Creative Responses to Social Obligations—A Dialogue Series
with Sherri Torjman
has a crucial role to play – perhaps more than ever in light of an
insecure economy and turbulent labour market.
But there are many actions that communities can and should
take to solve problems and improve the quality of life.
In fact, there are some things that communities can do far
better, quite frankly, than governments.
In some cases, governments, with their myriad of roles and
regulations – actually are responsible for many of the problems
communities are trying to tackle.
six of the ‘Who Cares?’ series was a rich and textured
discussion focused on two inter-related and crucial issues in
addressing our social obligations: the language we use to describe
caring and the way we measure the success of our caring
from this dialogue were several themes that inform the kinds of
creative responses we take. Catalytic to this discussion was a
presentation by Sherri Torjman.
presentations centered on community.
In particular she explored what caring communities do and the
connection between community and policy.
Through comparing and contrasting current examples of
community development Ms.Torjman led the group to a deep and
emotional dialogue about some of the challenges at the heart of
community and caring.
monograph summarizes the key points of Ms. Torjman’s presentations
and examines two key issues in the task of finding creative
solutions to our social obligations that were raised by participants
in the dialogue group. It concludes with some themes for creative responses to
caring that emerged within the group.
Web sites for resources identified throughout the dialogue
are referenced at the end.
Actions of Caring Communities
there is more pressure on communities according to Ms. Torjman. The events of September 11 highlight the need for caring
communities and have made it likely that the federal government will
put on hold support for key issues for communities such as
affordable housing and personal support financing for people with
Torjman has been researching the question of what caring communities
do and as a follow-up, exactly how they do it.
Her findings will be presented in a new paper entitled Reclaiming Our Humanity.
In her research Ms. Torjman has discovered that caring
communities do three key things: provide support for all members,
provide opportunities for learning and promote inclusion.
Inclusion is the most complex of these activities.
It involves access (barrier free design), finance (fiscal
inclusion - the ability to pay) and engagement (ways in which
citizens engage with and contribute to their community).
Torjman’s research found caring communities maximize their
resources in two ways. First
they recognize a wide array of resources (social, financial,
physical, cultural and human capitals) and find new ways to use
them. Second they find
ways to generate new capital. For
example, schools are often closed and empty after school hours and
for holidays. They are
not recognized as public spaces.
Public space is central to citizen engagement and school
space can be used to generate community involvement in a variety of
example of caring communities generating new capital is the use of
relationships are recognized as a powerful tool in maintaining and
refining human capital. These
relationships also strengthen the social capital of a community.
is much interest in the social networks (relationships) of
with dense social networks have been found to have better health and
stronger economies. There
is a positive trend toward strengthening community networks through
collaboration between the public, private and civic sectors.
The problem is finding funding for this kind of activity.
Relationships take time to form.
Building social capital in communities, extending and
strengthening relationships, involves bringing people together for
support, education, celebration and conflict resolution.
A challenge for caring communities is to find ways of
financing social capital development.
Torjman chose two examples of multisectoral approaches to community
development to examine successful community development practices
and the barriers policy creates for communities.
As a starting point she referenced her work "From
Information to Application: How Communities Learn." The focus
of this work was to translate good material from colleges and
universities into useable forms for communities.
development is an iterative learning process. There is a great deal
of information available to communities but it is not readily
need to know what the problem or challenge is, why it exists, how to
go about addressing the challenge and who can help.
This information may be required in different forms at
different points of the development process.
accessible information is an important component of multisectoral
approaches to community development.
Statistics and key factors related to an issue (the what and
why of the situation) can mobilize leaders across a community.
Multisectoral approaches offer a great deal of promise in
addressing long standing community challenges.
Ms. Torjman provided two examples of how such approaches can
first is from Kitchener-Waterloo where the challenge was poverty
reduction. Leaders from across the three sectors were invited to
roundtables to discuss a paper entitled "Poverty in the
Waterloo Region." From these roundtables a comprehensive strategy for poverty
reduction was introduced. It
involved four streams of potential interventions: meeting basic
needs, removing barriers, building skills and promoting economic
development. With a
bold target of moving 2000 out of poverty by the year 2000, leaders
from the roundtables set about creating partnerships.
Their goal was to involve everyone in the community.
Evaluation of this project shows that 1700 families were
helped by either increasing their income or gaining employment.
second project from the Ottawa-Carleton area was focused on
study entitled "A Labour Market Strategy for
Ottawa-Carleton" led to the creation of a multisectoral task
force convened by the city’s mayor.
