Board Voice’s efforts around the development of a social policy planning framework have moved forward significantly since we wrote the following in a proposal to the Vancouver Foundation in October 2015. The foundation asked us to summarize and detail the social innovation project around community engagement that we were proposing. We think what we submitted to them bears repeating!
Proposal to the Foundation:
Summary of initiative
Why, in one of the wealthiest regions of the world, do we have 90,000 children living in poverty? How do we move from crisis managing sickness to promoting healthier lives? How do we want to treat our seniors, people living with disabilities or addictions, immigrants and First Nations? How do we all want to live together?
In 2013/14, Board Voice undertook a provincial campaign advocating for the development of a Social Policy Framework (SPF) for BC, as a way of approaching some of the most challenging and intractable social issues requiring integrated and innovative responses.
Through a process of engagement with businesses, municipalities, community partners and citizens, this proposed two-year initiative is designed to spark interest in new ideas in the design and delivery of human services in BC, and create the climate for needed change.
Key partnerships will provide the networks and help to create the momentum to explore these ideas locally. We expect the project to generate ideas and actions that will make our communities more livable and resilient.
The project will have three phases: development of the online platform and content, meeting materials and templates; the coordination of community and online discussions; the collating of the information; drafting and dissemination of a report summarizing the outcomes.
Expected key outcomes include engaged networks, increased awareness of social issues and suggested key elements of a SPF for BC.
What social challenge(s) and system(s) does this innovation address? What is holding the social challenge(s) in place?
In an increasingly difficult fiscal climate for all human services, communities continue to face intractable social issues such as poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, and violence. Health costs continue to rise while demographic shifts put additional burdens on service systems.
Government ministries provide services and funding in vertical envelopes, while inter=ministerial initiatives are generally ad hoc and often short-lived with few measured outcomes. This is detailed in the study, commissioned by Board Voice in 2014 entitled: Making the Case.
Municipalities and communities have very little understanding of, or impact on, the many services delivered in their communities.
There is no overarching provincial framework to guide all human service systems and very little capacity at the municipal level or within agency or school funding envelopes to support community social planning. As a result, decisions related to community services are very often made by individual ministries and /or health authorities based on short-term fiscal plans, without significant input or consultation from and across communities.
Further, current procurement policies promote competition between service organizations leading to the proliferation of agencies competing for scarce resources.
A comprehensive social policy framework would address some of these issues.
How long has this social innovation been running? What impact has this project already had on the social challenge?
Board Voice began this initiative having reviewed a study by the Federation of Community Social Services of BC (FCSSBC). The implementation of a SPF in Alberta in 2013 was encouraging and the early efforts of the Alberta College of Social Workers in initiating a province-wide discussion, finally leading to government action was noted. It would take time for this big idea to take root in BC.
Board Voice brought together a group of Vancouver agency boards of directors who drafted a statement outlining the idea and called on others to support the initiative. Speaking engagements with community social service agencies, municipalities, police departments and business organizations to gain their support followed.
In September 2014, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) passed a motion calling on the Premier of BC to begin this process. More than 60 agencies, municipalities and other community and provincial organizations signed on to support this idea.
Board Voice has discussed this idea with government ministers and senior bureaucrats. Although interested, senior elected officials have not yet indicated a desire to begin this work. The initiative is having some impact on thinking within government and Board Voice has been quietly encouraged to continue the conversation.
The Cowichan Valley has taken up the idea of a framework and is developing the idea locally with some funding from the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation.
What research or other evidence are you using to inform the development and implementation of this innovation?
Board Voice has reviewed a number of studies on social policy frameworks in Canada and around the world.
A study done by FCSSBC, Social-Policy-Frameworks-in-Canada-Disc-Paper-Sept2011, provided an initial overview of several Canadian examples. Board Voice then commissioned a study via the Simon Fraser University School of Public Policy to explore the situation in BC. Making the Case evaluated BC’s approach to social policy development and considered developments in several other jurisdictions. Both of these provided recommendations and cautions with respect to the development of this kind of work.
This research led to the development of a companion Board Voice initiative which picks up on New Zealand’s Social Report and will focus on providing a coherent report card on key indicators reflecting individual and community well-being.
A number of writers, activists and organizers, including Hildy Gottlieb and Peter Block have influenced Board Voice related to engaging communities.
At its 2013 Annual Conference, Board Voice presented keynote speaker Leanne Wagner, the Alberta bureaucrat responsible for developing and implementing the SPF in that province. We continue to monitor the Alberta process, with particular interest in what direction the new government will take the framework approved by the previous government.
