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.
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.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The poverty reduction strategy engagement process was innovative because:
• It offered multiple ways for Canadians to participate in the policy development process, in particular reaching Canadians living in poverty.
• It allowed for in-depth consultations with people living in, or with a lived experience of poverty. This was done through small-scale conversations, focus groups, and interviews.
• It generated significant data that has helped other groups in government working on social policy issues understand how their policies and programs could be improved to better serve those living in low income.
• It brought together a wide array of Canadians, from Indigenous groups, to business leaders, to civil society organizations, to Canadians all across the country to share in the same conversation.
The depth and comprehensiveness of our engagement has made our process an innovative model for the Government of Canada to use in the future.
What is the current status of your innovation?
We continue to share our findings, lessons learned, and best practices with other groups across governments, at the federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal levels. Many of these groups have modelled their own engagement processes after ours.
Our Minister continues to engage Canadians on poverty reduction following the release of the Strategy. We often are tapping into our extensive network of non-governmental partners who are either part of organizing an event for our Minister or would like to share further ideas.
As part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, we are in the process of forming a National Advisory Council on Poverty. Its mandate will include providing independent advice to the Minister on poverty reduction. They will continue the dialogue with Canadians, and we foresee them using some aspects of our engagement to help reach as many Canadians as possible.
Collaborations & Partnerships
A consulting firm helped design and deliver the Tackling Poverty Project based on our SoW and project outline. Civil society groups helped run small-scale community conversations and recruit people with lived experience of poverty. We partnered with government officials to add inclusiveness and legitimacy to the process. The Prime Minister’s Youth Council helped judge the winners of the poverty reduction youth contest. We worked in partnership with Indigenous groups to capture their views.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Thousands of citizens participated in consultations due to the wide array of opportunities for input. As a proportion of participants, we were successful in over-representing people with lived experience of poverty. We empowered civil society groups by collaborating with them on consultations. Because of these partnerships, government officials and our Minister were connected with people on the ground, in their communities, to hear their views.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
•62 sessions, meetings, roundtables, and town hall events with Indigenous groups, stakeholders, and people with lived experience of poverty;
•Over 5,500 Canadians reached through the Tackling Poverty Together Research Project;
•Over 600 Canadians consulted through 33 conversations in 9 different provinces and territories;
•64 youth contest submissions;
•1,127 email submissions;
•584 completed surveys; and
•199 stories and comments.
Engagement activities, in particular the Tackling Poverty Together Project, led to quantifiable results about what it is like to live in poverty and how the Government of Canada can help.
The engagement process informed action taken in the Poverty Reduction Strategy, such as setting targets, an official poverty line, accountability mechanisms, and introducing poverty reduction legislation to have a lasting impact.
Challenges and Failures
To accommodate the Minister's schedule, some events were organized with short notice. Reaching out and assembling the right participants for these Ministerial roundtables was challenging.
Despite our comprehensive process, some groups of Canadians were more difficult to reach, in particular those living in northern remote communities. Civil society partners helped us tap into their extensive networks yet some provinces were underrepresented.
As the Poverty Reduction Strategy is in the implementation phase, we are still reaching out to Canadians to seek their views on poverty reduction. Events have taken place in some areas of the country that were underrepresented during the formal engagement process.
Going forward, the National Advisory Council on Poverty will have an important role in continuing to reach out to Canadians. We plan to share with them the areas of the country and groups that were underrepresented during formal engagement so that they can reach them.
Conditions for Success
Undertaking an engagement process in a large and diverse country was not easy. Several steps helped us succeed. An active social media presence informed Canadians of engagement activities and multiple ways to participate. Collaborating with civil society groups helped us reach Canadians, especially those living in poverty, in communities large and small. While the budget was limited, we managed it effectively to hire a consulting firm, compensate people with lived experience of poverty for their time, fund National Indigenous Organizations to consult their members, and host a national poverty conference to conclude the engagement process.
Our Minister asked that there be Government of Canada representation at all engagement events. Being present across Canada lent the engagement process credibility. It reflected the importance of the engagement for the Government of Canada. This was evident in the multiple roundtables and town halls led by our Minister or other supporting Ministers.
After going through the process, we are confident that our engagement plan can be replicated in the future. Our plan is well-documented, and we have maintained records, including lessons learned, to refer to in the future.
We are already seeing other groups within the Government of Canada using aspects of our approach to public engagement. The seniors policy group within our department reached out to us to help them use components of our engagement for a strategy to address elder abuse. The group responsible for Canada’s contribution to the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is using our engagement plan as its template.
When we meet with groups like these, we share our plan and provide advice to fine tune the process so it can evolve and be even more successful in the future.
There are several lessons learned from our engagement process. First, a variety of engagement activities is important. We were able to reach so many Canadians because we provided different types of opportunities for participation, such as online, town hall, or community conversations. Multiple channels matter.
Second, engagement must target those most impacted by the policy and make it easy for them to contribute to the process. In this case it was people with a lived experience of poverty. We specifically ensured they were well-represented as a proportion of those who took part in consultations. From the views shared through the Tackling Poverty Together Project, to community conversations, ultimately, the Strategy reflected their voices.
Third, partnerships are important. We simply would not have had the success in reaching so many Canadians if it were not for collaborating with partners. Forging bonds with them before engagement began ensured that they could play an active role throughout. They were often among our best recruiters and advertisers.
Fourth, engagement never really ends. While we conducted our engagement process in a specific time period, we remain in contact with groups who participated. The Minister continues to host events with stakeholders and the public to hear their views. As the Poverty Reduction Strategy is in its implementation phase, continued engagement reflects the Government of Canada’s commitment to include Canadians throughout the entire policy development process.
At its core, government works to serve citizens. To develop successful public policy, citizens must be able to participate in the process. The Poverty Reduction Strategy engagement process allowed Canadians this opportunity.
Qualitative summaries of what we heard during engagement were reflected in a “What We Heard About Poverty So Far” report https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/poverty-reduction/reports/what-we-heard.html.