Almost six weeks ago, my partner and I returned from a work trip to Ontario. Reports from near and far were already providing ample evidence that things were not normal, leading us to cancel plans to see friends and cut our trip short. Since then, we have seen how this “not normal” state has now become our “new normal”. News of overburdened hospitals and health-care systems contrast with photos of empty shelves and city sidewalks, while insights generated by effective data visualizations and metaphors1 do battle against misinformation, ignorance, and in some cases, outright lies. Like many of us these past few weeks, I have gone through the full gamut of emotions – hope, despair, fear, acceptance, anxiety, and gratitude, to name just a few. I consider myself fortunate that none of my family or friends have been hospitalized or passed away from this disease, and doubly-fortunate to be in a position where I don’t need to worry about how to keep food on the table or a roof overhead for the coming weeks – considerations that many around the world, including here in Saskatoon, cannot take for granted at the best of times. I worry what will happen to our community, especially for those who were already vulnerable long before the pandemic hit: at the same time, I hold out hope that current circumstances will encourage us to question what is important in our lives and ask how we can build a better world.

Right now, a lot of community-based organizations are facing unprecedented turmoil and uncertainty. Those addressing basic needs such as food, shelter, and health, or providing supports in crisis situations, face the challenge of meeting increased demand while ensuring safety for community members, staff, and volunteers. Other agencies are wondering how to support their clients when in-person meetings and gatherings are heavily restricted or even prohibited. Organizations that contribute to community well-being through programming in the arts, culture, music, and sports are looking at a long road before it will be possible to re-open doors and reschedule events. And regardless of their size or sector, pretty much all non-profits are facing major funding challenges, be it from cancelled fundraising events, loss of earned revenue, or projected declines in individual and corporate donations in response to a pandemic-induced economic downturn.

Seeing all of this, my first inclination is to find some way to contribute, to help out. However, I recognize that what I normally provide in terms of services are likely what’s not needed right now; at a time when too many organizations are (rightly) focused on supporting their communities and keeping the lights on, instead of worrying about an out-of-date strategic plan2 or the need to conduct an evaluation of a program. At the same time, I know that the skills underpinning those services – asking questions, articulating connections between activities and outcomes, identifying and making sense out of patterns in the data, and finding opportunities for improvement and development – are what’s going to be needed as we move through the messy and chaotic initial responses and start thinking about what’s needed in the weeks, months, and years to come.

So what’s the plan for Strong Roots Consulting in these times? As the new front page3 of our website highlights, our work revolves around “strengthening organizations and communities by cultivating growth and learning, grounded in what is and what could be”. In terms of how to best live up to that mission during these times, I have identified three activities to focus on:

  • Sharing news, resources, frameworks, and ideas that are most relevant to community-based organizations during this time. The focus will be on our areas of strength – strategic planning, evaluation, and organizational capacity-building – along with resources and announcements relevant to Saskatchewan-based organizations. Most of this information will be shared through the blog on this website, but we may also try out different formats like podcasts and webinars4.
  • Hosting one-to-one virtual coffee chats for those working in the sector, open to anyone who wants to have a chat about, well, pretty much anything. The thought is that these calls can combine two of my strengths: listening, and drawing connections to relevant ideas, bits of knowledge5, and resources. There’s no cost associated with these chats and no expectation for anything further to develop from them. Details and a sign-up procedure will be posted in the next few days.
  • Identifying specific opportunities to contribute to a local response to the pandemic, whether it’s through specific project work or participating in a broader community initiative.

With things still changing rapidly, I don’t know what, if anything, will stick from this initial response. I appreciate any thoughts or ideas you may have – feel free to drop me a line through the contact form on the main page or via Twitter. Or just let me know how you’re doing! In any case, stay well and stay healthy.

  1. I hereby nominate “flatten the curve” for phrase of the year.
  2. News: All strategic plans the world over are now officially out of date.
  3. Yep, I’ve updated the website during a global pandemic. If you’re reading this via an email notification or RSS, you may want to go check it out!
  4. Just don’t expect me to become a YouTube star, at least not overnight.
  5. Also useful for trivia nights!