The work of this group led to the creation of "Partners
for Jobs" a consortium of employers, educational institutions
and community groups dedicated to the creation of customized
training to meet local needs. "Partners
for Jobs" currently conducts training around seven different
clusters representing different sectors of employment in the
comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the two models Ms Torjman
suggested that two central considerations impact the success of
multisectoral approaches. First,
consideration needs to be given to who takes the lead role and where
the project is situated. For
example, in Ottawa-Carleton the fact that the mayor convened the
project gave it great credibility.
On the other hand the municipality has come to play such a
pivotal role that the community does not own it.
If the municipality pulled out, continuation of the work
would be questionable.
second area of consideration is accountability.
In a multisectoral approach, who is responsible if things do
not work out? Such
collaborations are ‘voluntary.’
In addition, government can hide behind ‘community
process’. This is
particularly serious when we look at service delivery versus policy.
If communities deliver services such as training that
government was originally responsible for, what happens when there
are funding cuts? It
is great to be able to get money back into the hands of the
community but who is responsible?
is a great deal of pressure on community groups to produce results.
Ottawa-Carleton used an outcome-based management approach.
The question is, are management ‘outcomes’ really the
best outcomes or are there other difficult to quantify processes and
benefits that we should be paying attention to? It is clear that in
multisectoral approaches there is a need to allow time for process
and a need to recognize that the barriers to long standing societal
challenges such as poverty and employment are deeply embedded.
Language We Use
much of the work of caring, for the essence of our countless daily
caring interactions, we lack the terminology to describe it.
Participants noted that the people who are doing the caring
might not use the relevant terminology yet they must be consulted
when we are trying to translate what they are doing into policy.
In meeting our social obligations we need to listen to people
whose lives will be impacted by our interventions.
We need to work to develop a shared language in order to
develop responses that work. At
the same time we must not reduce our language.
We are not a homogeneous community. The task is complex and
we may need to develop several ‘languages’ to communicate about
noted the disturbing trend to commodify our humanness.
Love, caring, etc. are not recognized as legitimate terms.
Social capital on the other hand has risen to fame by
suggesting that to be human (to care, to trust, to be in
relationship) makes good economic sense.
The problem is that this suggests that we should be human
only if it makes sense economically.
We see this in schools today where there is a profound
disconnect in what elementary children and senior high school
students are taught. In
the younger years they are taught to share and care, in the later
years they are taught to see themselves primarily as consumers
rather than citizens.
various sectors do not speak the same language communities can get
caught in a confusing web of accountability.
For example, in today’s current response pattern,
government often gives people who are marginalized the
responsibility and some resources to solve their own problems. On the surface this looks good but they are rarely given
adequate resources to address the deeply enmeshed barriers that are
at the root of their marginalization.
As a result the community’s efforts are unsuccessful.
It is government that frequently creates these barriers but
in this scenario the community becomes the fall guy.
currently speaks the language of efficiency and effectiveness and as
a result has difficulty communicating with community groups as they
tend to speak the language of process and caring.
Funding mechanisms are frequently informed by government
language and as a result are sometimes structured in a way that the
ensuing projects won’t work in a community context.
An example was given of a group of people being forced to
take a training program that clearly did not meet their needs in
order to access funding for their project.
was described as being the most valuable commodity a community has.
However when different sectors use different languages it can
be difficult for them to communicate and build trust. In addition, when there is a lack of trust between public
funders and the civil sector groups that they are funding, there is
often a demand for increased accountability measures on the part of
the funder. These measures pose some significant issues in creating
and sustaining caring responses.
We Measure Success
noted how difficult it is to quantify caring.
One member said it's as if that which matters most is not
quantifiable. Interestingly, Margaret Somerville also referenced the
dilemma of measuring caring when she stated that sometimes the
measurable excludes the extraordinarily important.
Ms. Torjman and some of the group members worried about what
happens to some of the softer, human elements of caring when we try
to quantify them because to do so fundamentally changes their
frameworks tend to measure effectiveness and efficiency.
This can result in what one participant described as
‘perverse effects’. For
example, one indicator, caseload reduction, usually measures welfare
reform. What about what
actually happens to the people in this scenario?
Another example is the education system that counts how well
students perform academically as its key measure of success.
This means that a school can be penalized for successfully
engaging and retaining students who are not strong academic
performers. In these
scenarios it as if the human part of the equation is amputated from
what systems of funding consider important.
group member stated that we need to find ways of measuring quality
from the point of view of those who receive the services we design.
