Wednesday, February 15, 2012


A Revolution in Accountability

Preliminary ideas for the State of the Inner City Report – 2012
Two main themes were discussed at our meeting on February 7th.  The following is our attempt to capture these themes and find a way to weave them together in the 2012 State of the Inner City Report.
While the discussion included concerns about government direction and challenges with funders generally, the focus was clearly on the direction the federal government is taking. The next four years will be tough ones for community-based organizations. The coming funding cuts will affect funding for all social programs including community development programs, the social safety net (such as EIA), and provincial programs.  This will have a serious impact on the already stretched resources supporting people in the inner city. Reference was made to the following article which sums up the direction the Harper government is taking the country.
The second theme, which we think we can weave into the overarching theme, is the issue of accountability. Accountability is a buzzword in today’s world of funding grants and community development programs. Community-based organizations must be accountable to the community, accountable to funders (especially government funders), accountable to their boards of directors. But how are governments accountable to the inner-city communities – and to the organizations that serve and represent them – in Winnipeg? 
Too often, governments and other funders are interested in funding new ‘pilot’ programs for a defined period of time.  Regardless of whether these programs demonstrate effectiveness, funders are increasingly unlikely to provide long-term funding.  Instead they require that these projects find ways to be “sustainable” without government funding.  As we pointed out in the 2007 SIC Report and in the 2008 report Is participation having an impact?, community organizations are left to clean up the mess that governments have left behind as result of their neglect for those in need, yet governments don’t want to adequately support community organizations to do their work .  They prefer funding projects and programs rather than core costs, require skilled staff but won’t pay what they’re worth, and look for outputs rather than outcomes. Staff are required to manage the grant applications and reporting requirements (including audits and providing documentation to funders) rather than to do the front-line work. This does not benefit inner-city organizations or communities and creates bureaucracy rather than partnership and accountability among communities, organizations and funders.
We propose that this year’s State of the Inner City report will look at the relationship between Winnipeg’s inner-city communities, community-based organizations, and the governments that fund them. It will seek to understand these relationships of accountability, and to suggest models for partnership and mutual accountability among these three players by looking at specific examples of where governments are not being accountable for their actions.
In addition to the report and launch, a social media strategy (which could include short videos, blog posts and twitter campaigns) will promote the ideas developed through the report.
The report could begin with an overview of where we are at:
Unpacking the ideology
Too often decisions about what is funded and what is not involve assumptions and ideologies that do not support lower-income inner city communities. Decisions to create deficits to force spending cuts, to download essential services to third sector organizations, to cut social services, to increase policing or expand road networks often rely on fearmongering and racist attitudes, and little discussion of alternative approaches. How can we change the discourse to reflect a more balanced approach that accounts for the contributions of service work to the economy and upholds inner-city communities as good, empowering places to live?
The second part of the report could provide some specific examples of government actions and the disconnect or lack of accountability to community organizations and the people that they serve:
Healing and cultural reclamation programs
In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to former students of Indian residential schools. The residential schools are only one in a long list of government policies and programs that have had profoundly negative impacts on Aboriginal people, cultures and communities. But now the Aboriginal Healing Foundation is closing its doors, and funding for programs that offer culturally-specific supports have been cut or is at risk, while the proposed omnibus Bill C-10 (the Crime Bill) is likely to have a detrimental impact on Aboriginal people, who are already disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. Where is the accountability to Aboriginal people, especially those living in Winnipeg’s inner city?
A holistic approach to crime
Bill C-10 dramatically alters the landscape of crime prevention and reduction. It moves away from understanding crime and violence to be rooted in other problems or issues, such as poverty. It reduces the potential for community prioritizing and direction in crime prevention, and does not reflect a broad-based approach to preventing crime and violence. How can the inner city address crime and violence in a comprehensive way in this context?
Education – of all kinds – continues to be an important gap for many people in the inner city. The school system is failing its students, resulting in low literacy rates among high school students and adults. This places an additional burden on community organizations who provide informal learning programs to support youth and adults in addressing life skills and other needs. There is a need to reconsider who defines/owns/validates knowledge or education, and how this can happen at a community level, and attention to this is required at all levels and in all areas of education and learning. How can we provide culturally-relevant and practical skills through formal and informal systems of education?

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