Five Good Ideas

Five good ideas about the power of local solutions for stronger communities

Published on 18/09/2018

The most successful solutions for building stronger communities have strong local support and are driven by local champions. Nonprofits, school boards, libraries, municipalities, community health centres, and many others understand that. They see the value in local and are not afraid of the challenges in developing local solutions with multiple partners. In this session, Karen Pitre presented her five good ideas on how we can support local champions and break down the silos and barriers that get in the way of local initiatives.

Five Good Ideas

  1. Bigger is not always better
  2. Don’t give up – where there is will there is a way
  3. Money is not the only answer; little things can make a big difference
  4. You may have to give something up to make it work
  5. It is important to listen, but it is also important to hear

Resources

  1. Interested in building local capacity for informed community planning in Ontario? Join the resource network CommuntyHubsOntario to connect and engage with people in communities across Ontario.
  2. Community hubs in Ontario: A strategic framework and action plan: This report summarizes what the Premier’s Community Hubs Framework Advisory Group heard when they met with community members, stakeholders, and other government ministries to learn how the government can deliver public services through local, community hubs.
  3. Community Hubs and Partnerships, Queensland, Australia. Find out how Queensland has gone about transforming communities through cross-sector partnerships.
  4. What is a community court? This report looks at how courts can play a role in solving complex neighbourhood problems and building stronger communities. An interesting example of the power of local solutions from the United States.
  5. Greg Berman and Julian Adler: Start Here: A Roadmap to Reducing Mass Incarceration. This book offers a bold agenda for criminal justice reform in the United States based on equal parts pragmatism and idealism, from the visionary director of the Center for Court Innovation, a leader of the reform movement.

Full session transcript

Good afternoon everybody, and thank you Liz and to Maytree for the opportunity today.

I’m going to start — and I apologize to those of you who’ve heard this before — to give you a little bit of background about the journey that I’ve been on for the past three years. I think it helps provide the context for the five good ideas and also leads into the conversation about where do we go from here.

So as we mentioned, I was appointed in March of 2015. And it was perfect. It was the Friday of March break and I thought they quietly let out a little press release that said Karen would be the special advisor to the Premier. I thought it’s perfect since we didn’t actually know what a community hub was or what we were planning. I thought we could get ourselves some time to get organized. And over the course of that weekend, I heard from everybody from everywhere. It was actually remarkable the number of people that found me when I didn’t even know how they did that.

And so, I went into work on Monday and realized that we had a much more daunting challenge than we’d thought because there were so many people that actually knew what a community hub was, when we were still trying to find out what that looked like. And the Premier’s instructions were very clear when we started this. She said, “We’ve been talking about community hubs for decades, so how do we move this forward? How do we help the people that are working on the ground?”

In sort of the loose definition that we were talking about — community hubs are an integrated service delivery model with multiple partners to meet local needs. As you can appreciate, that’s a fairly wide-ranging conversation. The other thing that was very clear was, “Don’t tell us what doesn’t work.” Because actually that’s really easy, especially if you’re in government. You can find everything that doesn’t work. But what we wanted to find out was what your options for actually fixing this are. So what do we do to actually change the channel and make this easier? And you need to help us develop an action plan.

I had the help of an advisory group, which was also a little bit contentious because there were a number of people who were stakeholders who were not on the advisory group who could not imagine for the life of them how we could actually have an advisory group that didn’t include them. And I said if we had an advisory group that included all the stakeholders, we would have to have a regular meeting like this and it would include too many people.

So we put together a number of people who had experience in government, and actually were strategic thinkers. And it took a while for some sectors to realize that actually not being at the table didn’t mean they weren’t part of the conversation.

So over 90 days — and actually the Premier originally said, “Could you give us an action plan in 30 days?” We begged for 90 because we said we’ve never heard from so many people. We had 350 organizations and we held 70 stakeholder meetings in 90 days. And we didn’t go out and actually have what you would call a typical consultation period because quite frankly, we couldn’t handle the people that were coming to us. So where there were gaps where we felt there were sectors we weren’t hearing from, we did go and seek that out.