Measurement of caring interactions should focus on value and
quality versus cost saving and efficiency.
Important inroads in this kind of measurement are being made
in Italy where alternative structures for civil economies have
emerged leading to a robust civil society.
There is also some interesting work in measurement being done
at Simon Fraser University's Centre for Innovation and Management.
This research involves a shift in emphasis from costs and
revenue to how something is made.
work related to sustainability can be an informant for the
measurement of caring. Work
in the environmental field is taking into account the reality that
investments take twenty to thirty years before there is any return.
Currently the G.D.P. and related market statistics are the
biggest informants of policy makers.
These measures can send inaccurate and even dangerous signals
to policymakers because vital social and economic factors remain
invisible. There is
work being done in Canada today related to the creation of measures
of national well being. These
include Genuine Progress Indicators and the Canadian Index of Well
Being. A comprehensive
example of a new approach to measurement is the Oregon Benchmark
Project. This work
includes indicators, outcomes and targets for the societal impact of
its work across all levels and sectors of Oregon society.
The Aspen Institute was also mentioned as doing some
interesting work in this area.
the dialogue, ideas and examples of approaches to caring that work
were shared. We were inspired and moved in this dialogue by many
stories. There was a sense of positive and possible courses of
action that flowed alongside our recognition of the depth of the
challenge posed by the question ‘Who Cares?’ As one participant
said, “There is no magic bullet but there are rays of light
the ideas, suggestions and examples emerged some themes were formed.
creative responses to our social obligations (the fundamental quest
of this series) calls for personal as well as system and societal
transformation. On an
individual level extending care for others stretches us.
Caring for others is often risky, messy and unpredictable.
It usually does not fit into the bits of time we might want
to assign it and there is rarely a predictable path.
Each step informs the next.
Caring can call us to our greatest heights as human beings
but the process of truly caring often challenges our boundaries and
concepts of who we are. It
is through addressing these challenges that our understanding of
caring deepens and influences how we might proceed in implementing
any new approaches to it.
One participant noted that we need to be grounded personally
in order to understand the unique and complex rhythms of caring
interactions. Caring is
as much about what we do as how we do it.
are at the heart of caring communities.
When we are connected to others, when there are no isolated
members in a community, it is a safer place to be.
In addition, relationships give us access to resources such
as information and the contacts held by those we are in relationship
with. A primary issue
for many people who are marginalized is not a lack of money but lack
of relationships. A
lack of relationships is a growing issue across our society, as
people become more and more fearful of others.
Simple communal acts like eating together with friends and
neighbours can reduce our fear.
Entering into relationship with someone who is perceived as
different because of his or her appearance, age, ability, race, etc.
can transform our fear.
a broader level multi-sector relationships as illustrated by Ms.
Torjman’s presentation, are also key to mobilizing community
capacity and problem-solving ability. Multi-sector relationships,
like individual relationships, provide access to a breadth of
resources and reduce the fragility of the efforts of any one sector
working alone trying to address community issues.
have an important role in caring.
While there are many, many examples of simple caring actions
in communities we need to be careful not to highlight them in a way
that suggests governments do not have a role.
We need to find ways to create, replicate and sustain ideas
that work. Policy and
funding structures can have a profound influence on this.
In addition, building bridges across the sectors,
strengthening relationships, developing a flexible infrastructure
and creating a ‘shared language’ of caring are crucial
activities that policy and funding mechanisms could be developed to
need to think big and be bold.
In finding our creative responses to ‘Who Cares?’ our
work is not about finding an ultimate answer but identifying the key
elements of societal caring. We
need to become much smarter collectively rather that individually if
we want durable results. One
participant compared this to ‘paradigm shifting without a
transformation takes place in complex and complicated ways that are
difficult to measure and replicate.
We know what works. Our biggest challenge is finding ways to
bring it to scale.
presentation helped the group to take the values, principles and
ideas of our earlier dialogues into a more applied exploration.
As one participant noted, she helped us to connect the dots.
This dialogue moved the ‘Who Cares?’ dialogue group into a
deeper and more focused discussion. The candor and passion of
participants touched the group.
Concluding comments included recognition that we are growing
as a group and that we will need each other in addressing the tough
challenges before us. Ms.
Torjman invited the group to continue to share our stories of caring
communities with her.
Index of Well being: www.atkinsonfdn.on.ca
Progress Indicators: www.gpiatlantic.org
Fraser Centre for Innovation in Management: www.cim.sfu.ca
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