As anyone who has been talking to me over the past couple of months knows, I have been deep in thought about complexity, emergence, collective impact and the Storefront model. I have been struggling with concepts of evaluation and how neighbourhood “backbone” organizations such as ours can use shared measures to articulate impact.
It’s been an intense couple of months with lots of discussions, readings and, last week, a three day conference with 150 other backbone organizations struggling with the same issues. I have been playing with the idea of blogging about it all, but got so lost in heady conceptual discussions, that I wasn’t sure where to start.
Then today, a blustery, cold Saturday in April, I went out to KGO (Kingston-Galloway/Orton Park, the neighbourhood in which Storefront is located) to participate in the annual clean-up event. I got there 20 minutes late and, along with a group of youth I didn’t yet know, began to roam the neighbourhood for a good place to dig in and get cleaning. It was hard to find. We went to the vacant lot, normally strewn with litter: it was pristine. We went up and down Lawrence Avenue E. and nowhere was any litter to be found. Clearly others had been there before us.
We did finally find an area leading into the ravine that was sorely in need of a clean up, and worked hard to get the garbage into bags. As I wandered through the neighbourhood this morning, I met dozens of fellow garbage collectors. Among them, a local pastor, dozens of local youth, resident leaders organizing small groups, our MP John McKay, a seniors’ group, a group of local bank employees, and our library’s area manager. In all, there were more than 200 people caring for the neighbourhood and enjoying working together.
So, it occurs to me that I can measure the results of this morning’s efforts: I can take before and after pictures of the neighbourhood and see that it is tangibly much cleaner. I can count the 145 bags of garbage the City picked up after we were done. And I’m sure with a bit of research I could cite studies that show that a cleaner neighbourhood has a positive impact on individual health and economic success of local businesses.
I believe, however, that the biggest impact comes from a diverse group of people creating a culture of working together, getting to know each other and feeling a sense of accomplishment. We live in a culture where individualism is revered and isolation is all too prevalent. I believe that social change is only possible if we change that culture in ways that the people of KGO demonstrated this morning.
The people out there this morning in the cold and the wind know that together we can accomplish things that alone are just not possible…how do you measure that?