But the diversity of the organizations was really remarkable. It came from schools, libraries, health centres. Anybody who comes from a health centre, I heard from every single one of you. Police, municipalities. And there was also a really strong number of organizations from the legal side of things, from both courts and social justice tribunals. So it was a really broad-ranging group of people. We also heard from the Friendship Centres, and the United Way was a big part of this.

I would say the Friendship Centres were really interesting. They said, “We’ve been the community hub forever. You just need to come and talk to us and we’ll tell you how it’s done.” And to be fair, they were absolutely right, and we took a lot of their advice. We said please tell us how to fix some of the things that are not working in the system.

The feedback that we got and the submissions that we got were really remarkable. People spent a lot of time and a lot of thought in terms of how they could make changes, and how the government could actually make changes. We had two summer students working full time trying to summarize the briefs that we received, and we ended up with a document about two inches thick which was just the two paragraph summary of all the good advice that we got. So we managed to pull that together, as we mentioned, in a report with 27 recommendations, and it was released in August of 2015.

The other really interesting conversation we had was there was a desire by some people to do pilot projects. There was a really strong push to say, “There’s a lot of really interesting projects underway. Why don’t we pick three or five and really turn our minds to them?” And the very opinionated advisory group that I have said, “Not a chance.” They said, “You can do a pilot project and you can make it successful but you don’t actually drive any systemic changes. Great, you made five communities better, but you’re not changing the system.”

So instead of having pilot projects, we put together an issues tracking list and we said, “Any community, if you’re running into a problem — whatever it might be — that we need to hear about in terms of what the challenges are at a local level, let us know and we’ll put this together.” So we put together an issues tracker list and instead of having three to five pilot projects, we had about 200.

But it was really interesting because we were able to lump them into specific issues. People were having problems with planning or their funding didn’t align properly. So it was very helpful for us to actually see what the actual problems were that people were experiencing on the ground. We had a huge section — not a huge section, it was actually quite short, and I recommend that you read it. It’s not a long document — because I don’t really believe that anyone reads — so it’s quite short.

The concept of community hubs is not new. And many of you will say — and the Friendship Centre made it very clear — we know that’s the truth. And there’s amazing examples of community hubs from all across the province.

But it’s not because of any coordinated public policy, it’s actually in spite of it. So it’s incredibly challenging work, and there’s a wide range and diversity of models, and we don’t want to change that because we know that actually doing things at a local level means it’s going to be very different, even in different neighbourhoods.

The other challenge is that there’s many people in groups that can be involved in community hubs and all of them have, in many cases, a different mandate and a different interest. And it’s hard to answer to a different master with a different mandate when you’re operating in a shared space.

And the other thing we found, which was actually kind of depressing, was the different geographical boundaries. We actually layered on school board boundaries, municipal boundaries — forget about what’s happening here — municipal boundaries, health boundaries. And none of them align, and yet they’re all planning for their geographical boundary.

And we said, “Okay, we are not going try and change the boundaries because we’ll spend 20 years fighting over the boundaries. Let’s figure out how we can require integrated planning across boundaries.” Not easy, but it was one of the things that many jurisdictions said. How do we actually do this when we have completely different areas that we’re planning for?

We also heard that much of the work was the result of local heroes, and how do we support those people that are doing this incredible heavy lifting along the ground? So the last piece of what we heard was that the province should look at the services that they provide, for example community health centres, social justice tribunals, courts, as an anchor in a community hub so that there’s actually something that gives it that sustainable model.

We know, again, that it’s really unique depending on the community that it serves. And therefore we had a really fun time because we didn’t define a community hub, and when you work in government, that drives them crazy. They want to actually define it, put it in a box, and say this is a community hub or this isn’t. And we said, “You know what? It really doesn’t matter. We don’t have a program and we’re not funding it directly so if somebody thinks this is a community hub — whether it’s a recreation centre or a YMCA, community health centre — doesn’t really matter if that’s where the community goes and sees it as a community hub.”

But I have to tell you — that was just very funny conversations in government because they want to define it. And maybe we need to define it a little bit better, but we said it’s more of an integrated service delivery model, and that makes it challenging.

