by Mark Cabaj, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement
Tamarack has provided regular and comprehensive coverage to the Vibrant Communities initiative since it began in 2002. And why not? It was a grand experiment (2002-2011) by a group of urban collaboratives from across Canada and three national sponsors to significantly reduce poverty through comprehensive and multi-sectoral efforts that yielded significant results and lessons.
The results include concrete reductions in poverty. Over a dozen local poverty reduction roundtables contributed to 256 initiatives that have generated 439,435 benefits to 202,931 low income households. The same groups were involved in scores of systemic and policy changes and improved the local awareness and commitment to reduce poverty over the longer term.
The lessons included how to work in new ways: working across sector boundaries, engaging low income and business leaders, working comprehensively on poverty’s root causes and embracing a learning-by-doing approach that encourages risk and innovation. These insights – and many more – are captured and shared in a variety of reports, books and podcasts that are available on the Vibrant Communities Canada website.
The learning continues. The work of local Trail Builders – and the mining and distilling of their results and learning – was made possible thanks to a large and diverse array of national supports. This included generous multi-year grants; hands-on coaching from seasoned experts; an ambitious research and policy agenda; a pool of tools and techniques; a larger number of tele-learning calls exploring new practices and change stories; regular peer calls between communities; a variety of face-to-face learning events; a comprehensive website; and a constant series of electronic newsletters. Local communities and national sponsors invested a great deal of time, money and energy in developing and using a sophisticated “architecture” of supports rarely seen in other national efforts.
What difference – if any – did it all make? What are the lessons for supporting other local efforts to tackle complex issues? These are the questions that Jamie Gamble of Imprint Consulting Inc. explores in the soon-to-be released second (and last) installment of the Vibrant Communities evaluation: Inspired Learning: An Evaluation of Vibrant Communities National Supports.
Throughout 2011-2012, Jamie and his team reviewed program files and interviewed the local “users” of these supports to understand how they worked and how – if at all – they influenced the activities and outcomes of local groups. Their findings are captured in a fifty-page report that covers the following:
- A description of each of the Vibrant Communities supports and how they worked
- A summary of the ever-evolving “architecture” of how these supports worked together
- Four case examples of how Trail Builder communities used different supports
- A general assessment of the use and value of each support
- An exploration of what supports worked for whom and when
Based on these findings, Gamble draws an important conclusion: it may not be necessary to provide such a robust, elaborate and expensive constellation of supports to all local efforts tackling complex issues (e.g. poverty, homelessness, high school graduate rates); however, it was critical in the case of the Vibrant Communities initiative which operated with the concurrent objectives of: (a) providing support to local groups so that they were able to generate concrete reductions in poverty; (b) mining and distilling their results and findings to share with others; and (c) encouraging other communities and the policy makers and funders that support them to adopt this approach to tackling poverty.
Gamble’s recommendations to national intermediaries, funders and communities are useful to communities and organizations involved in the next iteration of the Vibrant Communities – Cities Reducing Poverty – and for anyone else who dreams of “moving the needles” on the most complex issues of our time.
- Register here to be among the first to receive a PDF of Inspired Learning: An Evaluation of Vibrant Communities National Supports when it is released
- Access the first installment of the Vibrant Communities evaluation, Evaluating Vibrant Communities 2002-2010
- Read Cities Reducing Poverty: Case Studies from Vibrant Communities
- Find more resources about poverty reduction at Tamarack’s www.vibrantcanada.ca website