There has not been a formal evaluation of this advocacy effort. In fact, it may be too soon for a comprehensive evaluation of SPFs. For example, Alberta completed their SPF in February 2013 and has not published an evaluation to date. The number of agencies, municipalities and organizations that have joined the effort in BC, the media exposure brought to the issues, and the resolution passed by UBCM, have all been important early indicators of success.
The outreach to business has been limited thus far, but the discussions resulting in the support from two boards of trade was instructive. The planning and resource management implications of a SPF ring true to business people.
Adoption of a SPF will represent a huge shift in social policy culture in BC. Like Alberta, a SPF for BC will be a living document; a more accurate reflection of who we are and where we want to go as a province.
An evaluation of Board Voice’s Community Boards in Action project in 2013 demonstrated that with some seed funding, boards of directors working together could organize a project for the benefit of their community. Several of these projects continue today with results well beyond initial expectations. The evaluation is on file at the Vancouver Foundation and is attached. Board Voice has direct experience in organizing and executing community-related initiatives.
What scale has this social innovation been operating at? What scale do you intend to take it to?
The SPF initiative has been operating at a ‘group’ level. Working with only one half-time program staff, the level of activity and support generated for the SPF by Board Voice volunteers has been significant.
The proposed first phase of this initiative, taking it to the ‘network’ level, will solidify relationships with municipalities and other key partners and devise strategies for phase 2 community engagement and report. Partnerships across municipalities, umbrella organizations, businesses, chambers of commerce and unions will be required to create a credible and inclusive process. Using online templates and multiple communication channels, regional coordinators and board networks, we anticipate engaging a broad range of participants.
The ultimate goal of this initiative is to inform and inspire social innovation at the ‘organizational and institutional’ level. Board Voice seeks to persuade the provincial government to adopt a broader social vision and develop new infrastructures, some electronic, to promote goal oriented, collaborative, system wide upstream solutions to our most serious and intractable social issues.
In every community, enormous resources are expended through social policy ministries and the multitude of other charities and helping organizations. If we are seriously going to improve the determinants of health, we all need to be pulling in the same direction. A SPF at the highest level would provide direction, strategies and measurable outcome.
What difference will scaling make? How will you adapt your current project for scale?
A Social Policy Framework implemented in BC, would provide an overarching social vision for the province, goals and key directions, desired outcomes, principles for action, roles and responsibilities and transformational plans. It would affect all systems of policy-making and service delivery from the senior government level, to the municipal and agency level. It would provide a lens, a planning tool, a model for engagement, common language and vision and renewed focus on collaboration and innovation.
Achievement of this goal will require a significant commitment on the part of the provincial government. The goal of this project is to create an environment in the province where a change of this magnitude would be considered.
This project posits that the path to building a more coherent and integrated system of human services, and thus healthier communities, can begin by engaging citizens and stakeholders. A proposed Advisory Committee and a Partners Table will be established early to guide the project. Hosted community discussions will be designed to feed information about possibilities for change in communities into a broader discussion about how human services are organized and delivered in BC.
Board Voice intends to keep the provincial government apprised of all developments in this process and engage them as possible and appropriate in discussions about the project recommendations. We would also welcome them as a partner in the development of a SPF for BC.
Innovation is inherently risky. What are the risks associated with this project? What processes will you put into place to recognize and respond to these risks?
There are several risks in the project. The first is the capacity of Board Voice volunteers to move this project forward over two years. As with all boards, Board Voice will sustain attrition and change. Much of the thrust of this project will come from volunteers and with change comes the risk of mission or project drift. To offset this, Board Voice will work to ensure that a strong Advisory Committee is in place to support continuity and draft a clear project charter delineating the scope of the project. The Executive Coordinator for Board Voice will link directly with all phases of this project to ensure continuity and overall project management.
A second risk is that the complexity of the project exceeds our capacity to have meaningful conversations about the issues. For example, expecting to have in-depth discussions about any particular community’s social problems, without a lot of prior data gathering and education, would be insurmountable and outside the limits of the project. Questions will need to be carefully tailored for the particular audience.
A third risk is that the project will create unrealistic expectations and get overly complicated. It will not develop a social policy framework. It will not result in municipal social plans. It will not explain every possible connection between each social ministry. To remain credible, this project must not over-reach or over-promise.
