Spring Growth

Greetings from Calgary! I’m in town for this year’s edition of the Canadian Evaluation Society (CES) conference. While I’m excited as always to be participating, during my trip preparations I realized that my last post online was from last year’s conference! Though the site may have been quiet these past twelve months, Strong Roots Consulting has been anything but, filled with both interesting client projects and some initiatives to develop our own capacity. On that second topic, here’s a quick run-down on where we’ve been and where we plan to go.

Learning and Sharing Events

If this past year had a theme, it would have been “Learn and Share”. In addition to last year’s CES conference in Vancouver, I presented at the biennial conference of the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) and attended learning events hosted by Tamarack Institute on Cities of the Future, Evaluating Community Impact, and Asset-Based Community Development. While all of those events were great, the most personally-meaningful workshop I attended was right at home on the topic of Decolonizing Evaluation. Led by Kim van der Woerd and Billie Joe Rogers from Reciprocal Consulting and featuring a case study of Reconciliation Saskatoon, the two days featured thought-provoking content and great discussions on how evaluations can be designed to be culturally-responsive rather than perpetuating inequitable and harmful relationships.

For some time I’ve had the idea of hosting introductory evaluation workshops in Saskatoon. Thanks tofellow consultant Micheal Heimlick of Two Bridges Consulting, the Saskatchewan chapter of CES, and the Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership, this dream was realized when we hosted a free half-day “Eval 101” session at Station 20 West in Saskatoon. Based on the positive feedback and requests received since then for a repeat event, I hope to continue offering these workshops in the future!

Online Activities

Although the blog was quiet, I have definitely been active online! As usual, my Twitter account lit up during the learning events I attended – expect the same during the next few days at CES. The website also saw a bit of a refresh, taking down some old pages and streamlining and updating existing content.

What I’m most excited about in this area is Eval Cafe, a podcast that I co-host with Carolyn Camman. At its heart, the podcast is two evaluators having a casual chat on different topics. So far we’ve covered “serious” topics like participatory approaches and evaluation ethics, along with more whimsical affairs such as boldly going where evaluation and Star Trek intersect (thanks to Kylie Hutchison for joining us for that one!). Carolyn and I will be recording an episode at CES this year, and we both look forward to sharing our discussions in the months to come.

Now that I have the mic and some experience recording, I’ve been thinking about a solo podcast project to go alongside Eval Cafe – stay tuned on that!


One of the biggest developments for the business this year has been hiring an associate. I’ve always enjoyed working with others who have a similar passion for supporting community initiatives and organizations, but up until now it’s always been on a partnership or subcontracting basis for specific projects. Earlier this month, Strong Roots Consulting welcomed Lindsay Herman as a term associate for the summer. Lindsay recently finished her Masters degree in Urban Planning at the University of Saskatchewan and brings a strong focus on community to her work. In addition to working on client projects, our hope is that we can both contribute to the Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership’s efforts in creating and evaluating a municipal poverty strategy.

A few months ago, I started the application process for the Credentialed Evaluator (CE) designation through CES. The program serves to recognize education and skills related to specific evaluator competencies and promote ongoing professional development. While I didn’t quite meet my aim of submitting the full application before the conference, my hope is to get it in within the next few weeks.

Finally, the business is coming up to its sixth anniversary and we’re using the anniversary to take stock of where we’ve been and how we can continue supporting non-profit organizations and community change initiatives. Oh, and last but not least, I’ll be testing a new approach to the blog to ensure more regular content and fewer months- (or year-) long gaps between posts. More news to come as these pieces come together: keep your eye on the blog here for the latest!

That’s it for now. If you’re at CES this year, come find me and say hi!

News: Funds, Retreats, Conversations, and Growth!

It’s mid-January, and while we’ve hit a warm patch (at least by Saskatoon standards), it’s still a blah time of year. This month’s update looks at funding for nonprofits in Saskatoon, an awesome social innovation residency, and some great local events to encourage you to get out of any midwinter ruts! (Note: This post will not help you get out of any literal ruts, of which there are many here at this time of year.)

Social Innovation Residency

What could be better than spending a month in Banff? Spending a month in Banff with other change makers and leaders on an intense retreat to explore social innovation concepts and work on developing your own ideas! Did I mention that it’s free? More details including an application form (due March 1) are available on The Banff Centre’s website.

