9 things to watch with YSI this Fall

Outside of YSI's office window across from Trinity-Bellwoods park in Toronto, the leaves are changing and a chill is just starting to settle on the morning air. It's hard not to get all philosophical this time of year: the maintenance of the summer months is behind us, and now it is a time to harvest our past work while planning for the changes to come. 

YSI's Elder, Gerard, reminded me last week: our work together must be seasonal. In keeping, I want to offer 9 little snippets from our ongoing areas of work as we ramp up for Fall. I'll close with a word on how we're preparing for the seasons ahead.


Provincial gathering: November's Collaboration Camp is ready for you!


1.  Collaboration Camp will be unlike any gathering we've done before, a unique blend of activities to ignite your projects and refresh your spirit. We are super excited to invite all past and potential members of this community to register for our revamped provincial gathering, which we are calling Collaboration Camp 2014: Stoking the Fire for Social Change. (Seriously, you can register right now, while early bird rates last!) You’ll learn tools and skills, build deep connections with other innovators and shakers, and be inspired to keep making good things happen -- all while refreshing your mind, body and spirit on the land.


2. The impact of our work rests on the strength of our relationships. No matter when you register, please take a moment to share our event on Twitter, Facebook (see below), or -- better yet -- by personally inviting a friend or co-conspirator to join you. 


3. The way that we gather is fun and transformative. This video of our Spring Algoma gathering will give you chills. You'll see what it's like to be on the land, experience ceremony together, and connect our diverse communities in ways that are revolutionary. Big thanks to Brendan Garlick from Absolute Complete Entertainment and Jason Lloyd from the 360 Sault Media Arts Collective for making the video!


Shared learning: Applying Developmental Evaluation to our work


4. Our community is even more equipped to challenge what we know and how we work together so that we can co-author the future of this dynamic network. Over the last 8 months, fifteen of our community members have been trained in Developmental Evaluation (DE) by top-notch consultant and community builder Marc Langois. We learned that DE does not offer easy answers or neat blueprints for navigating complex challenges and emerging possibilities. It is a practice for sharpening the mindsets and principles we already have for surfacing our assumptions, testing what we know and nudging each other towards better action steps. 

Our DE team shares a laugh during our final session on September 15. From left: Robin (YSI Algoma/ Thinking Rock), Tanya (The O'Halloran Group), Chris (YSI), Jon (Thinking Rock), Phyllis (Sketch Working Arts), and Marc (our evaluation consultant).

Our DE team shares a laugh during our final session on September 15. From left: Robin (YSI Algoma/ Thinking Rock), Tanya (The O'Halloran Group), Chris (YSI), Jon (Thinking Rock), Phyllis (Sketch Working Arts), and Marc (our evaluation consultant).

5. What matters most right now is to overcome isolation in our day-to-day work by building stronger local relationships. We decided that we needed a powerful question to guide our ongoing learning towards what we heard matters most: stronger day-to-day relationships. That question is: "How might we find a connecting rhythm and infrastructure so that we can build stronger local relationships?" This will help keep us on track and on the same page as we investigate what works for delivering on the outcomes that matter to our community. 


6. We have some good hypotheses about how to create the stronger local relationships that our community needs. The result of our training was a set of hypotheses -- testable hunches in an "if-then" format -- to guide our work together for the coming months. They are:

  • If we could articulate the minimum principles and practices that make local YSI Nests work, then we could form more local partnerships and place-based communities of support. 
  • If we can clarify the role and offerings of YSI staff within the network, then we will have the clarity we need to work together in a good way (i.e. balancing what is needed with what is realistic). 
  • If we can attract more types of learners into the ongoing work of our community, then our staff and volunteers will be better placed to act from their strengths and core offerings as organizers (e.g. logistics, facilitation, recording/harvesting, communications, etc) and reduce burn-out.
  • If we can focus on one or two communities at a time that are committed to creating YSI Nests, then we will have the time and space to build stronger relationships with local organizers. 


7. We are ongoing in our efforts to improve what we do by testing our hunches and learning more about our wider network. In the next few months, we will weaving in data collection and interviewing into our work to test these hypotheses. We will also be working under the guidance of evaluator Tanya Darisi to conduct a survey with the broader network to look at the broader impacts that YSI has had over the years and what is the state of the youth organizing sector these days.


YSI Nests old and new: Budding communities of support to grow the network


8. YSI Algoma has made us all proud by doing trailblazing reconciliation work that has received national recognition. On August 28th, YSI organizers were spotlighted by a national advocacy campaign as a case study in how to do solidarity work with Indigenous communities in a good way. Working together across old divides is difficult work, but they are succeeding in transforming the historical relationships that have kept their communities separate. As they continue their development under the stewardship of Thinking Rock Community Arts, there is no telling how far this will take them.


9. We are in the midst of identifying core principles and practices that will amplify YSI Algoma's progress in new centres across the province. Fall is grant application season, which brings new opportunities to apply and amplify what we are learning. We have been in the process of naming and pursuing some of the “Must dos” and “Must not dos” for achieving stronger local relationships. On Halloween, we are convening a diverse cross-section of our community in Sault Ste. Marie to workshop some of these important principles to carry forward in our work.


What next?

Like the Fall leaves, things are changing here at YSI. We are not quite sure yet what we are becoming, but we know that it is an important time. As living things facing the coming winter, we know we must be patient as we prepare, and be sure to root into what we do best: 

Convene diverse change-makers • Connect in participatory ways 
Cultivate new knowledge • Support local organizing