Vibrant Communities Canada (VCC) recently circulated a paper written by VCC Director Mark Holmgren titled Sometimes to Hear the Music You Have to Turn Down the Noise:  A Game-Changer Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategy and Evaluation.

The concepts and terminology resonate with the work WPRC has been engaged in.

By ‘noise’ Holmgren means the varying voices that those working on poverty reduction face, including clients, funders and governments, and the complex and voluminous range of issues related to poverty including housing, income, transportation, and health.

Holmgren says that amidst all this noise it is sometimes hard to find the ‘music’ or a meaningful way forward.

Holmgren uses Edmonton’s Task Force to Eliminate Poverty in a Generation to illustrate his point. The task force engaged in extensive consultations in the process of developing an implementation road map. In the end almost 1000 people were involved in identifying 80 recommendations which became 400 actions that were further delineated into 28 priorities.

Edmonton now has a well-researched plan that can direct poverty reduction activities for years to come. But the task force found that with 28 priorities, the plan was also somewhat unwieldy and felt like ‘a mile wide and an inch deep.’ How then to know where to start?

From this dilemma arose the concept of a Game Changer, which is a big change priority – one that produces benefits and outcomes that cascade into other areas. For example, addressing the need for safe affordable housing would also address socialization, health and employment. From the 28 priorities, the Edmonton task force identified six Game Changers as a focus for activities:

– Eliminate racism
– Livable incomes
– Affordable housing
– Accessible and affordable transit
– Affordable, quality child care
– Access to mental health services and addiction supports

The WPRC has a Framework for Action, recently updated for 2015-2020, that is based on learning from the early work of the Council. It identifies ten aspirations for Winnipeg – focus areas that get at the underlying issues related to poverty.

Beginning in 2012 the approach taken by WPRC has been to focus specifically on one of the ten aspirations at a time. This has allowed for a deeper dive into the issue with comprehensive consultation, research and planning. This is done by taking a collective impact approach, which utilizes the multi-sectoral composition of the WPRC.

Homelessness was identified as the focus in 2012 and after 18 months of community engagement and research, the Task Force to End Homelessness launched Winnipeg’s first Plan to End Homelessness.  A new organization, End Homelessness Winnipeg was established in 2015 to provide leadership and coordination support to advance the plan.

With that work well underway the Council had the opportunity to move to a new area of focus. Council looked at which of the aspirations, if positively impacted, would have the greatest impact on other aspirations. In other words, which ones were the Game Changer aspirations?

Although several aspirations have a cascading effect on others, the Council identified ‘Achieving independence through income’ as a starting point as it has the greatest potential to positively impact the other nine aspirations.

From there the Council  undertook extensive consultations and looked at the demographics and literature including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action, all of which led to narrowing down the income aspiration to ‘youth employment through an Indigenous lens’ and ultimately the action plan called ‘TRC92: Youth Employment’ which is in its early stages. The action plan is named after the 92nd Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action. It calls upon the corporate sector to apply the principles and practices outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including equitable access to jobs, and workplace education on Indigenous issues.

Holmgren argues that taking a Game Changer approach also has implications for evaluation – measure fewer indicators, emphasize progress over proof and contribution over attribution, and use evaluation for continuous learning in order to open the door to innovation.

“In the Game Changer context, the learning focus is concentrated; more focused on the big change actions we are undertaking than on everything and anything.”

Time will tell, but on the face of it, it looks like the notion of looking for a Game Changer has merit for developing a focused priority that could produce meaningful results.