October 2nd 2015 was a game changer of a day when we hosted a diverse collective in our Action Lab around what helps to build and strengthen vibrant, inclusive communities. We were grateful that the day was initially sparked when our allies at Deloitte asked how they might collaborate with Skills Society and make an impact on Deloitte’s international day of giving called Impact Day. In thinking about what could make waves in community we thought that a great way to give back would be for Deloitte and others to come together, share stories and practical ways to support community.
For Impact Day we saw all of our Skills Society values come to life, but in particular our core values around seeking creative collaborations and embracing complexity to move our work forward were key themes of the day. We have recognized for years that when we collaborate with groups and people outside our familiar silos, new thinking and fresh ways of approaching challenges emerge. What made the day truly unique and added to the quality of discussion was the diversity of the collective of 45 citizen explorers in the Action Lab. We brought together citizens with disabilities, Deloitte leaders, University of Alberta leaders, Alberta Social Innovation Connect (ABSI), Skills Society allies and support workers, and leaders from End Poverty Yeg.
So what happened on Impact Day?
1. We shared what our core values look like in action
In the morning Skills Society Executive Director Pat Conrad welcomed everyone and then our Senior Leader of Social Innovation Ben Weinlick shared what our 5 core values at Skills look like in action through our front line work and many social change initiatives.
Our Core Values
Supporting Engaged Citizenship – Safeguarding Healthy Relationships – Seeking Creative Collaborations – Building and Sharing Knowledge – Embracing Complexity
A highlight was when Emily and Randi exemplified our value of supporting engaged citizenship through sharing their experience coordinating our CommuniTEA Infusion project this past year. We were excited to hear how CommuniTEA Infusion employed many citizens with disabilities as community builders this past spring and summer and reached more neighbourhoods than ever before. Check out the video below that Telus made about Emily and her work with the Tea van.
2. We used visual explorer cards to get to know each other
Visual explorer is a set of random pictures that helps everyone share stories and creative ideas. What’s great about Visual Explorer is its inclusiveness of everyones’ abilities and helps people to share rich concepts visually.
We asked participants to grab a picture that spoke to them about what helps strengthen community
Here’s what emerged
- Have Fun in Community
- Connect with people
- Work together in a garden
- Try new things and get out there!
- Help people share their gifts and strengths
- Do what you love
- Go outside and embrace winter in our city
- Build stuff together in community and meet people that way
- Support youth in community
- Connect with diverse people and learn from other cultures
- Respect elders and learn from them
- When we build networks we can do amazing things
- Take care of the environment
- Go out and explore your community more
- If animals can get along then we can too!
3. We used LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methods to explore notions of engaged citizenship and what strengthens vibrant communities
It may sound like something to do with child’s play when you hear the name, but there is quite a bit more to LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® as a method to explore complex issues. Our own Ben Weinlick is one of the few certified facilitators in western Canada in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methods and for our Impact Day Ben acted as co-pilot in our lego explorations. Businesses, government, banks and causes for social good like the Clinton Foundation use LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methods to help people problem solve, plan, and ideate. Using the method is not about building perfect lego structures, it’s about the impactful stories and ideas that the lego and questions helps to foster.
During our lego explorations we built models of challenges that people with disabilities and marginalized groups face in community, we made models of how Good and Bad Citizens act, and we built models of how to help people feel welcome and know they belong in community.
The experience helped participants empathize, share stories, build knowledge and create solutions around how to support marginalized people and groups to be welcomed and valued as important citizens in our communities. Often we find that the journey in and of itself is the goal of these Lego Serious Play explorations. We can’t solve complex social issues in a one day workshop, but if people walk away with a new perspective to apply when relating to people in community, empathy for others and some practical ideas to try out then that is a win and can have a ripple effect.
“I was struck by the way the lego exploration helped a diverse group to collaborate and problem solve tricky issues together. It was like a mini model of healthy civic engagement the way it should be. I want to remember that and do more of that in my work and community.”
“When are you going to do another one of these, this was really good”
“The day, the atmosphere, and the methods we used made it so that you didn’t need to have a pre-existing awareness or knowledge of how to help and support marginalized people. Together, we kinda figured out decent courses of action and strategies to make healthy communities.”
” I felt heard and had fun!”
“I liked building the models and sharing ideas, I think people learned that someone with a disability is just like anyone else and wants to belong”
More pics in the gallery at the bottom of the page.
4. We Engaged with End Poverty Yeg
After the lego explorations, Ward Antoniuk and Dallas Dyson of End Poverty Yeg joined us and asked for feedback from our collective on the 28 recommendations developed by citizens and End Poverty Yeg to end poverty within a generation in Edmonton. End Poverty Yeg is a noble initiative and aims to advance a vision of shared prosperity for all and create a city where every Edmontonian has an equal opportunity to live, work, participate and thrive.
The 28th recommendation was one that many in the room felt we had to get involved with and engage in.
28th Recommendation: CHANGE THE CONVERSATION: BUILD A MOVEMENT TO END POVERTY
Launch a collaborative broad-based community engagement and education initiative to change people’s attitudes about poverty
Look at all the recommendations here
We saw that there could be lots of room for people that Skills supports, employees, and our allies to get involved in the work of addressing poverty.
Now what, so what?
Something that often happens from inspiring explorations like the Impact Day, is that people go back inspired but quickly forget the learning they could apply in their life, practice, work.
So, we’re offering a few suggestions of action steps to keep the momentum going around strengthening vibrant communities.
Call to Action Possibilities
- Sign up and get involved with End Poverty Yeg; poverty is more than a financial issue; there can be poverty of belonging and being valued as a citizen
- Try one of the ideas in the bullet points above on ways to strengthen community
- Send us a Citizen Speak picture and quote on what engaged citizenship means to you. It will be posted on our award winning Project Citizenship website. Examples here (Send to firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Get involved with the CommuniTEA Infusion project as a volunteer or paid community builder next spring
- Share this post with people, colleagues and friends that should hear about ways to strengthen vibrant communities
- Make a community-building idea happen through Make Something Edmonton. Anyone is welcome
- Do something nice for a neighbour and in return ask them simply to pay it forward to someone else