Why we Started the Project

In “Breaking the Cycle: Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy” the Ontario government committed to undertake a review of the province’s social assistance system. In December 2009, a committee was struck to recommend a scope and terms of reference for the review. In December 2010, the review commission, chaired by Frances Lankin and Dr. Munir Sheikh, was formally announced.

We started the People’s Blueprint with the goal of leveraging the opportunity of the Social Assistance Review and changing public policy for the better. The project is a collaboration between Daily Bread Food Bank and Voices From the Street, with support from the Atkinson and Metcalf Charitable Foundations. Together, we worked with eighteen people receiving social assistance, equipping them with the tools they needed to be community researchers. The researchers went back to their communities and conducted over 100 video recorded interviews that demonstrate the hopes, challenges, and abilities of people “on the system” in an intensely personal way.

The Blueprint is premised on the idea that there is a majority of people silently living on the system that have not had their voices heard. They do not attend government consultations, academic research studies or activist campaigns. The Peoples Blueprint is a collective effort to ensure the voices of those on social assistance are heard by government and by our neighbours. By doing so, we improve the fact base for making important decisions on how the social assistance system should be reformed.

A New Approach

The Peoples’ Blueprint takes a Community Based Research (CBR) approach. CBR is a form of research that promotes learning and capacity development of the project participants, while also trying to gain a better insight into the experiences of those in the community. Working with people who are already experiencing the system, giving them ownership over the research and the questions asked, and using their skills and contacts to reach people in the community has allowed us unfettered access to new voices.

What We Did

Our process began by recruiting eighteen Community Researchers from Toronto and other parts of the province. Each attended a series of six three-day training sessions monthly from January to June 2010. There were eight participants from Toronto, one each from Cambridge, Brantford, Hamilton, St. Catherine’s, Kitchener-Waterloo, Kingston, Thunder Bay and Aurora and two from Sudbury. Each participant was receiving Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program at the time of their recruitment into the program. The recruitment process was open and conducted like a job interview. Participants reflected a wide diversity of people in terms of geographic location, disability, and ethnicity.

Training occurred from January-June 2010. The curriculum included workshops on developing a personal narrative; public speaking skills; writing skills; conflict resolution; developing key messages; facilitation skills; diversity training; understanding public policy; workshops on research; and interview skills.

Over the summer-fall of 2010, each participant completed five to ten interviews based on a series of open-ended questions. The questions were developed by the group members. Along with the interviews, “face sheets” were written, which provide demographic information on each respondent. The end product is the eight videos, organized by themes: Hopes; What Works; Stigma; Employment, Education and Training; Food and Health; Social Participation; Housing; Caseworkers; and Changes. The videos were edited based on the group’s analysis of the responses. Although the videos show only a fraction of the people interviewed, they broadly represent the key issues we heard throughout.

Developing Capacity

Our learning is not just from our research interviews. The process itself has taught us a great deal about what it takes to get people moving again, growing, learning and contributing.

Since the project training wrapped up, many of the Blueprinters have gone on to obtain jobs; others have gone back to school to further their education; while others are taking on leadership positions in poverty reduction initiatives across the province. All are now serving as role models in their communities. They will be sounding boards for new local or provincial government initiatives, and demonstrate the transformational possibilities when we approach targeted populations with respect for their lived knowledge and their proposed solutions.

Project Support

The People’s Blueprint is a collaboration between Daily Bread Food Bank and Voices From the Street. This would not have happened without the generous support, both financial and intellectual, from the Atkinson Charitable Foundation and the George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation. We thank them immensely for their incredible support and guidance. Many thanks to the City of Toronto for its support, Blanca Marcela Lopez for her superb editing of over 100 hours of video footage and Cheryl Smith for video documenting the panel’s planning meetings.

Above all else, we thank the Blueprinters for their phenomenal work over the past year. They truly demonstrate the transformational possibilities when we approach people with respect for their lived knowledge and their proposed solutions.

View our 2011 Conference Booklet

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