In what ways will your project influence this system? What systemic challenges will you face as you scale this project?
A SPF will only come about if it’s a priority of the provincial government. Moving the government to action will take time. Our theory of change suggests that as new ideas and possibilities evolve and are shared, and more people begin to understand how everything is connected, things will begin to change in ways we might not even imagine. In fact, we can see from the Alberta model what is possible when government does become involved.
Municipal governments are interested in this because social issues are showing up on their doorsteps, while the resources to manage them effectively are held by the provincial and federal governments. Community agencies are interested because they see their costs continue to rise, while their resources shrink and they are forced to compete with their community partners to remain sustainable. There are few processes available to explore these issues together.
This project will encourage municipalities, provincial bureaucrats and community service providers to become more engaged with each other. It will also encourage mission driven, inter-ministerial connections at the community regional and provincial levels. Local conversations can lead to community innovations and will be encouraged.
In the end, it’s not about something called a ‘social policy framework’, but about ideas to change systems that plan, fund, manage and deliver human services in the province and it is about engaging communities in these considerations.
Is this system/policy environment receptive and capable of supporting or integrating the innovation? How have you tested this?
While the benefits of a SPF appear obvious, there are significant systemic challenges to moving this idea forward. Bureaucratic inertia at all levels and general cynicism are substantial obstacles to change, as is the reluctance to envision real, systemic change. There is also political risk in this undertaking, although the risks attached to doing nothing are even higher.
We believe that the provincial government recognizes the issues addressed by this project are important. They have tried, albeit in an ad hoc manner, to make key ministries work together to achieve various shared goals and objectives.
However, in the current environment, with new technologies, systems thinking and communities realizing that there are responsibilities to be shared, improved approaches to policy development, planning, implementation and resource management may be possible.
Some will see a social policy framework as a huge and imposing policy initiative as likely to cause as much angst as positive, political pay-off. In this, they may be partly right.
Drafting and implementing a SPF and increasing cooperation between governments, charities, businesses, and community social service agencies is a smart thing to do and will leave an important legacy for the government.
When the environment is ready for change, and it will be sooner or later, useful constructs and policy options will be available to the provincial government.
Who are you partnering with? Who else is working on this challenge? How will you collaborate with them?
Official partnerships are in their early stages, Board Voice has initiated conversations with the BC Association of Social Workers, the Union of BC Municipalities, the City of Vancouver, the Surrey and Burnaby Boards of Trade, and others on how to collaborate on this project. Several agencies have already pledged in-kind resources. Partnerships with schools of public policy will continue.
Nineteen cities signed the call for a SPF including Vancouver, Duncan, Prince George, Victoria, and Surrey. We know that agency boards and municipalities will host many of the conversations across the province and will contribute in-kind resources to this initiative.
While most government plans are confined to single ministries, there are some examples of cross ministry issue driven collaborations e.g. domestic violence that would automatically fall under the framework.
There are public calls for a number of plans, which could fit under a SPF, such as a poverty reduction plan or universal childcare.
Vancouver has developed a comprehensive municipal social planning framework, which came into effect in 2014. Other communities have some social planning processes in place, and the Cowichan Valley is engaged in a planning process to determine local priorities. These organizations are natural allies in the push for more cohesive and effective provincial social policy.
We hope the Vancouver Foundation will also be a partner in this project. We would also be pleased to partner with the provincial government.
Summarize the project plan. Be sure to clarify how people affected by the issue are involved in the project.
Beginning January 2016, Phase 1 will generate the ideas, partnerships and processes to allow for a sustained examination of structures and processes of social policy in BC.
Advisory and partnership tables will be set up to share ideas and promote understanding among stakeholders to develop the broad principles which will support the whole project. They will also give shape to the community engagement process to follow in 2017.
On-line communications processes will be developed, along with the content and templates to guide Phase 2.
Towards the end of 2016, we will begin the hiring process for regional coordinators.
In 2017, community conversations will be convened with the assistance of the regional coordinators. Municipal leaders, BCASW and board networks will underpin the community engagement.
Input will be collated and reported out throughout the process. Outreach to local media, business groups and MLAs will be a critical component of engaging the broadest possible swath of citizens.
Key features of a possible framework will be developed based on all the input with outreach to government and other partners in late 2017. Options for further work will be developed.
In the end, citizens will be more engaged and literate about innovations in social policy, community members will be tuned into the needs of—and possibilities for—their communities, and government could be influenced to introduce innovations in social policy.