“Emergence is where momentum meets opportunity”

When we at The Storefront first coined this expression several years ago, I don’t think that I fully appreciated just how much we embraced emergence in our work.  Now, however, upon reflection, it is glaringly obvious to me that we owe much of our success uniting people, organizations and processes for community based change to our emphasis on emergence.

It was an emergent process that created The Storefront in the first place.  Nobody knew exactly what it would look like and each person involved influenced its development.  There was incredible momentum in the community and by service providers to create a “hub”.  When we seized the opportunity to take over the old library in Morningside Mall, we couldn’t have predicted that 15 years later, that hub would still be going strong and have spawned dozens of inclusive and collaborative initiatives that have changed the neighbourhood in profound ways.

We still pay attention to the momentum and unite that momentum with new opportunities: it’s how The Storefront evolves and grows.  What’s changed over the years is our methods for emergent learning and development have become more intentional.

It was therefore, incredibly meaningful to me, to receive an email last week, letting me know that we’re not the only ones to see the value of emergence in community work.

Jillaine Smith, a principal at Fourth Quadrant Parnters in the US, wrote to let me know that East Scarborough Storefront has been nominated for inclusion as a case study in an important new research project, “Exploring Emergence in Complex Social Change Initiatives.” A detailed description of the research project is available at 4qpartners.com/research.html.

What this means is that Fourth Quadrant Partners, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will studying The Storefront to help them to answer two critical questions:

  • If we more actively bring together the best thinking of everyone involved in an initiative, rather than depending on top-down strategy, can we discover solutions to complex problems that no one person could have thought of on their own?
  • Can we develop solutions to complex problems that are not just sustainable, but that grow and evolve to meet real needs over time?

Of course, my answer is a resounding yes!

I am so excited that The Storefront is to be included in this work!  There has been such great thinking in the field of emergence from people like Michael Quinn Patton, Henry Mintzer, John Kania and, of course the principals of Fourth Quadrant Parnters, I’m delighted to be part of the process to connect it with the very real and meaningful on the ground work in Kingston Galloway/Orton Park.

How collaboration, learning and reflection contribute to change

In June with support from The Maytree Foundation, Janet Fitzsimmons and Munira Abid, two staff members, joined representatives from community-based organizations from across Canada at the Neighbours, Policies & Programs Conference organized by Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement.

Janet and Munira were asked what Collaboration means to them. Click here to view the full article

From the Lecture Hall to the Living Room

By: Janet Fitzsimmons

I am always fascinated to understand how people know the things they know. I am interested in what we know because we read it or heard someone speak about it and what we know in our gut, instinctually because we have lived it or witnessed its impact. From what I can glean from my 51 years of social research, there are many kinds of knowing.

In our work at East Scarborough Storefront, we work with local residents to connect them to systems and networks that can enable them to make meaningful change in their community.  On the one side of the equation, I often interact with people who have bulky CV’s, a list of academic credentials and a desire to support community development that is rooted in the best of intentions.  On the other side, I interact with residents who have been marginalized to some degree, who are not used to having equal voice, and who struggle to have their perspective included as decisions are made that affect their lives and the lives of their neighbours.

John McKnight says that the answer lies in asset-based community development: beginning from a place of “having” instead of a place of “needing”, and sure, that’s certainly part of it. Coupled with that however, is the necessity to connect.  We are meant to be connected: to allies, to systems and to each other.

At The Storefront, we practice asset-based community development, and I am acutely aware of the assets that local residents bring to the table, but the impact is really felt when those assets are meaningfully connected to influential systems and networks, when the machinery that drives social systems acknowledges those assets, either by choice or persuasion, and acts in ways that are responsive to them.

Recently in the neighbourhood in which I work, we have undergone an exploration of the impacts of poverty on the community.  The City of Toronto is developing a poverty reduction strategy and began by holding a number of community consultations: this was a catalyst for the KGO community to sink their teeth into this issue and take the considerable assets that exist in their community and throw them wholeheartedly at this problem.  In response to this issue, residents are involved in conversations about local procurement and community benefit agreements, how corner stores can better serve the food needs of local families, and how to ensure that food access is addressed across the community in consistent ways.  Resident groups have adopted positions on affordable housing, transit access and local jobs. And they have connected, to each other, to community allies and to the systems and networks that can enhance and drive forward their message. They have worked alongside academics from the University of Toronto to articulate their aspirations for the economic growth of their community.

I am grateful to live in a city in which these conversations are not only had in lecture halls and board rooms.  The residents in KGO are having these conversations in coffee shops, in fast food establishments, in parks and in living rooms.  And not to detract from the important work that is done by our allies in lecture halls and board rooms, it is the lens of lived experience that will ultimately enable sustainable change to take place.