Poverty Reduction Strategy Engagement Process

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) led the design and implementation of a national poverty reduction strategy public engagement process. We offered Canadians multiple ways to share their views, from public town hall events to online discussions, to a youth contest, to an in-depth research project. The engagement process successfully reached thousands of Canadians in a short time frame on a low budget. The plan is now used as a Government of Canada model for effective civic engagement.

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Canada’s size and diversity are its strengths. It is home to world-class cities with over one million people and has many small communities scattered throughout the country, from the coasts of three oceans, to the mountains, prairies, and the remote Arctic region. Our challenge was to undertake a cross-country engagement process to hear from all these Canadians about what they would want to see in a poverty reduction strategy.
Since 2015, the Government of Canada made it a priority to meaningfully include Canadians in the policy development process. One of the Government’s policy commitments was to develop a national poverty reduction strategy. Under the leadership of the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) was the lead department responsible for developing and implementing the poverty reduction strategy.
As ESDC officials, we began by developing a comprehensive public engagement plan that would reach thousands of Canadians in a short period of time (February to September 2017) and on a limited budget. We also had to navigate different governing bodies in Canada, such as provinces and territories, municipalities, and National Indigenous Organizations. Indigenous reconciliation is a Government of Canada priority. ESDC had to meaningfully consult with Indigenous groups and share their views not on their behalf, but in partnership with them and told from their unique perspectives.
In addition to reaching all Canadians from coast to coast, the credibility of poverty reduction engagement would depend on putting people with a lived experience of poverty at the centre of all engagement activities.
In response, we developed a comprehensive, multi-pronged consultation process. We launched an online platform where participants could complete a survey, share their stories, and participate in discussion groups. The online component also included an active social media presence so that participants could take part, for example through Facebook Live, in public engagement events remotely.
The Minister had a significant role. We organized public town hall events and stakeholder roundtables that he hosted in communities across Canada. We also launched an application process and ultimately formed a Ministerial Advisory Committee on Poverty. The Committee brought together 17 leaders from academia, business and service delivery working in the field of poverty reduction, as well as individuals who have experienced poverty first-hand.
We funded National Indigenous Organizations to consult their communities, and share their perspective on poverty which we ultimately included in Opportunity for All, Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy. Our approach to Indigenous engagement was based on co-development, which Indigenous groups have identified as a key means of reconciliation between the Government of Canada and Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. To reach young Canadians, we held a contest where youth could share their innovative ideas to reduce poverty. Youth came up with innovative approaches, through video, interactive presentation, poetry, and artwork to share their ideas to help reduce poverty in Canada. We then invited five finalists to present at a national poverty conference, where stakeholders from government, private sector, and community groups shared their reflections on poverty reduction.
Most importantly, at every step of the way, we ensured that we included people with a lived experience of poverty so their important perspectives could be heard. Two ways in particular that we reached people in poverty were through an in-depth research project and through small scale community conversations.
The Tackling Poverty Together Research Project was undertaken by ESDC and a consulting firm. We conducted extensive case studies with people in six cities across Canada–particularly those with experience of poverty–to closely examine the impact of federal poverty reduction programs locally. People with lived experience of poverty shared their views with us in focus groups and one-on-one interviews, and we ensured they were financially compensated for their time.
We also worked with non-governmental, civil society partners to host small-scale community gatherings. These conversations took place in communities large and small across Canada and our partners helped us recruit people with lived experience of poverty to hear their views. Including civil society groups in the engagement activities helped us forge strong bonds with groups that are on the frontlines of tackling poverty every day across Canada.
Our engagement process ensured that we heard from thousands of Canadians and helped inform a Poverty Reduction Strategy that represents all Canadians. Our engagement approach has since been recognized within the Government of Canada as a model for meaningful involvement of Canadians in the policy development process.

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