We make an effort to be consistent in our approach across communities, while recognizing that each place is unique. This includes how we choose where we work, the way we get our work done, and the steps we take to reach our goals.
Choosing where we work
In 2016, work began to identify communities that could benefit from a collaborative approach to supporting residents and addressing complex social problems. These problems involve hospitals, schools, housing, etc. and include examples such as poverty, homelessness, addiction, education, and unemployment. We know that the challenges facing each community can be very different, and that understanding the local context is critical.
What information did we use?
We began by looking at statistics for Nova Scotia communities using the NS Material and Psychosocial Deprivation Indices. This information source looks at employment and education, and helps assess whether people can pay their bills (material deprivation). It also looks at family structure and whether people have a good mix of social and emotional supports (psychosocial deprivation). We also examined data from various NS government departments to help identify communities under stress.
While helpful as a starting point, this data did not paint the whole picture. So, we also conducted interviews to dig deeper into the stories behind the numbers and to get a better idea of whether the communities identified seemed ready to embrace a new and collaborative way of working. For example, having community groups or individuals who could help organize the work on the ground is an important part of our model. We also tried to get a sense of whether there would be willingness in the community to participate in building a shared vision, and be part of the work needed to implement solutions.
How we get our work done
In order to really understand the local community and engage the right mix of people, an organization or group is needed that can coordinate work on the ground. We do our best to identify those who are rooted in the community, connected to marginalized voices, open to working with others, and driven to affect change. The Inspiring Communities model depends on grassroots community engagement to achieve the goals of learning from those affected by the issues and finding new ways to tackle social problems. By working collaboratively, resources and policies will be aligned to better serve our communities.
The steps we take to reach our goals
Once we identify a local community organization or group to help coordinate the work, we take the steps towards building a shared vision. We get input from residents and those working in the community through questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, community events, etc. about their ideas for where to focus efforts. This process involves everyone in the community working towards the same goals. We work hard to ensure that the voices not typically heard are represented, and that a set of priority areas for action are identified.
Once these priorities are in place, we set up teams to work on developing solutions. It is important that these teams be diverse, informed, influential, and open to finding creative ideas for change. Part of this work involves working with government to make better policy decisions. Over time, we hope to be able to inform policy based on findings that emerge across communities so that we can increase our impact.
Inspiring Communities will also build on and learn from the experiences of other community projects and initiatives. For example, government initiatives like SchoolsPlus, and other efforts to engage communities in new solutions to social problems will be connected with to share learnings. By engaging a wide range of partners, relationships will be developed to share resources and combine efforts. We know that working together is the way forward for happy, healthy families and communities.
Learning and evaluation
The Inspiring Communities model is fluid – nothing is etched in stone. We are committed to learning along the way. Ongoing discussion and feedback will be critical to informing and evaluating our community work. This is one of the reasons why we work through those on the ground – so feedback, concerns, ideas, and inspiration can be heard from those directly affected.
As we work with community groups, regular communication and progress updates will help us to make sure things are working well, or to make changes where needed. Communication is key to growing and supporting the work of the communities, and to influencing change at the provincial level.
We will also be evaluating our efforts and, as information becomes available, it will be used to assess our impact. A variety of information and approaches will be used to measure progress, identify areas for improvement, and to celebrate successes.