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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
As you can see on the bottom of any page on this site, Strongrootsconsulting.ca 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, WordPress.com provides you with a free site in the form of http://yourproject.wordpress.com , with the option to set up your own domain name (www.yourproject.com) 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.
Happy New Year! I hope that everyone had a great holiday season and that 2013 is off to a good start. I’ll be hitting the ground running this January, starting with facilitating a conversation around social innovation at The Two Twenty tomorrow morning as part of their First Tuesday series (moved to the second Tuesday this month, as very few people would show up for anything at 7:30am on New Year’s Day!). Here’s the description from the Facebook page:
In Saskatoon and around the globe, there is a wave building, and its name is social innovation. Social innovation and social entrepreneurship move beyond the traditional models of charity and service delivery. Social entrepreneurship, crowdfunding, grassroots involvement, asset-based community development – these and many more creative approaches hold the power to change the playing field and spawn new methods of solving complex and daunting social issues, That being said, individuals and groups who drive social change often encounter barriers that preserve the status quo, like funding criteria that privilege certain types of organizations and activities over others, or a simple distrust of new ideas.
This First Tuesday, Brian Hoessler of Strong Roots Consulting wants to know how social innovation can be better supported in Saskatoon, with an eye towards building a diverse network of people and organizations around this topic. As a growing city, we have the opportunity to build our community’s capacity to tackle these challenging issues – be a part of the conversation!
If you can’t make it but want to contribute your thoughts around this topic, drop me a line! I’ll also post a summary after the event to continue the conversation.
Another mini-project I’ll be working on over the next week is a short series on planning for non-profits, using the analogy of the traditional New Year’s Resolutions. Whether it’s getting in shape or improving your programs, a lot of the fundamentals are the same, as are the pitfalls. What’s the best way to avoid having your goals fall by the wayside? Stay tuned.
I’m sure many non-profit organizations would love to find some additional funding under the tree this year, but barring that, there are some grant opportunities coming up early in the New Year to consider. New to the Saskatoon Grants section on this site are three grants from the City of Saskatoon. The first two, the Community Grant Program and the Urban Aboriginal Grant Program, support local sports, cultural, and recreational programs and are due January 15, while the Environmental Grants support environmental programs with a due date of March 1. Also due early in 2013 are applications for the Saskatoon Health Region’s Community Grants (January 15) and Letters of Intent for the Saskatoon Community Foundation’s Quality of Life grant program (February 1).
All in all, lots of opportunities to start off the New Year right! Remember that Strong Roots Consulting is available to help throughout the process, including overall strategic planning, program development, grant preparation, and program evaluation. I’ll be taking some time off during the holidays but will still be reachable by email: I’ll be back to the normal routine and available to connect by phone or in person starting January 2.
Happy holidays and all the best for 2013!
Strong Roots is continually evolving, so it makes sense that the website would reflect that change too! The section formerly known as Community-Based Research under Activities has been renamed to Research & Evaluation. The rationale for this move is explored in a previous post, but what it comes down to is that I see all of my work (not just research) at Strong Roots as being grounded in the community, and I’m becoming more comfortable with the “evaluator” title, as long as that word is footnoted with an explanation of what evaluation is to me.
On that note, besides getting a new title, the Research & Evaluation section has been expanded to further explain my approach to those activities and also links to resource pages on participatory research methods and a new one on developmental evaluation. If you’re at all wondering how research and evaluation can help your organization, take a look at those pages and drop me a line!
Under resources, the Saskatoon Grants section has also received some TLC to make it easier to navigate. Grants are now listed on separate pages by the type of funder (Collaborative Funding Partnership, Government and Foundations, Non-Profits, and Corporate – the last one includes some new additions to the list). I struggled with how to best sort these funding opportunities; my decision to go by type of funder came from the ease of categorization compared to other schemes such as type of projects funded, which could lead to the same grant being listed multiple times and be subject to change if an organization’s priorities changed. I’ll try this method for now, but may change it in the future if I figure out a better way. Of course, if you have any suggestions, let me know in the comments below!