Quality of Life Grants

The deadline is quickly approaching for the Saskatoon Community Foundation’s Quality of Life Grants! Amounts in the range of $5,000-10,000 are available for registered charities in any of the Foundation’s seven areas of focus, with an emphasis this year on early childhood development. A brief Letter of Intent form is due through their online system by February 1: applicants selected from this stage will be invited to complete a full application for March 1.

Financing Survey

Also from the Saskatoon Community Foundation is a brief survey for local charities related to debt financing. From the survey preamble and questions, it sounds like they’re investigating opportunities to support charities through low-interest loans and other forms of social financing. Taken together with Affinity’s successful social enterprise crowdfunding campaign late last year, there’s definitely some momentum in Saskatoon for supporting for-impact organizations in new ways!

Salon Colludo

My co-conspirator Sheena Greer is hosting another Playdate later this week for a select group of local nonprofiteers. I was part of the inaugural group back in August – it was awesome then, so I can’t wait to hear what she comes up with this time! There will be a Salon Colludo networking event following the Playdate, open to anyone “working for or interested in the nonprofit & social sectors in Saskatoon”. It’s a come and go event running from 4-8pm on Thursday January 22 at Mediterranno on 3rd Avenue. Hope to see you there!

Community Consultation

The Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre (SFBLC) is hosting a Community Conversation for community members and local organizations alike. Taking place on Wednesday February 4 between 10am-1pm and again from 5-8 (short presentations at 10:30 and 5:30) at Station 20 West, this event is an opportunity to learn more about the work that SFBLC does in the community, how it views the issue of food security and poverty, share your feedback on its current approaches and ideas for the future, and connect with staff, volunteers, and other people interested in this issue. RSVP’s are appreciated (contact info on the Facebook page) and everyone is welcome.

[Full disclosure: I’m currently working with SFBLC on a related project and have provided some assistance with the planning for this event.]

Strong Roots is growing!

Couldn’t share an update on happenings without talking about Strong Roots, right? There are some exciting changes afoot, starting with a transition at the end of this month from the home office/coworking space split into a commercial office space that I’m sharing with a friend. It’s still at the Two Twenty so I get to keep all the privileges, perks, and social connections I’ve developed there, but now with a bit more, well, rootedness.

Got something interesting happening in Saskatoon and area to share? Drop me a line!

Thoughts and Gratitude for the Holidays

For those of us who strive to make our world a better place – whether you work for a charity, a non-profit service provider, an advocacy organization, a social-purpose business, or are “just” a community member who is passionate for a cause – there is really no time that is absolutely quiet: no time where there isn’t someone in need, an action we can take, or a new idea that we can sketch out. Although we encourage others to take time for themselves and those they care about, we’re not always so good at following our own advice.

With that idea in mind, I would like to share three thoughts for those of us who are working for change in our communities:

First, if you are at work over the next week, whether it’s providing support to those in crisis, heading across the country to help restore power in areas affected by ice storms, or staffing a desk at a community service, thank you. Our world doesn’t shut down just because of the holidays: your efforts are important and even crucial for those who face difficulties during this “quiet” time of year. I also hope that you get at least some time over the next week with friends and family to rest and recharge.

Second, for those who do have the opportunity for a break, take it! Spend it with those who are important in your life and reflect on the positives in your life and work. If you’re so inclined, think about what you want to see happen in the months to come, but don’t let it dominate your time away. Come back in the new year refreshed and ready for the challenges and opportunities that 2014 will bring.

Finally, for everyone, enter 2014 with the idea that we all can make a difference. Every day brings us choices, from what we do at work and how we interact with those we meet, to what we value and what we want to see in our neighbourhoods and our world. The impact may not be readily apparent, but it is the small actions of many that make a difference.

I hope you find what you need this holiday season, safe travels to those who are visiting friends and family, and I look forward to connecting and collaborating in the new year!

Strong Roots will be on break for the remainder of the year, returning to normal operations on Friday, January 3. I will still respond to email and phone inquiries during that time as I am able, however it may take longer than my customary two business day response window.


Tis the season for looking back at the year that has passed and making plans for the new one on our doorstep, and Strong Roots Consulting is not immune to this time-honoured tradition. 2013 has been a good year to both me and the business overall (injuries aside!), but I have definitely identified some room for improvement, including how I track my time, where I draw the line between Brian Hoessler the individual and Strong Roots Consulting the venture, and what is the best way to incorporate social media in my work.

