Scaling Down and Scaling Up - Navigating the Renewal Zone

Submitted by Liz Weaver on July 19, 2016 - 4:33am

In 2010, Tamarack began the conversation with its Vibrant Communities partners that the 10 year partnership would be changing.  The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation had completed its outstanding 10 year support of 13 communities across Canada with poverty reduction roundtables and poverty strategies.  This effort has resulted in an enormous amount of learning about cross-sector collaboration, system change efforts and community capacity building.  Many experiments were conducted throughout this partnership and the cumulative results were more than most communities and the national sponsors could imagine.  Read Evaluating Vibrant Communities 2002-2010 for the impact of this effort across Canada. 

This lead to an interesting conundrum.  Would Tamarack close its commitment to Vibrant Communities or change directions?  We consulted with collaborative roundtables across Canada, both original VC partners and other communities where roundtables existed but with which we only had an informal relationship.  The conversations lead to the development of a renewed vision for Vibrant Communities. 'Imagine...100 cities reducing poverty together.'  Our colleagues envisioned a critical role for Tamarack to continue to engage communities across Canada and build a learning community focused on poverty reduction efforts.  The group also envisioned the alignment of poverty strategies at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.  A big vision to be sure. 

That left Tamarack and the staff of Vibrant Communities Canada with a dilemma - scaling down our deep relationship with the original 13 community partners and beginning the scaling up process to engaging 100 cities. 

Tamarack has navigated the scaling down process and is well into the scaling up process but not without challenges.  Here are some of our early lessons learned. 

  • Get Buy in from your partners:  critical to both the scaling down and scaling up processes, we convened face to face meetings of our partners (current and proposed) to solicit feedback and engage them in the renewal design.  Our new vision is that the partners drive the process and while in early days, this appears to be very positive. 
  • Pay attention to messaging and relationships:  This was more difficult.  On the one hand, we were significantly changing the relationship with our original 13 partners (moving away from a funding partnership) and at the same time, working to recruit new cities in a different relationship.  It has taken us a year or more to fully navigate through this.  But we have been able to maintain relationships with our original partners and renew them in the new strategy.
  • Build opportunities for new connections:  This website, www.vibrantcommunities.ca is one of several opportunities we have built to increase connectivity between partners.  We continue to host a learning community and have built 6 action teams which boost engagement across the partners.  While early days, this is energy for the network.   
  • Be patient and don't rush the process:  In our drive for results, we recognize that relationship building takes time. 

At the most recent Communities Collaborating Institute, we hosted a meeting of current and prospective Vibrant Communities partners.  There were 33 individuals representing communities across Canada in the room and the energy was incredible as they shared their work with their partners.  These are the steps of social change.