Pubdate: Fri, 23 Oct 2009
Source: Leduc Representative (CN AB)
Copyright: 2009 Osprey Media
Author: Alexandra Pope


Community groups have to work together to find solutions for complex
problems like unemployment, drug addiction and homelessness - that was
the consensus at a workshop hosted by City of Leduc Family and
Community Support Services (FCSS) Oct. 15.

About 20 people representing a handful of local support agencies,
including the Leduc Foundation, Leduc Alliance Church, Peace Lutheran
Church and the LINX Connect Centre, attended the workshop by the
Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement to hear tips for moving
forward on complicated issues.

Tabitha White, research and social development co-ordinator with Leduc
FCSS, said as the city prepares to conduct a social needs assessment
next year, it was important to bring groups together to identify
problems and come up with a strategy.

"You need a co-ordinated community effort to move forward on those
issues," she said.

White said assessments have been completed in the past, but the
documents were never released to the general public. This time, FCSS
has created a steering committee to involve people from all levels of
the community.

"The hope is that with all the experts around the table and feedback
from stakeholders and residents, we'll be able to move forward on some
of those complex community issues," she said.

The workshop, facilitated by Mark Cabaj, focused on how to identify
complex problems - issues that don't have one clear cause and
solution. Cabaj said most social helping agencies are operating under
a paradigm that tries to oversimplify problems. In order to get grant
funding, a group often has to be able to demonstrate that a project
will have a certain outcome, but just because one aspect of a problem
has been addressed doesn't mean the whole issue goes away, he said.

"We can't keep up by treating complex issues like simple issues on
steroids by throwing a million different single-purpose programs at
them," he said. "If we fail to treat them as complex issues, we won't
move the needle, or could even have counterproductive outcomes."

Cabaj said issues that seem to stand alone - for example, the rising
prevalence of illegal drug use in Leduc - are usually related to other
"big picture" issues.

In a group exercise, the workshop participants demonstrated that drug
use can be connected to myriad other social problems that could also
be seen to stand alone, for example family dysfunction, job loss,
mental health issues and lack of skills training.

"It's very difficult to make significant and durable change with just
a couple of those root causes," Cabaj said. "It's the orchestration of
moving on multiple causes that really makes a difference."

Grant McDowell, pastor at the Leduc Alliance Church, said it can be
difficult to get ideas off the ground when the people who stand to
benefit most from them aren't at the table.

"Sometimes we just don't follow through," he said. "There are good
ideas and they just get shelved because there isn't enough gut-level
ownership to move forward."

Cabaj said communities have to create a shared civic space where
agencies and individuals can pool their collective observations, ideas
and expertise.

"It's not that any one organization is particularly wrong on their
own, it's that no one organization is particularly right," he said.

Cabaj said instead of fearing tension, conflict and disagreement,
groups should view it as productive. He gave the example of a man who
loses his car keys on the darkest side of the parking lot but only
searches for them in the light.

"We are encouraged to ignore stress and discomfort, told to be
predictable and show measurable outcomes (but) we can handle
complexity," he said. "We can handle the dark side of the parking lot." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr