LEDlab Mid-term Reflections
Photo Credit: Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ
On December 17th we brought together our core team and DTES community partners to reflect on our program model and impact to date, look ahead to potential future work, and celebrate the official launch and early achievements of the Local Economic Development Lab.
It was a great way to end the year by thanking the numerous partners and stakeholders that make this work possible. We were most proud of the diversity of perspectives in the room, reflecting the emerging cross-sector ecosystem working to address systemic social, economic, and environmental issues in Vancouver’s inner city.
Check out the SFU News story about the LEDlab Launch!
Our Mid-Term Community Partner Meeting was attended by our core partners and closest collaborators: Potluck Cafe Society, the Binners’ Project, DTES Street Market, and Carnegie Outreach, as well as past and present graduate student interns.
The first half of the day focused on program evaluation, centering on four questions:
- Are we meeting our initial objectives?
- How can we focus our work in the next four months to create more impact?
- How are we creating value more broadly? (e.g. unintended outcomes)
- How might we change and adapt?
The responses from our partners were very insightful:
- LEDlab creates value by playing an active role in facilitating, linking and connecting the community around the local economy.
- The cohort model of workshop delivery provides multiple opportunities for organizations to learn from and follow each other’s work.
- We create space for organizations to (typically once a quarter) ‘get above the day to day’ and ‘find time for reflection’, and ‘think about our shared context’.
- Our flexibility as a partner is key. Our partners feel supported because we listen to and adapt to meet their needs.
- Our partners enjoy having access to meeting rooms and space to work at the Ecotrust Canada / RADIUS SFU’s shared office space, the Amp Vancouver.
- In terms of changes to be made, we should consider how to enhance or distribute the benefits of LEDlab (such as workshops) throughout community organizations and the DTES residents that those organizations serve.
The second half of the day focused on our ‘systems-level learning’, thinking beyond our project level to structural barriers in our systems that perpetuate the prevailing poverty in the DTES.
We’ve noted several systems-level barriers in our work to date, including:
- Low income assistance rates and earnings exemption limits;
- Policies that inhibit gradual re-entry to the workforce;
- A shrinking public purse and resource constraints leading to competition between agencies;
- Lack of time and of trust amongst service providers and/or between NGOs and government to develop collaborative or strategic partnerships;
- Divisions in the community as a result of agencies’ differing budgets and size; and
- Unclear pathways for academics or private sector actors to support or enhance community-driven priorities.
We then broke into small groups to propose and explore solutions to three problem statements:
- What type of collaboration/intervention/work might address policy barriers (like earnings exemptions limits/clawback) that present common challenges for all organizations?
- What platforms/opportunities might exist to share resources among organizations for mutual benefit? What do you have? What do you need?
- How might organizations work together to support individuals’ movement through the ’employment continuum’ (specifically from volunteer to paid opportunities?)
You can read what suggestions came out of those small group discussions here.
In terms of my own personal reflections, I came away from this meeting feeling very clear about the importance of working at multiple scales. It is equally important to put $200 a month in the pockets of DTES residents as it is to focus on systems-level interventions like brokering capital into to new programs or policy innovation.
In my view, we can’t do one without the other – we won’t have the legitimacy and the participation of community organizations without doing the boots-on-the-ground work, and we aren’t likely to have the impact we want to have at scale without doing the systems-focused work.
Also, there is an important difference between creating totally new income generating opportunities and creating jobs where they already exist. LEDlab’s current objectives are explicit about creating new forms of low barrier employment – they do not address the need to make existing jobs more inclusive of individuals with barriers to employment. This has important limitations for existing organizations, especially in a zero-sum funding scenario. For this reason, LEDlab must be careful and intentional about how we move forward, both in the language we use and the projects we select.
Possible future areas of work:
Almost certainly there is work to be done in Knowledge Mobilization. Not in the traditional sense, by making academic knowledge accessible to the community and policy makers, but instead by flipping that concept around and recognizing and documenting the incredible depth of knowledge you all have gained through your hard work on the ground, and sharing your lived experience with academics and policymakers.
And of course, for existing social enterprises to do more business. A potential new student project for 2016/17 might explore the feasibility of a shared business development staff person and make a case for financial feasibility. I’m envisioning someone who could sell Potluck catering services, for example, but also schedule a Binners’ pickup at an event. There seems to be an opportunity for vertical integration here that I’m interested in testing with a group of social enterprises who are keen on the idea.
There was lots more depth to our conversations, which are summarized here. For now, suffice to say there’s lots of work to be done in 2016 and we’re eager to roll up our sleeves and get started.
Please sign up for our newsletter if you haven’t already to keep up with the LEDlab, and feel free to get in touch about any of the ideas put forward in this blog if they resonate with you.
Kiri Bird is Manager of the Local Economic Development Lab.