‘Change comes with engaging in process and being patient with those processes’
Between January and June 2020, Rose-Anne St-Paul and Fabiola Mizero Ngirabatware worked to explore evaluation and governance models for Concordia’s SHIFT Centre for Social Transformation.
Supporting SHIFT through its pilot year, St-Paul, a community-based researcher, led a program evaluation working group. Ngirabatware, a facilitator and consultant in organizational development led a governance working group. Both authored recommendation reports in mid-June and presented their findings to SHIFT’s steering committee.
As SHIFT’s first year draws to a close, the team is thinking about how to carry what it’s learned into the months ahead. St-Paul and Ngirabatware both have years of experience working in evaluation and governance across sectors, and they offer some of their own reflections on the experience of working with SHIFT.
‘In the end, good governance comes back to relationships and creating a place for humility, care and compassion’
How has your previous experience influenced your approach to working with SHIFT?
Rose-Anne St-Paul: I have experience working in evaluation in the mental health sector, looking at the efficacy of programs and people’s experience. I’ve also done research and evaluation in the community sector, more broadly. This combined experience provided me with a strong, cross-sectoral lens that helped shape my evaluation approach with SHIFT.
Additionally, my experience putting anti-racism and anti-oppression work at the forefront of research and evaluation informed my work with SHIFT from the beginning. This was important as I recruited diverse and multidisciplinary working group members. It then became a lens through which we began to understand how the funding program could embody these values.
Fabiola Mizero Ngirabatware: I am passionate about understanding how institutions, organizations and human beings can better work together to increase the effectiveness of their work. Practicing good governance has shown me that people can really work better together when they have the right processes and structures in place. In this way, it was really exciting to work with SHIFT during its pilot year to begin shaping these things.
Similar to what Rose-Anne said, including an anti-oppression lens from the beginning means there will be good processes building from within the organization. This will ultimately strengthen the organization’s potential for external impact.
What was it like to work with an organization in such an early phase of development?
St-Paul: It was interesting to experience firsthand what it’s like to build the foundations of an organization. It was very clear to me how important communication is right at the beginning. At the same time, it was challenging to evaluate the impact of an organization that is so new — SHIFT as we know it now is less than one year old.
There was a lot to reflect on in thinking about how important time is in designing an evaluation approach for an organization like SHIFT. It really does take time to understand what impact will look like — especially when we’re invested in a systems approach to social transformation.
Ngirabatware: From the governance side, it was a great opportunity to think ahead in terms of setting up for success. It’s incredibly important to consult people ahead of time when you’re building a project. Bringing people together around the table ahead of time helps us map out what can work and what might not. When there are many minds thinking about all of the different scenarios, it provides a more holistic view — for both opportunities and challenges.
What would you have liked to dive into in a deeper way?
Ngirabatware: Everything, really! It was an ambitious portfolio to do in six months. With the added challenge of the pandemic, it was sometimes difficult to dive deep into conversations with the committee. We were grappling with questions like, how can you think of governance when we’re not sure when people will meet in person again? When you’re dealing with so much uncertainty, it’s difficult to know if the plans you’re making will align with the organization’s vision.
St-Paul: Our experience and the knowledge we generated could have been fuller if there was more time. All of that said, I am proud of the work we were able to do in the time we had. It’s really important to factor in time when doing social change and social transformation work. It’s about engaging in process and being patient with those processes.
As experts in governance and evaluation, are there things you wish more people understood about these topics?
Ngirabatware: Governance comes back to relationships. We need to understand the ways relationships work as leverage points for organizational growth and organizational health. In previous work I’ve done, I’ve seen struggles with power dynamics and communication — natural struggles that emerge when we’re working collaboratively. Governance structures ask us to think about how we can work together better and how we can build relationships that create spaces to share and cultivate opportunities to feel heard.
Governance is so core to the success of programming and to the way people relate to your organization. It’s really about the trust you can build with communities. In the end, good governance comes back to relationships and creating a place for humility, care and compassion.
St-Paul: I have come to understand evaluation as a learning opportunity for organizations. Through evaluation, we’re examining a program or an initiative and there are various ways to do that: you can evaluate progress, or relevance or the resources that were put in. When you step into these processes, fascinating conversations come up around goals and values.
For example, an organization might say, “Our goal is to serve marginalized youth,” but there are many ways to evaluate whether or not that is happening. Are you measuring the number of youth, or the depth of engagement or the way the services for youth change over time? Each of these questions will bring different answers and expectations to the surface.
What are you most excited to see in terms of community-level capacity building through SHIFT?
Ngirabatware: I’m very excited about creating connections through the hubs. I think SHIFT has the capacity to hold space for its community in a different way than other funders. Also, internally, I think there’s an opportunity to build flat relationships and, through those relationships, share ideas. This could be truly innovative and would set a great example for others looking to build governance models that are inclusive from the outset.
St-Paul: To build on that, I’m excited about the prospect of having one hub dedicated to evaluation or a working group committee dedicated to such. This will create an opportunity for continued learning. I hope there will be continued discussions about evaluation and, through these, the creation of a vision for what might be evaluated in the next phase.
Finally, what do you hope the SHIFT community will walk away with, following the work you’ve done?
St-Paul: I look forward to SHIFT exploring notions of time and the power of slowing things down in order to create more space to reflect. When there’s time to reflect, there’s time to address questions people have around complex topics and, for me, this is core to building sustainable practice. Through this experience, I certainly relearned that the rhythm of organizations is not the same as project rhythm and I would love to see SHIFT remain open to exploring that.
Ngirabatware: Community sector organizations are so used to showing impact and proving relevancy. At the same time, social impact takes time. We’ve planted many seeds in the recommendations we’ve provided. Some of these recommendations will show up in the next few months and some will show up in the next few years.
I hope SHIFT can continue cultivating patience and the conviction that we’re working toward long-term impact. Patience is something that should be embodied, understood, shared.
Find out more about Concordia’s SHIFT Centre for Social Transformation.