Exploring Beliefs, Listening for Change

Research, even in a community-based context, is often associated with providing evidence and providing some degree of certainty. Can we prove that poverty is increasing? Can we show that our organization’s efforts are making a difference (and thus we deserve more funding)?

There are other aspects of research that get less attention but are equally as crucial. Exploratory work may not “prove” something in the traditional sense, but can help sketch out a map of what direction to take next. Likewise, research can help disconfirm previously-held ideas: as the cliche goes, one black swan is all that’s needed to disprove the belief that all swans are white. Through these two approaches, research can challenge established ideas and ways of effecting change.

Last night, I came across an article about an exploratory research project on auditory hallucinations, originally reported in The Lancet Psychiatry. Cleverly titled “Hearing the Voice”, the research group behind the project decided to use a survey to learn more about what people actually experience, even if they did not have a clinical diagnosis.

Using open-ended questions, they found some results that countered previous research and long-held assumptions. For example, in contrast to the idea that most voices are violent or potentially harmful, most respondents described them as being helpful or benign. Although the research has its shortcomings, such as no way to verify participants’ self-reported experiences, the results suggest that what we previously thought about “hearing voices” may not be totally correct.

What beliefs do we hold onto in the for-impact sector about the people and communities we work with?

  • Seniors / newcomers to our country / low-income individuals and families don’t use social media, so we shouldn’t bother to advertise our events and programs on Facebook or Twitter
  • Our clients have poor education and skills
  • Participants and local community members don’t have the time or interest to play a leadership role in our organization

Some of these beliefs may in fact be true for your context, while others should put thrown in the same bin as “If you’re hearing voices, they’re most likely saying bad things”. Holding on to these old beliefs in absence of evidence could easily lead us to miss opportunities to create a broader impact.

Fortunately, the solution is pretty straightforward. Ask your participants open-ended questions, watch what’s happening in the community, and connect with partners and local leaders around your issue. Most importantly, approach this research not to confirm what you already know (or think you know), but to challenge your beliefs and learn something new.

News – Chats, Culture, and Change!

Welcome to a new month! Prepare yourself to hear (and perhaps initiate yourself) random small talk around the office of “Wow, can you believe it’s March already?”. Lots happening this month, so on to the content!


A new month of course means another #SKNPChat – this month, hosted by yours truly on the topic of evaluation. For those questions you’ve had about program evaluation but were afraid to ask your funder about, now’s your chance. Join us this Thursday at 11am Saskatchewan time!

To recognize the upcoming International Women’s Day, International Women of Saskatoon (IWS) is hosting an event on Friday, March 6, at the Hilton Garden Inn. Running from 9:30 to noon, the event focuses on women as change agents and will feature two panel discussion, one on women in politics and the other on the workplace. Check the link above for further details and RSVP info.

Also this Friday, KPMG and the United Way of Saskatoon and Area are hosting a panel discussion for local non-profits on the topic of community engagement and sustainability. The discussion starts at 3:30 and takes place at the Sheraton Cavalier’s “Top of the Inn” ballroom.

Leadership Saskatoon is hosting a Sandbox Lunch and Learn on March 18. Alleson Mason, from the Saskatchewan Open Doors Society, will be presenting on “Intercultural Communication & Cultural Diversity in Saskatoon”. More details including location and RSVP information available here.


Applications for the Community Initiatives Fund’s Community Grant and Community Places and Spaces programs are both due April 1. These funds are open to all Saskatchewan nonprofits (charitable status not required): unincorporated groups can apply if endorsed by an eligible organization (nonprofit, municipality, health region, school, school division) that will handle the funds on behalf of the applicant.

SaskCulture is providing funding assistance for organizations participating in Culture Days (September 25-27 this year). Registered Saskatchewan non-profits with a cultural mandate can apply individually for event funding or as a group (minimum three organizations) to host a Cultural Hub. Due date is April 15.

New @Strong Roots

New office

Two quick pieces of Strong Roots news. First, it turns out my announcement earlier this year about moving into an office was slightly premature: good news, things have worked out and I am now the proud lessee of suite 213 at the Two Twenty! It’ll be a few days before I’m moved in fully and settled (as you can see in the pic, I’m going for the whole lean startup look1, but feel free to drop by and say hi.

Second, I’ve been playing around with a bit of a website redesign, featuring a new logo – check out the teaser! Besides having a fresher look, the new site will be reorganized to highlight the core work I do with for-impact organizations.

How are you holding up into the third month of 2015? Share below, drop me a line on Twitter as practice for Thursday’s tweet chat, or send an email!

  1. Thanks to my new neighbour Joanne from the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council for lending me a desk for today!