So that’s sort of the work that we did, and I want to focus on the five good ideas because there was an interesting conversation as we were working with figuring out what were the big ideas out of this one.

The first one on your list is bigger is not always better. And I would say the community understands this even if government doesn’t. I met with officials and I had the great luxury of working across multiple ministries with great people, and I said community hubs is actually running counter to most provincial policies.

We’ve got bigger schools, we’re consolidating them, we’re consolidating hospitals, we’re consolidating courthouses, and communities no longer have control over their local destiny. So it’s a really interesting juxtaposition as we talk about what the future looks like because this is a huge problem for communities who do not see the solution the way that governments are actually presenting it.

I’ll give you one example. I was supposed to be speaking in Temiskaming Shores. And there was somebody on the phone from Temiskaming Shores, and it was in January and the weather was turning and I was supposed to be in Kingston the following day, and I said, “You know, I really don’t think I can make this.” And they had a slight panic and they sort of said, “You have to.”

So I talked to them and I said, “Can you just tell me who’s coming and what’s happening there?” And they said, “We have 150 organizations from across Temiskaming coming to talk about community hubs.” January, the north, Temiskaming. And I said, “Wow, is that something that happens on a regular basis? You know, I wouldn’t have thought there were 150 organizations.” She said, “No, actually it’s never happened before. It’s the first time somebody’s actually talking about the fact that we actually get control of our local destiny back, because school board decisions are made hundreds of miles away. Nobody’s actually talking about how it actually translates into our local community.”

That was very profound. I actually felt a huge understanding, in some ways, of why this had touched such a nerve. But I think it’s important to remember that local interest and local planning really does matter, and it really was difficult for us — and we were in government — to push against what is the thinking in government, that bigger is better. And actually that’s code for bigger is more efficient, and I don’t even know that that’s true.

So the second one is don’t give up. Where there is a will, there is a way. I’m going to give you two examples. I would say the depressing and the exciting part of when I got these responses from all these people who have been working on these incredibly complicated projects in the community and were stuck — was that they were stuck because of government and they were stuck because of the rigidity and the systems that are not set up to deal with community.

So I’ll give you one example. We had Shirley Rasheen, our local hero from a small town called Limoges, which is eastern Ontario, just outside of Ottawa. And she had been working for, I think it was eight years as the local volunteer to bring Francophone services to the community of Limoges, which was an aging community outside of Ottawa, so they didn’t have to drive two hours or leave Limoges.

And she had a development partner that was going to actually build the health services building if we could only align the Ministry of Health spending. She was just running into brick wall after brick wall, despite the fact that the developer was actually making a major contribution. It would have cost the province, would have had to pay the capital if they didn’t do it.

So we worked, again with our little hubs team inside government to say this is ridiculous. You’re going to approve it next year, but the developers could already have built it, and we will miss the opportunity and you’re going to have to go back and build it later. So we did manage to break that down, and that was one of the things where we found huge problems with alignment. We can’t seize the opportunity when we have it.

And Shirley now — we went to the opening. It was unbelievable, because when you work with a developer, they move really fast. And once we got it freed up that they get the health money — we actually went to the grand opening and our local hero was front and centre and it was because of her passion and her drive in making this happen.  And there’s now 50 people working in this health centre in Limoges delivering Francophone health services for what is now becoming a thriving Francophone community.

And I’ll give you one other example, which I told you I heard from every community health centre in the province, and they were just enormously frustrated. Our friends at the United Way, who were great partners in our journey, had been at the Rexdale community hub. They had a space that was empty for a community health centre that had been approved, the city was paying rent on, but they hadn’t got the capital to build it. For eight years it sat in this empty spot.

Again, I don’t know why, we were able to sort of poke the bear I guess. Our colleagues at the Ministry of Health came a long way with us in terms of trying to align this community-Ministry of Health infrastructure, but it was not that there wasn’t money. It was that they just couldn’t make all of the alignment work in a way that got it delivered. So again, it’s now built, it’s open, and they changed the guidelines around the community health centres as a result of the work that we did. But you shouldn’t have to work that hard to make these kind of projects successful.