During a brainstorming session, I started thinking of where I would like Strong Roots to be by this time in 2014. The problem I ran into is that these outcomes were all fairly generic: review and revise some of the business elements, define a clear mission, vision, and goals, and sketch out a path to reaching those goals, including initial actions, milestones, and rubrics/indicators, resources needed (including my own professional development), and processes for reviewing progress and adapting in response. I could easily see myself dragging my feet on these pieces and be no further along come next December: worse, if I only accomplished these outcomes, the year would not have been very productive!

The solution I hit on? Change the deadline. I am giving myself three months, to March 16, 2014, to have these pieces together, so I can spend the remaining nine months of 2014 following through. Another component to keep me on track is my commitment to report back through this website on the progress I’ve made, at the very least at the one- and two-month yardsticks (i.e. January 16th and February 16th) and when completed: I hope that sharing this experience will also be useful for my readers who are wrestling with their own planning, be it for individual growth or organizational change.

I already have some ideas on all of the outcomes identified above, and just writing them out and sharing my thoughts this way is helping to fuel my enthusiasm and determination to move ahead. What are your goals for the days to come, either personally or for your organization? Share below, or just follow along for the ride!

News: Saskatoon Capacity Building Grant

Programs and services may be a non-profit’s bread and butter, but these organizations also need to develop their own capacity to make a sustainable difference in our communities. Strategic planning, training, volunteer management – these facets of non-profit organizational life may appear mundane but are essential for long-term survival. Unfortunately, there are few grants that provide dedicated funding in this area, but registered charities in Saskatoon now have one more option.

The Saskatoon Community Foundation has announced a new granting program, the BHP Billiton Capacity Building Program. The Community Foundation has previously provided funding for capacity-building projects as part of their Quality of Life granting stream: with this new program, applicants no longer have to choose between capacity and funding for core programs and services. The details are not yet up on the Foundation’s website, but the information I received indicated that the application deadline is October 15 – I’ll update this post and the Grants section of the site when more details are available. In the meantime, you can contact the Saskatoon Community Foundation directly for more information.

Update: I’ve heard from the Community Foundation that the grants information page will be updated soon, but in the meantime you view the application by clicking “Apply Online” from their grants page and logging in to your account. If you don’t have an account already, you can set one up via the same link.

Strong Roots is all about capacity-building, so if you’re thinking about how this grant could be used to help develop your organization, drop me a line!

Request for Help: Saskatoon Grants

As noted yesterday, fall heralds the arrival of another granting cycle with many applications due in October and November. Over the next week or two I’ll be updating the Saskatoon Grants section here on the site so that it continues to be an accurate one-stop resource for local organizations looking for funding. If you’re aware of any grants that I’ve missed or spot any errors, please let me know – drop a note in the comments or through email or Twitter. I can’t promise any tangible rewards but I will recognize tipsters with a thank you in a future post. That, and you’ll get that warm fuzzy feeling from helping out!

Thanks in advance!

Site Update – No Updates

No, this isn’t a “Six o’clock and all is well in the world of non-profits” kind of announcement: rather, I’ll be taking a break from posting on this site on both sides of the upcoming long weekend. So, no regular posts or Seeds for Thought this week or next, but I’ll be back with new content the week of August 12. I will be responding to emails during this time, but otherwise taking some well-deserved time away. I hope everyone out there is having a great summer, and I’ll see you back in August!

News: Cornerstone of the Community

The Saskatoon Community Foundation has opened nominations for their Cornerstone of the Community Award. The award seeks to recognize a resident of the Saskatoon area who has demonstrated a “significant history of service to the community” through volunteerism, building community partnerships, contributing leadership or mentorship, creating a sense of community, engaging in philanthropy, or other forms of service. Personally, I can think of several deserving individuals – I’m happy that I don’t sit on the nomination committee, as it would be difficult to pick just one winner!

To nominate someone for this award, download and complete the form at the link above. Nominations also require two letters of support and a one-page writeup explaining why the nominee is a Cornerstone of the Community. The due date is in in exactly one month, Thursday, August 15, at 4pm: winners will be announced at the Mayor’s Cultural Gala on September 21. For more details, please contact the Saskatoon Community Foundation directly.

One Year

Today, July 11, marks the one-year anniversary of this blog, this website, and Strong Roots Consulting as a whole. The year saw me face some challenges, but overall I’m happy with how things have turned out. I helped out with several interesting local projects, connected with a number of awesome people and organizations (both in the real world and online) and shared ideas and resources through the site and beyond. All in all I have a lot to be proud of and I’m looking forward to what will come this year!

