January 29, 2019 News

As hinted at earlier this month, one area I would like to (re-)start on this website is regular news updates. While Saskatoon can often feel like a small town, especially in the non-profit sector, it has grown to the point where we have many interesting events happening – and more importantly, we can’t just rely on word of mouth or “being in the know” to be aware of all of them! And of course, there’s a whole sea of online events that can be useful where you are (and which conveniently don’t require you to leave your home or office when it’s -35 out!).

So, I’m trying the regular news format again to help provide a coherent signal amidst the noise for Saskatoon-based nonprofits. It’ll be a weekly update on Tuesdays (to start) and include both Saskatoon-specific items and online events, with a focus on Strong Roots Consulting’s strengths – namely, community-based research, strategic planning, and program evaluation.

This week we have a couple of last minute events in town combined with a good range of evaluation-related online learning opportunities – so if you have professional development funds to be used up before fiscal year end, make sure to check them out! And finally, some good news from CRA (how often can you say that?) for organizations with charitable status who also engage in advocacy or public education work.

Saskatoon events

Tomorrow (January 30) Erin Ryan-Walsh of William Joseph is hosting a free workshop on Marketing for Nonprofits. Seating is limited and registration is required – they have an earlier session that has already filled up, so if you’re interested don’t delay in signing up!

The Saskatchewan chapter of the Canadian Evaluation Society (CES-SK) is holding a meet and great tomorrow evening (January 30) at the Thirsty Scholar. Open to anyone who is interested in evaluation!

Finally, next Thursday, February 7, the Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership is publicly releasing 12 Bold Ideas to Eliminate Poverty in Saskatoon at Station 20 West. Full disclosure: I have participated in some of the discussions and planning work around this document, and I’m glad to see it go forward! See poster for more details.

Online events

CES-SK will be offering the Essential Skills Series for learning the basics about program evaluation through an online format starting February 4.

Another online evaluation-related course, the Art of Evaluating in Complexity, begins February 5 and runs for the four Tuesdays in that month. Full disclosure: Chris Corrigan was a recent guest on Eval Cafe, and Carolyn Camman (co-host on the podcast) is one of the guest presenters for the course.

Later in February, SFU is hosting a free webinar on their Evaluation Certificate program (which includes past Eval Cafe guest Kim van der Woerd as an instructor!).

Kylie Hutchison (another Eval Cafe alum!) will be leading a webinar on February 26 on hosting data parties.

News of the Week

I often joke that I’m not a lawyer and I don’t even play one on TV, but here’s some welcome news from folks who are in fact lawyers: CRA Releases Draft Guidance on New Rules Permitting Charities to Engage in ‘Public Policy Dialogue and Development Activities’ (hat tip to the Centre for Social Innovation’s newsletter). From a brief non-lawyerly read, it seems that CRA is more explicitly allowing activities that were formerly in a grey zone, such as research, representations on public policy, and public mobilization around issues that are related to the charity’s stated charitable purpose. Still prohibited are activities that “directly or indirectly support or oppose a political party or candidate”, including transferring resources to a third party for that purpose. If your charity does any type of work in this area or is considering doing so, it would be worthwhile to read through the above link and consider consulting with legal professionals to ensure your policies and practices are on-side.

Eval Cafe

At the 2017 Canadian Evaluation Society conference, my friend and fellow evaluator Carolyn Camman and I decided to start a podcast on the topic of program evaluation. We were inspired by Kylie Hutchison and James Coyle’s Adventures in Evaluation podcast, which had wrapped up in 2014, and also by the conversations we fell into whenever we met up in person.

Thus, Eval Cafe was born, featuring informal chats on evaluation-related topics – the kind you might overhear at your favourite coffeeshop, if it was frequented by evaluators.

While the two of us eat, live, and breathe evaluation, we do our best to keep the conversation accessible to anyone who has an interest in the field, even if they don’t identify with the term “evaluator”. In our short run thus far (16 episodes and counting!), we have discussed a range of topics, from participatory approaches in evaluation to how Star Trek and evaluation connect.

Our latest episode features Chris Corrigan, where we talk about the intersection between evaluation and facilitation as well as the role of evaluation in community change more generally. I think that if you work at all in the non-profit or social change field, you’ll definitely enjoy this episode!

You can listen to the audio directly in your browser (below), or simply search for “Eval Cafe” in your podcast app/platform of choice and you should be able to find us.

Also, a quick plug for Chris’ upcoming online course, The Art of Evaluation in Complexity, starting February 5th and featuring Carolyn as one of the presenters!

Reinvigorating the Strong Roots Blog

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Last year marked six years of operations for Strong Roots Consulting. I’m happy to say that the business is going strong, but there’s been one area that is way overdue for some re-development – this blog. A quick trip to the archives will show a variety of different post types, formats, and posting schedules, ranging from near-weekly to the year-long hiatus between the 2017 and 2018 Canadian Evaluation Society annual conferences.

This past summer, I spent some time reviewing where I see Strong Roots Consulting as a company growing and developing into. As part of that planning exercise I reflected on the role of this website generally and the blog specifically, identifying potential audiences and purposes and starting to sketch out what a posting framework would look like. What I realized was that I want this site to both serve as a general resource on evaluation, strategic planning, and related topics that can be useful to anyone who stumbles on this website, as well as a place to share relevant information and news for non-profits based in and around Saskatoon. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that the blog framework would be feasible in terms of time, so I could maintain a regular posting schedule and not let it lie fallow as in the past.

So, here’s what the blog will look like going forward. Every month will see a more in-depth post on a topic related to the skillsets here at Strong Roots Consulting. That monthly post can be an exploration of an approach or framework, a book review, or a walkthrough of a specific tool or technique. With a less-frequent schedule, I can take the time to focus on the topic and link in other resources so that the post will stay “evergreen” for some time.

In between these monthly deep-dives will be shorter posts on a variety of topics. Quick commentary on an article from another website, sharing a resource, and news about Saskatoon events of interest to the local non-profit scene would all fit in this category. These will be posted on ad-hoc basis but I’ll take care to space them out, especially for the sake of email subscribers to the site.

The key word for me in this new framework is being adaptive. As I go along, maybe I discover that the monthly posting schedule is too frequent and it’s better to more time to get it right – or conversely, that I can post twice-monthly at the quality level I expect. Similarly, perhaps the infrequent posts naturally cluster into certain types: local news comes to mind, and I’ve also seen other websites post a “I wished I wrote that” list on a regular basis. In any case, rather than creating something elaborate right now that could stumble coming out of the gate, I want to get a minimum viable product (to borrow the startup industry term) rolling and build it up as circumstances and my capacity dictate.

Here’s to a more blog writing in 2019!