The third one is —money is not the only answer, and little things can make a big difference. I want to talk a little bit about this because the number of people that said to me — we just need money. And I actually fundamentally do not agree with that, and I’ll tell you why. It’s been really interesting in terms of building a collective responsibility.

So as I said, we had 27 recommendations, and we had a mighty hubs team working out of Cabinet office. Small number of people that were responsible for moving the machinery of government. Basically what we did is we gave each Ministry responsibility for a recommendation. And it was their job to work across Ministries and figure out how to solve it, and we became sort of the coordinator and worked both inside and outside government to drive that change.

I always sort of chuckle — one of the first meetings we had here, we gave the Ministry of Municipal Affairs two of the hardest ones. We said that we needed to require integrated local planning — which I mentioned earlier is really problematic — and integrated provincial planning, and they sort of called us and said, “Okay, so how do we do that, because we’re not set up as a system to do this kind of work.”

And so what they decided to do was to host five forums across the province. And we went to Thunder Bay, we went to Sudbury, Kingston, London, we held one in this room in Toronto, and the question for people was — how do we actually start breaking down the silos to start planning together?

And I did that little exercise where we introduce people around the room because what I found in Thunder Bay was probably the most interesting for me. It was the Friday before Christmas and it was snowing and people had driven five hours to be part of this conversation. And when we got everybody to go around the room and introduce themselves, it was like speed dating.

They said, “Ah, you’re with the school board,” or “You’re with the LHIN” and all of a sudden, the coffee break became this amazing networking opportunity for people that actually work in silos and don’t actually plan outside their area. So this was the start of that process — to start to break down those barriers and figure out how we can do things differently.

The other big difference that didn’t require money was the role of the convener. And I have to say that was probably the most interesting observation for me — community hubs as the convener. We didn’t have a vested interest, we didn’t have a program. Every time someone else said, “Well I’ll hold a meeting,” someone says, “Well why are they holding the meeting, what are they trying?”

Whereas we could come in as almost the honest broker. And in some ways, we became the point of intersection. And really my request in many cases was — don’t give us money. Because until we figure out who’s funding what and how it’s working, we don’t actually know that money is the problem here.

And it’s interesting when you start talking about all the different, and in many cases, competing resources that are in this space. There may be a need for new money. I’m not going to suggest that’s not the case. But until we understand who’s doing what and if it’s working, I’m not sure we can make that kind of observation.

And I think the challenge we had at the province is that it’s nobody’s job to be the integrator. Other than the Premier or the Secretary of Cabinet, or Karen with their backing. And I would say there’s a tremendous number of amazing civil servants, who once we gave them that permission and the backing to work collaboratively across Ministries, were hugely energized and helpful. And they saw this as a way of actually doing a lot of the things that they wanted to do better.

But the way we structure our governments is we all report through a Ministry and we don’t have that horizontal alignment. So that, in and of itself, was huge, and the coordinating that happened across government to move forward on these recommendations wasn’t money. It was actually knowing who was doing what and trying to align those.

And the last part of it’s not money is really capacity building. The community was really clear —and I heard it many times — don’t do it to us, do it and help us do it ourselves. You need to help us build the resources at a local level so that we can actually do what we know is the right thing to do. If it comes from on high, the chances are it’s going to be wrong.

So we started to put together the tools to build an online resource network and to connect people in that space. And the other thing we did was —which again was tapping the nerve —  we held a summit. It was a year ago at Evergreen and we had no heat and it was really cold, but it was an amazing experience. What happened was we sent out a survey to people and we said, “We’re going to host a summit and what would you like us to make sure we put on the agenda?” And within 24 hours we had 250 responses of what people thought we should be talking about.

And then we said we better hold the date, even though we didn’t know what the agenda was and who was coming. But we said we better hold the date, and we have a capacity of 500 people, and it was full within putting that notice out. No agenda, nobody knew what was coming, but they all wanted to come and be part of this conversation.

