Inspired Learning: Evaluation of Vibrant Communities’ National Supports

Submitted by Donna Jean Fors... on September 5, 2012 - 3:14pm

Vibrant Communities has had an enduring and beneficial influence on thousands of low income families in dozens of communities across Canada.  It has also shaped the work of The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, and philanthropy more broadly, through the work of the Vibrant Communities funders group.  One lesson for us is that social innovations introduced at multiple levels of scale often involve different and considerable ‘lag times’ as actors in a system get to know one another and adopt new ways of working.   All the more reason for funders to temper their insistence on results with patience, and to invest for the long term.  A second conclusion is that complex systems involve solutions that evolve over time. Vibrant Communities’ evolution over the past decade coincided with the rapid spread of the internet. Webinars and downloadable resources have - many times over - multiplied the program’s reach and impact.

In setting out to reduce poverty, Vibrant Communities has produced results of value to us all.  This report outlines the results of providing national supports to such a large initiative and the impact that has been leveraged as a result.

Vibrant Communities (VC) was a ten-year action research initiative in which 13 Canadian communities experimented with ways to more deeply impact efforts to reduce poverty using a comprehensive community approach. The just-released report, Inspired Learning: Evaluating the Role of National Supports, evaluates Vibrant Communities, the positive impact it had on thousands of low-income households across Canada, and the specific impact of providing national supports to such a large and complex pan-Canadian initiative.


This report concludes that the national supports were a good investment in money, time and energy.   Specifically, the contributions of the national supports included:

  • Raised Awareness and Supported Constructive Conversations about Poverty – The National Partners supported the Trail Builder’s local poverty reduction efforts; consolidated local awareness and knowledge and “ultimately contributed to the emergence of constructive conversations about poverty.”
  • Nurtured Shared Language and Community-Based Learning – The National partners’ work to foster a shared language – together with their financial incentives – helped translate collaborative and community-based learning into valuable poverty-reduction strategies in multiple communities.
  • Fostered a Shared Identity among Trail Builders – Ongoing reinforcement of VC principles helped create a shared identity and “brought broader recognition and legitimacy to the overall approach.”
  • Established a Crucial Link Between Community Action & Policy – The linking of the Trail Builder communities and the policy expertise of the Caledon Institute was groundbreaking in that it marked the first time “in Canada for a social policy institute to maintain such a lengthy and intense period of connection with an on-the-ground poverty reduction initiative.” 
  • Provided an “Interconnected Architecture of Comprehensive Supports” - The range of interconnected supports provided by the VC National partners required a “sophisticated expertise” but was viewed essential in this situation where “the burden of learning” was high because it helped participants to innovate and to move more quickly in implementing new approaches and initiatives.

The report concludes with the following summary observation:  “The bottom line is that in the realm of complex issues and comprehensive efforts to mobilize learning and new approaches, the full suite of supports offered through VC (national partners) was an essential ingredient in its ultimate success.”

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