Prepared by ERIC LEVITEN-REID, Community Lead, Research & Evaluation, Northside Rising
Northside Rising originated out of a desire of provincial government social policy departments to find new ways of working with communities to address complex social challenges.
Based on the promising experience using a Collective Impact model in Dartmouth North, the province set out to employ a similar approach in other communities. After reviewing statistical profiles of communities around the province, the Northside was identified as a prospective site. Despite experiencing pressing social challenges, the Northside also had significant assets on which to build and local people interested in working together to strengthen the community.
In January 2017, Inspiring Communities staff visited the Northside to explore the idea of the initiative with a wide range of potential local partners. Those early conversations highlighted the guiding principles of Collective Impact and invited additional ideas about how best to undertake a collaborative community initiative on the Northside.
Through those early meetings, a trusted community organization, Community CARES Youth Outreach, was identified to serve as local convenor for the community engagement phase of the initiative.
Engaging with Northsiders
Together, Community CARES and Inspiring Communities designed an engagement process. The goal was to hear the concerns and aspirations of local residents in order to determine how best to focus the initial efforts of the new initiative.
More than a consultation process, the intention was to identify key issues of concern in a way that would acknowledge the good things already happening in the community, build relations among local partners, involve people whose voices often go unheard, and encourage people to become more actively involved in community affairs. A challenging agenda in many ways, these early intentions have become the ongoing work of Northside Rising.
To help guide and support the process, an Engagement Team was formed made up of a dozen active members of the Northside community. Its role was to provide advice on the design and implementation of the process, make sense of the input received from the community, and prepare a community report.
The first step was simply to raise awareness of the initiative. Newspaper and radio stories were used to spread the word; an infographic of Northside community data was distributed to stimulate community reflection and discussion; a Wellness Fair was organized by Community CARES and featured the new initiative as one of the resources available to help build a healthy, vibrant Northside community.
Building on these foundations, an extensive community input process was undertaken. A community survey was completed by 550 residents; discussion forums were held with community organizations, faith groups, and people with firsthand experience of social challenges; and a series of one-on-one interviews were completed to deepen understanding of the dynamics shaping the community.
Throughout the process, local people were asked for their views on five key questions:
- How connected do you feel to the Northside?
- What do you appreciate about the Northside that you want to ensure is part of its future?
- What are your two top concerns about your community? What keeps you up at night?
- What changes would you like to see? What needs to be done to create a stronger community?
- Where are the good things happening that we can build on?
Responses to these questions provided the Engagement Team with a rich understanding of residents’ concerns and desires for the future of the Northside.
Reporting Back to the Community
Reviewing the input from the community, the Engagement Team was able to answer one of the major questions explored through the process: What issue or issues should serve as a starting point for the initiative’s work?
Although other issues were evident as well, feedback from the community revealed widespread and urgent concern about a substance use crisis that had been growing on the Northside since the 1990s. The Engagement Team concluded that this concern was an appropriate focal point for the new initiative.
And yet, in the course of the Engagement Team’s discussions, a second conversation was taking place that was not so easily resolved. This conversation was less about what issue or issues to address and more about how to build the underlying community capacity needed to create a strong Northside for the long term.
Here participants, both local and provincial, held a variety of ideas based on their different backgrounds and perspectives: To what extent should the initiative be framed around the problems facing the community versus the assets on which it could build a stronger future? How do you focus attention on a specific issue without losing the broader mandate to build a stronger Northside community overall? How do you balance the community’s need for tangible action on immediate concerns with longer term efforts to address root causes and achieve systemic change? Was ‘Collective Impact’ intended to be a loose set of guiding principles for the initiative or a specific model to be followed? What did it mean for government to ‘show up differently’ in a community like the Northside? Such questions ran beneath the day-to-day work of the initiative in its early phase, occasionally cropping up to expose different ways of thinking about what to do and how to do it.
Nevertheless, in preparing its report to the community in Spring 2018, the Engagement Team began the process of defining the initiative’s shared agenda. The report called for a community movement, Northside Rising, to build a vibrant, healthy Northside community; identified substance use as a priority concern on which to focus its initial work; announced Rising Tide grants to support immediate action on small projects; and invited participation on two tables through which residents could help shape the overall initiative.
Early Phase Evaluation
Beginning in the summer, Northside Rising staff took the first steps on this agenda: beginning to explore the substance use issue; inviting Northsiders to bring forward community improvement projects; building the governance structures needed to support the ongoing work.
In the meantime, preparations were made for evaluating the early phase of the initiative. It provided an opportunity for diverse participants to reflect on the work to date. In January 2019, interviews began with community participants, Northside Rising and Inspiring Communities staff, and government partners.
Overall, participants from all groups affirmed the value of the initiative saying that its greatest contribution had been its way of working to address the Northside’s challenges and opportunities: A process of community-driven change in which local residents have the opportunity to reflect on their community, identify priorities to be addressed and work together to generate solutions. Continuing to build the capacity of the community to work in these ways was seen as Northside Rising’s greatest potential.
On the other hand, the evaluation identified a lingering challenge for the initiative: the lack of shared understanding about how to carry on the work of building those underlying capacities. Moreover, since the release of its Community Report, the focus of attention had been mostly on addressing the specific complex issue of substance use.
In its conclusion, the report proposed that the vital work on substance use continue but that the initiative bring back into focus two other aspects of the agenda it put forward in its community report: the broader goal of building a vibrant, healthy Northside overall and the more immediate one of using Rising Tide grants to support resident-led community projects.
Feedback from the evaluation dovetailed with conversations evolving within Northside Rising about the need to re-articulate the initiative’s approach to its work. With the addition of new staff members in the spring of 2020, work began in earnest to articulate a new ‘framework for change’ for Northside Rising.