At the end of the day, we had 700 people show up. They just decided, “I don’t care if it’s full, I’m coming anyways.” The Premier was there with 8 Cabinet Ministers, the Deputy Minister, and the Secretary of Cabinet. And the funniest part was — I have this rule, it’s called no PowerPoints. And we had people speaking, and they said, “Well I’ll get my presentation ready.” I said, “No, we don’t want you to give a presentation. We want you to talk for two minutes and tell us what you’re doing and listen to what other people are doing, and then we want to put together an action plan.”

And it was really interesting, because some people were completely comfortable with that and they said, “No problem, I can do that.” Other people were like, “What do you mean? I don’t talk without a PowerPoint.” I said, “But that takes 20 minutes to do a PowerPoint and we’re giving you two, so speak quickly and no PowerPoints.” It made for a much more energized conversation. We had multiple people explaining what they were doing and then we had discussions around how does that help move this forward?

I think the most impactful part of that conversation was —  we had Mary Wiens from CBC Radio, you probably know, who was interviewing Sheldon Kennedy and Steve Orsini. And for those of you who don’t know, Sheldon Kennedy is a hockey player. He played in the NHL, but was sexually abused as a young hockey player, and then has actually done incredible work, which I’ll explain. And Steve Orsini is the head of the Public Service in Ontario.

And poor Mary Wiens said, “I’m happy to interview them but I have no idea how I connect these conversations.” And I said, “So let’s talk to them.”

So we went and interviewed both of them. Sheldon Kennedy is incredible — and if you haven’t seen it, there is a video actually of this interview —and Sheldon is the poster child of what happens if you don’t connect the dots. He was sexually abused as a hockey player, he dropped out of school, he ran into trouble with the law, he started drinking, and he ended up basically destroying his career. And his point was — at no point did anybody ask why. Why is this happening to this kid? What’s going on here? So nobody connected the dots. There was no integration of this kid’s running into problems, how do we solve this?

And Steve Orsini, as the person who’s responsible for delivering of provincial services, really delivers in silos. So how do we connect those dots, which might be in corrections, or might be in community safety, or might be talking to the teacher.

And Sheldon has gone on to do amazing work in Alberta. He has a children’s treatment centre in Calgary, where they basically have one-stop shopping. Child comes in, tells their story, they have all the supports there. They’ve increased the guilty pleas, so the child doesn’t have to go to court, and court costs are going down. He has actually delivered in terms of showing why this is not only important for the child but more importantly, how the system actually is way more efficient and is actually saving money.

And it was funny, until we had those, what I call top-down and bottom-up conversations. The people working from the top down don’t understand that if they don’t do it right, this is what happens when we’re talking about someone like this. So it was really an interesting exercise.

And the last piece of the capacity building was — we had a resource group, which was 40 plus organizations of people that were involved in community hubs that said they would be prepared to help. And this included the school boards, municipalities, not-for-profits. And we said, “Can we pool resources?”

So Woodgreen and United Way and ONN, the not-for-profit network, built tools from their members that have actually done this before and we put them into a network so that if you’re starting from scratch, you can actually go and find a partnership agreement or a legal agreement that somebody’s used before. Because what we were finding was people feel very isolated and alone and they’re trying to do it all from scratch when there’s all kinds of people that have done this before and gone through torturous processes to learn from it. So why do we not connect those? So we built that tool, and again — these are not money in the system. These are capacity-building tools that we developed.

So last one before we turn this over to you guys is — I’m going to put the two together. You may have to give something up to make it work, and it’s important to listen but it’s also important to hear. I want to use an example, because I think for me it was really the most interesting, insightful one.

As I mentioned, we had a section in the report called What We Heard, and what we heard was that we should look at community courts. And then when we circulated the document inside government just to make sure we hadn’t set off any storms or said something wrong, the Ministry of the Attorney General said, “You have to take that out of your report.”

I said, “What are you talking about? It’s what we heard.” “Well, we’re not doing it.” I said, “But you didn’t read it. It says what we heard, not what we’re doing.”