As my professional practice through Strong Roots Consulting has grown and adapted, so has the content on this website. Most notable is a new section, Key Activities, that provides a clearer description of how Strong Roots can work with your organization or initiative, particularly in the areas of Project Support and Organizational Development. The site also has a more succinct listing of the strengths and skills that we bring to the table, clarification of how we work with non-profits, and a new page on the story behind Strong Roots. As always, I’m open to feedback on this site and my practice more generally, so please be in touch if you have something to share!

What’s on tap for the next few months? For starters, I’ll be continuing to connect with the non-profit and working-for-good sector, here in Saskatoon and beyond. Two ideas I’m considering towards that end are a survey for local change makers to learn more about the opportunities and challenges we face, and a “mailbag” feature for the blog where I’ll answer reader questions on topics related to community-based research, evaluation, planning, and program development. Another goal I’m pursuing is to continue my own professional development, especially in the area of developmental evaluation – keep an eye out for new posts on that front in the near future! Finally, I’ve been collaborating with some awesome people locally on a project that fits nicely with Strong Roots’ capacity-building focus: we’re still in the very early stages, but I’m hoping to make an announcement here before the end of summer.

Look for some more insights from this past year in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, thanks again to all my readers, colleagues, friends, and family for your support and encouragement this past year!


A week or so ago, I received an email out of the blue from a manager who works for a local non-profit agency. She was interested in social innovation and had done some work in that area, and recently learned about the First Tuesday session I had hosted in January on the topic. We met for coffee and had a great conversation, coming up with some ideas on how to promote and support social innovation in Saskatoon. Our next step was to reach out and connect with some other people locally who might be interested in helping out with the planning: although I was already expecting a positive response, I was a bit surprised by the strength of interest expressed and the ease by which we were able to convene an in-person meeting (past experience in the non-profit sector has taught me that finding a date and time for everyone to meet is easily two-thirds the battle!).

This experience of going from a couple of blog posts and a one-off session on the topic to finding an ally, developing some concrete ideas, and quickly connecting with a group of co-conspirators reminded me of the concept of emergence, as described in Getting to Maybe. One of the social innovation examples that the authors drew on was Irish rocker Bob Geldof’s work organizing the Live Aid concert to help alleviate famine conditions in Ethiopia. In describing his experience, Geldof noted that once he started on the project, momentum and energy flowed in, almost beyond his control. “No one particularly stood in my way,” Geldof recalled; “On the contrary, doors impenetrable a week earlier swung open effortlessly.” In Getting to Maybe, this and similar experiences are held up as examples of emergence. Based on ideas from complexity science and in contrast to traditional views of the heroic individual or the deliberate plan that is followed inevitably to a logical conclusion, emergence recognizes that disparate actions from a variety of actors can unexpectedly come together and multiply one’s efforts. New and surprising outcomes often result, while cause and effect can become hopelessly tangled.

In a similar vein, this developing movement on social innovation in Saskatoon has demonstrated emergent properties. Did I plan that my blog posts and the First Tuesday session would be found by someone who would contact me, and that we would subsequently find such a good reception amongst others? Although I may have hoped for such an outcome, I saw my work as simply laying the ground and waiting to see what happened. The situation could have turned out differently – someone else could have contacted me, or perhaps at a different time, or maybe someone else in the city might have started something similar that I would have learned about later and joined in. On the other hand, it would be foolish to think that I had no impact, that this issue was fated to happen regardless of my individual action. If I didn’t write those posts and hosted that discussion, would anything have happened?

Although emergence can seem like something inherently uncontrollable, there are some means to encourage it, or at the very least to be prepared to recognize and act on the opportunities that come along. Getting to Maybe articulates a number of principles in this regard, several of which jump out at me: speaking passionately about the issue, practicing and developing the expression of one’s vision, and supporting intense interactions, networking, and information exchange among those who are interested. I think I was (unconsciously) following those principles through writing on this blog, holding the First Tuesday session, developing my own learning and understanding on the topic (such as by reading and commenting on Getting to Maybe), and building connections with like-minded people in Saskatoon.

Going back to our ideas and plans, I’m going to hold off on sharing specifics for the time being because we’re still very much at the beginning stage: I’m hoping to have something more concrete to announce before the end of the month. That being said, if you are interested in supporting and promoting social innovation in Saskatoon (especially if you are or have connections with powerful strangers), please drop me a line! I think there are some real possibilities here, and I’m excited to see where this venture will lead.