We focus on these emerging priorities to ensure that we continue to effectively navigate, respond to, and thrive in current policy and funding contexts.
In addition to the emerging priorities, we continue to focus on the ongoing priorities that ensure our organization remains strong, healthy and able to fulfill our mission in the most effective way possible.
AN UPDATE ON OUR STRATEGIC PRIORITIES OVER THE PAST YEAR
Our strategic priorities are complex – but as events unfold and situations change, we continue to learn more about bringing them to life in meaningful ways and adapting them to meet our evolving needs. This past year, navigating the pandemic and keeping people safe has been the top priority for the Skills leadership team and its Board of Directors. Our strategic priorities have continued to guide our work, while at the same time we have had to adapt and evolve to ensure we’re focusing on what matters to our staff, our families and the people we serve. The lessons of the last year have not been easy but they have resulted in incredible opportunities for growth and change – influencing our work moving forward. In the section that follows, we’re sharing some of the highlights and activities undertaken within our strategic priorities and what we’re learning as we plan the next year.
Our work to serve, support and advocate for people with complex needs continues to be an ongoing focus. Over this past year we have advanced this work through activities that include:
- Being part of and sharing learning with groups of service providers that are trying to improve ways of safely serving this community.
- Adopting a new app to support the safety of staff who serve people with complex needs.
- Beginning to establish and fund a social innovation lab to work with Inclusion Alberta, the Canada Mental Health Association, and Scope Society to co-create pathways that can safely support and empower people with complex needs to live full lives in the community.
- Applying our holistic and person-centered approach to supporting people and advancing their place as full citizens in our community.
- Participating in the Edmonton Community Foundation’s endowment sustainability training program to build our endowment as a continued ongoing and dependable financial source.
- Continuing to maintain and build relationships with local community funders.
- Developing new policies to lay the foundation to support safe, longer term sustainable growth of endowment and unrestricted funds.
- Exploring a strategy to increase our fund development capacity is underway. As part of this process, input was gathered from our Skills community and stakeholders to understand their perspectives.
Evaluating our success in supporting engaged citizenship is a key priority for Skills so that we can learn, adapt and better serve people. We continue to test and iterate in this space through new data and evaluation processes, including:
- Surveys, focus groups and learning conversations with the people we support, their families and guardians and our employees. This feedback allows us to understand lived experience stories and gather meaningful data.
- Evaluating our social innovation labs and monitoring progress on our strategic priorities to get real time feedback in order to be responsive to emergent and changing contexts.
- Tracking daily internal data associated with COVID-19 to support our response to the pandemic and ongoing communication with stakeholders.
- Adding a ‘Stories and Surveys’ feature to our MyCompass Planning tool which will help with learning from the people we serve, centre stories they want to share with leadership and funders, and learn more about what supports good quality of life.
Through relationship building with people with disabilities, sector leaders, and government, we continue to seek creative collaborations to engage more allies in systems change.
- Our Executive Director and Board Chair sit on a number of sector-focused and provincial committees, including as active participants in the Edmonton Service Provider Council.
- We have engaged in sector-level advocacy efforts throughout the pandemic in order to centre the voices of those we serve and steward our community through this disruption. In doing so, we are able to shed light on the frailties in our system that can further isolate or marginalize people.
- We updated the vision, mission and theory of change for MyCompass Planning to tackle larger social service systems change. This means humanizing disability service interactions and centering the voices of those we serve.
- We elevated our understanding of different organizational models and our interconnected relationships by further engaging with the sector and through ongoing research into new social innovation models.
- We continue to explore innovative housing and support models in partnership with Inclusion Alberta, Civida (formerly Capital Region Housing), and Homeward Trust.
Growing community connections and deepening a sense of belonging has been challenging during the pandemic. Though safeguards are essential to protecting people, they can lead to further social isolation. We adapted by:
- Keeping the voices and wishes of those we serve at the centre of our COVID-19 planning and practices. We encouraged people to explore their own preferences, choices, and risk tolerance during COVID-19.
- Working to achieve ‘balance’ as we reviewed and implemented COVID-19 procedures to ensure our safeguards supported individual choice, and the mental and physical wellbeing of people we serve.
- Pivoting social innovation initiatives online, such as CommuniTEA Infusion and the inclusive community art program offered at Melcor, in order to keep people safe and connected.
- Actively engaging in research that explores the patterns of belonging and dominant support practices we are noticing in our work – thanks to the doctoral research of Paige Reeves, Skills’ Senior Leader of Research and Social Innovation.
- Over the last year, we continued to prioritize building a creative, curious culture by soliciting ideas from our stakeholders, learning from others, and encouraging creative thinking to support inclusion and connection during the pandemic.
- The Skills leadership team participated in several learning workshops focused on embracing complexity, approaching problems differently, and leading in uncertain times.
- We continued to steward and participate in social innovation labs, including Edmonton Shift Lab and the Future of Home: Inclusive Housing Solutions Lab.
We continuously ask ourselves: Are we learning? Responding to feedback? Finding efficiencies?
- Continuously improving our communication throughout the pandemic has been a significant area of focus for our team. Clear and ongoing dialogue with the people we serve, their families and Guardians, and our employees and stakeholders has been critical.
- Adapted several of our resources, forms, and training to be accessible and available online. We have new, user-friendly human resources software that allows for tracking and completion of forms and training, and supports with hiring of new staff.
During COVID-19 it has been challenging to maintain a sense of connectedness amongst staff across a large organization like Skills, compounded with the closure of the Skills office and strict physical distancing guidelines. This has driven us to focus on supporting our employees’ mental wellbeing and morale through:
- Offering mental wellness videos, team sessions and one-on-one coaching facilitated by a mental wellbeing coach to offer employees practical skills and ways to support their own and their team’s mental health and wellbeing.
- Hosting virtual employee gatherings to bring people together, share information and answer questions, and ultimately strengthen our connectedness further.
- Asking for ideas and acting on them from all levels of the organization, honoring people’s wisdom and expertise and including them in Skills projects. This led to the creation of a social committee who have been convening virtual social events during the pandemic.
- Creating a virtual, video celebration of long-term employees, to recognize their commitment to Skills and show our gratitude for their many valued contributions.
This piece was complied and written by Rebecca Rubuliak, Senior Leader of Research and Social Innovation