So we kept it in, much to their horror, because they were in the process of consolidating courts. So for us to say what we heard was we think we should be doing community courts or that we should be looking at this — this was totally not what they were interested in hearing. But we continued to hear from people in the legal and the correctional service, the Advocacy Society, the John Howard Society, social justice tribunals. We had community safety and situation tables — all of whom said the system is not working. So there was a lot of interest in trying to figure out how to do something differently.

But at the same time, and this is where I say, the Ministry did listen. They just didn’t tell us that. And more importantly, they heard. Because they started to look at different models, and for a year they did due diligence on different models from around the world as to how they might deliver on a different system. And they came back and said, “We’ve been persuaded that we need to look at something different.” And they brought forward a recommendation to do a community needs assessment in three communities — Kenora, London, and Moss Park in Toronto.

So we worked with them, and this was totally different for them. Usually the Ministry of the Attorney General doesn’t really go outside of the box. And it took a lot of courage and we worked with them to bring housing, mental health, social service, and corrections together to say — you can’t solve this by yourself, so we are here to actually figure out that piece.

It’s really the concept of bringing things under one roof, and the reason I use it in a broader context is that anything is possible. Because if you’d told me a year ago when we put this forward that the Ministry of the Attorney General would have been looking at this, I would have said there’s not a chance. They were so resistant to it. And they’re not your typical partner. So I sort of feel like you can move mountains with the right sort of compelling argument.

And we also found when we did these community needs assessments —  it also bore out that each community justice centre in these three communities was also unique. And if you think about government, they like to have a made policy and say this is how you should do it. And when you start saying there’s a different one in each community, it becomes even more complicated.

So I think it’s going to be a difficult journey. I’m hoping they actually continue with that work. It won’t be easy, and these are complex, multi-stakeholder projects, but there is enough inertia behind it that I think it may continue in some form. And I really do give a lot of credit to the Ministry folks who actually had the courage to step up.

One funny thing — when we were going through an approval process and someone said, “Can you guarantee that this is what it’ll look like when we’re finished?” And I said, “I can guarantee you that it won’t. If you do this right, it will completely change as you go down the road, because you’ll find that it’s not exactly what you thought when you started.” And again, that kind of thinking is hard for people to sign up to. It’s hard to agree to something when they don’t know what it’s going to look like.

The other thing we found is that for many of the organizations working in this space, often the status quo is not working but people are very intense to hang on to what they’ve got. They don’t want to give up, and they don’t really want to do things differently because they might lose funding here or something might happen.

I think it’s really important for people to understand — you may have to do things differently, you may have to work with different partners to get something to work properly, and that’s a difficult conversation in communities that feel like they’re always starving for that next grant application or that funding opportunity. But that is the challenge in the system.

Government has the challenge of working in silos and being very turf protected, but so does the sector that is actually trying to deliver on the ground. So those are the things we want to think about.

I’m looking forward to the discussion today. How do we continue the momentum? And it’s really been a big thank you to all the people that have been part of this journey, but I think the community knows that this should be the start of something that we can continue.

And the question really to the group here and online is how do we do that? How do we keep this momentum going? How do we continue the conversation in a way that really brings people together and solves those local community problems?

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Karen Pitre

President, The Lonsdale Group

Karen Pitre was the Special Advisor to the Premier on Community Hubs from 2015-2018. Based on input from the community and working with the Community Hubs Advisory Group, Karen developed the Community Hubs Strategy Framework and Action Plan. The Action Plan included 27 recommendations to support local communities and all 27 recommendations were adopted by the government. Karen has extensive stakeholder consultation, strategic planning and project management experience. Her experience includes working at Metrolinx as the Strategic Advisor on Electrification, a complex project involving stakeholder consultations developed with the input from a Community Advisory Committee. Karen has worked with the Toronto District School Board to establish the Toronto Lands Corporation where she developed a framework for the stewardship of surplus capital assets. She has worked with all three levels of government, including as part of her work with the Toronto 2008 Olympic Bid and with Waterfront Toronto. Karen was also the Founding Chair of the Toronto Sports Council. Prior to this, Karen worked as labour and employment lawyer in Toronto. She has a LL.B. from the University of Windsor and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Toronto.