In-context Introductions

“All the jobs went with NAFTA,” the woman with the long black hair declared from the curb of Tim Horton’s.


It was 7pm on a sunny Friday night. Seven young people crowded around a souped up – but not quite functional – Honda Civic. A slightly older crowd congregated with their dogs on the sidewalk. Everyone nursed some variation of a double-double (coffee with two creams, two sugars).


We were in our first hour of coaching a team from Peterborough on the ReMaking a Living project.


Natalie trying out some opening lines, in the first 20 minutes of recruitment.
Natalie trying out some opening lines, in the first 20 minutes of recruitment.

The night before, we convened mental health professionals, employment specialists, philanthropic funders, civil servants, and academics to introduce generative ethnography and identify perceived pain points.


Launch night of the ReMaking a Living Project
Launch night of the ReMaking a Living Project

The project had started with a well-documented pain point: Peterborough has the highest unemployment rate amongst Canada’s 34 metropolitan areas (11.6% in April 2015) And that number doesn’t include the folks who are employable, but don’t want or who have stopped searching for jobs. In fact, Stats Canada does not include people who have not looked for work in the past four weeks as part of their count.


It’s this group – the group economists often call ‘Discouraged Workers’ – that the Starter Project seeks to meet and understand. What types of pain do so-called discouraged workers feel? Is a job a good outcome for these folks? And is it any job, or certain types of jobs or, better yet, particular lifestyles? Or are there other outcomes that are more desirable?


One of 15 early problem statements
One of 15 early problem statements

As we started to brainstorm who exactly might be a discouraged worker, we realized it was far from a homogeneous group.

There are…

  • The folks who want work, and are actively searching. Perhaps folks laid off from jobs, or parents re-entering the labor force but without the knowhow or skills.
  • The folks who want work, but have stopped searching. Perhaps older folks near retirement age, or those who feel discriminated, or who are under/over qualified, or who have some big barriers.
  • The folks who don’t want formal work, but perhaps meaning or money. Perhaps parents or folks recovering from health challenges & addictions.
  • The folks who were once discouraged, but found a path forward.
  • The folks in lousy, bullshit jobs who can teach us what makes good work.
  • The folks without any work experience, who have yet to enter the labor force. Perhaps young people leaving school, who also aren’t so sure what they want.

And, just because you fall into one of these sub-groups, does not mean that you experience the same kinds of pain. The pain might be material: the lack of income, security, future planning. The pain might be psychological: the loss of identity, esteem, hope. The pain might be social: isolation, dejection, strained relationships. The pain might be an expectation gap, between what you want and what ‘society’ says you should want.


The only way to move beyond speculation and assumptions is, well, to move out of the office and onto the streets. And start collecting stories of people. All so we get a better handle on what exactly the problem is, identify the contributing factors, and most importantly, so we can identify the opportunity areas for interventions. For re-imagining what making a living looks and feels like in a place like Peterborough.


Question is: where do we find the folks with the non-existent or lousy jobs and how do we convince them to share their perspectives with us?


Our initial brainstorm of recruitment strategies
Our initial brainstorm of recruitment strategies

7 possible settings

  1. Outside of discount grocery stores, food courts, and food banks
  2. At bingo halls, pool halls, and car shows
  3. At private methadone clinics and pharmacies
  4. In neighborhood parks and convening spots (street corners, malls, Tim Horton’s, McDonalds)
  5. By door knocking
  6. By placing ads in classified sections / job boards
  7. At the bus station during changeover times

7 possible value propositions

  1. $50 to take us on a tour of town, and where you’ve worked
  2. Get a short-term job with us: as a broker/introducer or as a member of our photo crew
  3. Free coffee for an informal, off-the-record chat
  4. Hour of job search coaching for a ‘real’ job history
  5. Good meal for good conversation
  6. Bitch session: tell us what’s not working, what services suck, etc.
  7. Feedback session: give your reactions to early ideas, put your two-cents in

5 possible recruitment experiences

  1. Turn an outdoor parking space into a comfy living room with free coffee & donuts…
  2. Set-up a lemonade stand … Or a hotdog stand… Or make homemade soda …
  3. Create a roving / pop-up job board…
  4. Enter a raffle for the weirdest, wonderful, lousy, or non-job…
  5. Photo exhibition with profiles of people to compare oneself to…

9 possible opening lines

  1. Lousy job, great job, or non-job? Where do you fit?
  2. Can you help us find the best, worst, strangest, and non-existent jobs in Peterborough?
  3. Peterborough has the highest unemployment rate in Canada – what’s been your experience?
  4. Stressed by work, or no work? We’re doing a project to find new ways to cut the stress.
  5. Got good work? We’re wanting to understand what is good work, and make more of it in Peterborough.
  6. Cup of coffee for a chat about good jobs? We want to make more of them – what are they?
  7. We think a lot of the unemployment services out there aren’t so helpful. Instead, we want to find some better ways. Can we get your feedback?
  8. We’ve had a hard time finding meaningful and secure jobs in Peterborough, and we’re wondering what your experience has been? Or the experience of family and friends?
  9. Know anyone having a tough time finding work? We’ll give you a gift if you introduce us to them.

Over the weeks to come, the Peterborough Starter Project Team (Natalie and Gillian) will share which recruitment strategies work, and which fall flat.