What's the core question?
How can we support people to not just live in a community, but to flourish as part of community? Especially for people with disabilities, and others, too often left out and disconnected?
Who is experiencing the challenge?
Margot lives in a one-bedroom unit on the edge of town. Two Calico cats keep her company. Until 3pm. When the mailman knocks on her door. She can’t read the letters he delivers, but in the 3 minutes of conversation, she doesn’t feel so lonely. Mondays are OK too. Her worker drops by to read the mail and re-stock her pantry. “It’s a hard life,” Margot says.
Joseph would also say he has a hard life. He gets up at 4am for his 5am shift re-stocking shelves at the local grocery store. By 10am, he’s at his second job: washing cars. He tries to be home for 5pm to see his two boys. Evenings are spent fixing things around the house. And trying not to worry about how to make ends meet. Joseph lives across the street from Margot.
Joseph and Margot could be two of the 57% of Canadians who live down the street from each other, but have never met. They live separate lives in the same community. The separateness is even greater for folks like Margot, who lives with autism. And for seniors. And for immigrants and refugees. And on it goes…
Research tells us we live longer, and healthier, and happier when we’re connected to others. When we are not alone. When we feel like we belong.
But, what’s it look like to belong? What kind of connections enable people to lead the kind of lives they imagine? And what gets in the way?
We want to start with people like Margot, Joseph, and their fellow neighbours in the Edmonds / Kingsway area of Burnaby, British Columbia. To feel their day-to-day experiences and identify what exactly could be different.
Why Edmonds / Kingsway?
We’re getting going in the Edmonds / Kingsway Area because it’s one of those places that has so much good stuff already going on – and yet some real pockets of people struggling to get by. There’s a new neighborhood association – EPIC – that’s recently up & running. And there is a rich tapestry of different cultures and languages. 59% of residents are immigrants. About 28% of residents qualify as low-income. Which is a bit higher than the 21% average for the city as a whole. There’s also a number of folks living with disabilities in the neighborhood – who are serviced by organizations like PosAbilities, Simon Fraser Society for Community Living, and BACI. These services are enthusiastically taking part in this Starter Project.
What's our approach?
We’re calling this a Starter Project. Because it’s about starting with people, professionals, and policymakers to prompt change in one neighborhood: Edmonds / Kingsway. Over 10 or so weeks, we will develop concrete ideas. For enabling connected lives.
But – this isn’t just a research project. We call it a Starter project for a reason.
Our goal is to build momentum and funding to put the ideas into practice. At the end of the Starter Project, we hope to form local teams - comprised of people, professionals, and policymakers - to prototype, apply, and embed multiple solutions. Because no one solution is enough. This might mean testing new kinds of neighbourhood roles, incentives, interactions, service types, commissioning processes, measurement systems, risk & safety policies, etc.
What we don’t want is for this to become “Community initiative #101”. We’re after systemic change: shifting how families, neighbours, service providers, and government agencies interact over time.
0) We form a local team. With 3 layers. Apprentices who work with us every day and are really immersed in the doing. Debriefers who cycle in and out of the work every couple of weeks, to ask critical questions and hold the space for reflection & learning. And advisors who help us to connect to key decision-makers and prepare the ground for the much longer-term change work. You can read more about the roles & how to apply here.
1) We spend loads of time with people in their homes, at night, and on weekends to hear what they are saying, and see what they are doing. We get to know those living on the margins, and those who’ve stitched together a surprisingly connected life.
2) We go deeper. We use photos, film, drawings, and simulations to explore what people want for themselves, and introduce them to alternative realities. Because words alone have too many limitations. And people don’t know what they don’t know.
3) We explore different versions of good outcomes. And we identify the things that enable change, and the things that stand in the way. We come up with practical ideas for getting rid of the barriers. These ideas are at an individual, family, neighborhood, service, system, and policy level.
4) We return to people’s homes to get feedback on the ideas. We put ideas on paper, role play, and visualize them so people can imagine what could be.
5) We look for champions & funders to help actually make & test these ideas. At a small scale to find out what works. All along the way, we create opportunities for local people, professionals, and policymakers to learn with us.
How's the approach different to other stuff?
We’re often asked what makes our process different from community development? And similar to design thinking? We draw on lots of community development practices. Like street outreach & capability-building. We also draw on lots of design thinking tools. Like visualization and prototyping.
We think what’s different is our focus on both behavior and systems change. And the fact we’re making multiple solutions with different user groups - from families to social workers to bureaucrats. Plus, we don’t shy away from measuring whether our solutions help or hinder. Indeed, we don’t confuse new and innovative for good. You can read more about the values underpinning our work in Our Manifesto.