way to increased participation. Simultaneously, this approach often comes with an underlying assumption that, although your organization is the one acting, the people you’re trying to attract are the ones with the problem. [Sarcasm alert] Perhaps they need to be made aware of how awesome your service is, or maybe they face some type of challenge or barrier that you’ve decided to graciously accommodate.

Good research, planning, and evaluation always begin with good questions. Instead of asking how do we get more people, start by asking an open-ended question: “why”. Why would they make use of your service or program in the first place? Why aren’t we seeing them here? As mentioned in the first post in this series, perhaps they’re drawing on strengths and resources you hadn’t considered. Maybe your organization has a bad reputation in the community, such as from previously taking a “How do we attract” approach that gave off the vibe of “We want you because you’ll make our program numbers look good”. Maybe your program or service isn’t so awesome after all, and you need to spend more time building relationships with the community instead of leaping immediately to action based on assumptions of what’s needed.

The answers from asking “why” may not suggest an immediate course of action. They may bring up uncomfortable truths about how your organization is viewed in the community. They could even shatter preconceived notions you may have held about those you work with and (nominally) serve. It’s not an easy process to ask why, but you need to trust that your organization can work through the difficult answers and ultimately become more responsive to the community as a result.

The next post will suggest some specific methods for reaching out and learning more about individuals and groups you may not have pre-existing connections with. In the meantime, let’s continue the conversation: share your thoughts below in the comments, on Twitter, or through the usual contact methods!

Tuesday Seeds for Thought – March Lions

It’s March, but if you live in Saskatoon you wouldn’t know it from the weather. With temperatures hovering around the -50 Celsius mark with the windchill this past weekend, winter clearly shows no interest in vacating the premises anytime soon. That being said, with the new month and the longer days there’s definitely a shift in the air, anticipating that spring is just around the corner. Fittingly, there seems to be a lot of neat local events in the works: shake off the winter doldrums and check out what’s happening!

From Last Week

I was originally planning to post the followup to Who’s Not Here this past week, but a random brainwave related to an Internet meme sent me in a slightly different direction – watch for this unplanned-but-insightful part 1.5 to hit the blog this week!

Around Town

  • As advertised last week, the Social Innovation YXE March Meetup will be taking place tomorrow (March 5) at Station 20 West. There are still spots available, so if you’re interested register now!
  • CHEP Good Food Inc is hosting a screening of urban agriculture film Growing Cities this Thursday, March 6, at 7pm at the Broadway Theatre. (Hat tip to EcoFriendly Sask, a great source for local environmental news!)
  • This coming Saturday, March 8, is International Women’s Day, and the Saskatoon community is marking the occasion with several events around the city (via The StarPhoenix).
  • Saskatchewan is one of two provinces in Canada that lacks a comprehensive poverty reduction plan: Poverty Costs aims to change that and build awareness of the impact that poverty has on everyone. Their campaign launches next Monday, March 10 at 1pm at Station 20 West.
  • Next week is also Brain Awareness week, culminating with a Brain Blast educational event on Sunday March 16 between 12-3 at City Hospital. I’m thinking there should also be a Brian Spelling Awareness week: you wouldn’t believe how many people have flipped the “i” and “a” in my name. Including myself, naturally.

Around the Web

Have some constructive feedback on this format? Got content for future posts? Let me know!