The work of Inspiring Communities began in 2016. A group of provincial deputy ministers in Nova Scotia responsible for social policy recognized the need to work across departments to tackle complex social issues – as well as to find new ways of working within communities to build trust and find new solutions.
Preceded by Between the Bridges in Dartmouth North, the initial mandate of Inspiring Communities was to develop collaborative community building initiatives in two rural areas using the Collective Impact framework. These are now known as Northside Rising and Turning the Tide. In April 2019, Between the Bridges joined Inspiring Communities as well.
In late 2018, Inspiring Communities became a standalone not-for-profit organization with the vision of building relationships, skills and experimentation to change systems rooted in inequity that stand in the way of moving the needle on longstanding challenges. We are now involved in a range of projects and activities to support this vision.
Beginning with Collective Impact
In 2015, policy makers in Nova Scotia were aware of the need to re-think traditional top-down, centralized and “one-size-fits-all” approaches to tackling tough social problems. They were keen to explore new ways of working, particularly in terms of the relationship between the provincial government and communities. Collective Impact offered promise as an approach to changing this relationship – one where government partners could work alongside residents, community organizations and businesses in a coordinated way, to address priority issues for community members.
Beginning with the community of Dartmouth North, a Collective Impact initiative called Between the Bridges started in 2015 with backbone support from United Way Halifax. In 2017 and 2018 respectively, two rural communities (Northside Rising and Turning the Tide) began Collective Impact initiatives and Inspiring Communities was born. Currently, all three are part of Inspiring Communities. This work is supported by eight social policy departments in Nova Scotia who are committed to working together on complex challenges facing community well-being.
Our backbone teams in each community engage deeply with residents and local organizations to identify a common agenda and convene around identified priorities. Five conditions provide the foundation for Collective Impact:
- Common Agenda
- Shared Measurement
- Mutually Reinforcing Activities
- Continuous Communication
- Backbone Support
Our approach to Collective Impact is based on a network approach where learning from experiences is shared between communities. This enables each initiative to build from the experiences of others and identify areas of overlap, while recognizing that each context is unique.
Becoming a Standalone Entity
In late 2018, Inspiring Communities was registered as a not-for-profit society in Nova Scotia. As an organization, it provides back-end administrative support, evaluation and learning opportunities for the Collective Impact initiatives, as well as connections with provincial stakeholders. Since becoming a not-for-profit, our scope of work has expanded to include additional projects and activities that support collaboration and experimentation for systems change.
Building an Atlantic Network of Changemakers
The need to connect across divides to reduce isolation, fragmentation and duplication is not limited to one province or community. We know that social change efforts often remain disconnected and fragmented, so opportunities are missed to share learnings, pool resources and develop a collective voice. More opportunities are needed to learn about how to do work in complex, collaborative contexts. Many promising efforts exist, but it remains a difficult environment for funders and policymakers to navigate, and we risk failing due to being under-resourced and under-valued.
In 2018 we became the Atlantic Region “node” in an emerging national network called Social Innovation Canada. We are also the backbone for WeavEast, a growing collaborative of changemakers in Atlantic Canada that are working to deepen local relationships, highlight social innovations, and develop a regional voice in the field.
Contributing to a Field of Practice
In many ways Inspiring Communities is helping to grow the field of systems change in Atlantic Canada. Through our core areas of activity related to nesting, evaluation and learning, we are engaged in a variety of initiatives to strengthen local capacity for change. For example, we are working with NS GovLab to develop a network for social change related to aging well in Nova Scotia. We are also working with the Province of Nova Scotia to evaluate efforts related to poverty reduction and strengthen collaboration around this issue. Going forward, we are excited to be exploring the potential of developing an online community for those wishing to make connections with others and share lessons from the field.