‘Seema, I would like you to tackle community planning,’ were the words that I vaguely remember Graham speaking as I was concentrating on all the words I associate with community planning: challenging, overwhelming, intense, complicated, time-consuming, highly unsuccessful, and the list goes on. With an educational background in community psychology and truly amazing years watching different people speak to it, attempt it on smaller scales, and knowing what it could do for a community if done well, I was both inspired and terrified. Remember, I am a researcher that will always choose black and white over grey but knew that my years in Peel had been shaping me for this moment. I remember making a choice in that moment to take this community planning thing on as a researcher but ensuring that I was open enough to the awkwardness and tension this was going to create within myself.
I was overjoyed when I first met the System Integration Development Team – an in-tune group of smart people – we are talking brilliant, well-informed, deep people. Many at first I did not know as they were not Success By 6 folk (can you imagine) but was quickly informed of their challenges with the respective age groups they serve. I felt, and still feel, very fortunate to be part of the SB6 network that has such a rich history of speaking, planning and working with each other – this experience gave me more fire to expand the benefits of joint planning to span the 7-24 age groups.
In my ignorance, I truly thought that providers providing service to the same age groups all knew of each other and worked together. Doesn’t everyone have a SB6-like network to be part of?? During these well-planned meetings, I heard the excitement around how planning for our 0-24 population was not a good-to-have, but a necessary next step. I heard words like, ‘this is evolutionary, not revolutionary’, this will be ‘created by influencers and not solely by people of authority.’ I heard of success stories from other communities that took on this challenge years ago.
As a researcher, I was feeling safe – the ‘data’ was there. Other communities had done this and had had success – learn from their experiences, tweak, replicate and done! But, at the first meeting with the Development Team, I heard the dreaded words, ‘we want this to be a made in Peel model’ – and then, the world of grey opened in front of my eyes.
Meetings that followed were full of intense group work, live documents (the worse two words a researcher can hear), flip-charts full of grey-like comments like, ‘we don’t want hierarchy but want a body that supports facilitation,’ or ‘alignment and not accountability,’ or, my favourite, ‘we want to create synergies and avoid duplications.’ What did this all mean? As I researcher, I thought, how will our community look any different once we have a framework that supports community planning? How will organizations and agencies be better off to support their clients? Why are we doing all this?
Then it happened – I was fortunate to be part of a project in the child welfare sector in which we were examining the feasibility of integrating and coordinating the players in the child welfare sector to better serve families. That is what System Integration for 0-24 hopes to do in Peel – equip providers with more information for families, allow more coordinated approaches to applying for funding, planning and implementing programs around our region, identify gaps in service, identify duplication in service, and allow us to build on synergies and momentum that has already been created by the ongoing great work. In the end, children, youth, and their families will be better supported and be less likely to feel the gaps that our growing population can create for providers.
Seema has been an active member of the early years and research sector for almost ten years. She obtained her Masters in Community Psychology from Wilfred Laurier University in 2006 with special interest in early years programs and prevention. Seema has been involved with a variety of research and community engagement initiatives that strive to bring the most value to residents. By bringing evidenced-based research and mapping tools to community organizations, she has supported the planning, development and evaluation of several community supports and services.