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.

Infographics and Evaluation

Just over a week ago, I started taking a free online course on Infographics and Data Visualization, taught by journalist Alberto Cairo and hosted by the University of Texas at Austin’s Knight Centre for Journalism in the Americas. Although journalism is not one of Strong Root’s core activities, I’m looking forward to learning more about how to visually present data findings – after all, what use is research and evaluation if the data is locked up behind jargon and massive tables of numbers? Ensuring that the research methods are participatory and accessible to everyone whose voice needs to be heard is only the start: the findings should likewise be understandable and relevant to all key stakeholders.
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News – Saskatoon Community Foundation workshop

The Saskatoon Community Foundation is holding a grant writing workshop this coming Monday, January 21, 1-3pm, at the Cosmo Civic Centre (3130 Laurier Drive). The workshop is free and will focus on applying to the Saskatoon Community Foundation’s grants, but will also provide useful pointers for applying to other grantors as well.

There doesn’t seem to be any information on the Foundation’s website about this event (I learned about it from their email list – if you want to join it, there’s a signup button on the main page of their website), so if you have any questions or would like to RSVP you can contact Don Ewles by email or phone at 306-665-1766.

Blogging Stats and Evaluation

As you can see on the bottom of any page on this site, is “Proudly Powered by WordPress“, an open-source blogging platform that in recent years has expanded to include Content Management System (CMS) features for websites like this one. I’ve used WordPress in the past for both professional and personal projects and have found it to be a versatile tool: friendly enough for beginners to get up and running quickly, while preserving the ability for more experienced hands to dive into code and tweak to heart’s content. If you need a quick website set up for an organization or new project, provides you with a free site in the form of , with the option to set up your own domain name ( later on.

Anyway, what got me started on this post was a summary of my “2012 year in blogging“, prepared automatically by a WordPress service called JetPack. Pulling together site visit statistics into a visually-appealing page, I’ve learned interesting tidbits like the number of visitors to my site last year could fill four Boeing 787 aircraft, and that while most of my visitors were from Canada and the US, I also saw interest from Russia, Germany, India, and Argentina (those international visits likely coming from EvalCentral showcasing my posts). Although the system is not perfect – for example, it includes static pages such as the homepage on its list of popular blog posts – it does provide a good overview of last year’s stats.
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