30+ Years Of Innovation and Risk Management
Self-Regulation is Just a Concept – Choice is Required
Having operated for over 30 years, much of that time trying to maintain a constantly evolving innovative edge, Impact has yet to have one of these risks turn into a liability. A key underpinning that we think has supported this spotless record is, even before we had a name for it, a trauma-informed practice orientation. We think that the concept of “self-regulation” is meaningless if people aren’t given the space and choice to do whatever it is they need to regulate themselves when the temperature rises.
Getting Upset Can Be a Good Sign
This in no way is to say that our work is smooth sailing. If people didn’t get upset when something isn’t working well… if instead they just slowly faded out of their involvement (which isn’t to say that that doesn’t sometimes happen as well… or perhaps they leave neither slowly nor in a gradual fade, but with what might be rightly called an explosion… though they often come back)… that would be a sign that what they are doing with us might not mean much to them.
Transparency About Mixed Motives
Because so many of our contributors and participants are dealing with poverty and insecure housing… it is easy sometimes for folks to both have and question the mixed motives that others might bring to their work with us… especially when, as is often the case, money is involved. We don’t think having and questioning people’s mixed motives is unique to the kind of work we do, but we strive to be transparent about this… and recognize that people may have many unmet needs they are trying to meet with us. Not only does this help lower the temperature on things by creating an environment of transparency, but it also has helped in many cases to bring to light needs people might have that their involvement with us (or a specific program of ours) isn’t designed or able to meet… and then we can search out opportunities that might better suit those needs. Often it is out of these unmet needs that new programs and projects develop.
Doubt, Consultation and Empowerment
We try to foster a keen sensitivity to, acknowledgment of, and response to doubt in all of our work. Our executive director’s instruction to everyone (which we hope then is passed along throughout our organizational hierarchy) is that if they have no doubt about something (be it about what to do, or whether something must be done NOW), then whatever decision they make, we will back them up on it (which is not to say that we might not have to talk about it and potentially make sure it NEVER happens again). But if they do have doubt and make a decision anyway, without consulting until they get to a point where they have no doubt… we will have a problem.
As Dr. Martin Brokenleg warns: No one can empower anyone else if they aren’t themselves empowered. If our staff have to check in on every little ethical dilemma (which, in our work, are nearly constant), little work would get done, and people’s enthusiasm and sense of autonomy and trust would be squashed by micromanaging and bureaucratic delays.
Participants and Contributors Informing the Use of Funds
Another layer of transparency that we build into most of our programs, and which we think helps to manage internal risk, is that we put decisions about the use of our funds in the hands of our program and project participants and contributors.
They know what our budgets are, they have access to a full accounting of how we spend the money, they can develop processes whereby they can change the trajectory of those programs and projects, and therefore how the money is spent.
When Impact took on the contract to support Abby DWS in 2017, for example, it was with the promise that Impact would never get in the way of the group and its money. The only lever of control that Impact would have would be (with notice) to cancel the contract with Fraser Health if we felt decisions the group was making with the money were unethical, harmful, or presented unacceptable liability.
If we think their choices don’t meet any of those conditions, but might otherwise endanger the contract, we will offer (with permission) to share those concerns with the group.
This, we think, has allowed folks who might have a bone to pick with how and what decisions are being made either about their own position within our work, or about the direction of the work generally… to have no one person to direct that animus at, but instead to have a transparent pathway set out in front of them about how to influence change in a democratic process.