Working Together to Support Collaborative Partnerships


A conversation with…Lawrence Heights Inter-Organization Network

The Lawrence Heights Inter-Organization Network (LHION) is a coalition of emerging groups, service providers and other representative organizations delivering programs and services in three neighbourhoods of Toronto’s inner suburbs. Working together since 2005, LHION strives to strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of neighbourhood governance structures and to increase resident participation and empowerment.

For three years, LHION and HC Link have worked together on a variety of activities to exchange knowledge and build capacity in ways that supported both HC Link’s province-wide mandate, and LHION’s very local mission.

It began with LHION supporting HC Link. In the spring of 2015, HC Link consultants invited LHION to share stories and insights from their 10+ years of collaboration within their coalition during HC Link’s webinar series on collaborative partnership – Thinking Back, Moving Forward: Celebrate and Renew. Denise Earle, co-chair of LHION at the time, and Owen Hinds, a former co-chair, were interviewed on the webinar and offered their lived expertise practicing inter-sectoral partnership in a low-income neighbourhoods context. They highlighted:

  • LHION3btheir guiding values;

  • the approaches which helped them move in the right directions, like an anti-oppression framework and practices; and

  • the complexities of community-agency collaborations over the long term, such as: bridging challenges of low-to-no funding, changes of agency staff at the table, and the ongoing need to spend time cultivating better connections among members and with more residents in the communities LHION serves.

After that, Denise continued to play a key linking role between LHION and HC Link. In early 2016, LHION asked HC Link to provide consulting support for the design and facilitation of their annual planning day, which that year was focused on planning “from the inside out” - in a way that centred the priorities and role of residents within the network.

Denise saw great value in working with HC Link for LHION’s 2016 planning day: “Having an outside facilitator to the organization of the planning day brought different skills and energizers – not just the same old same old. HC Link consultants had the skill set to help us craft an agenda that best suited what we wanted to achieve at the end of it all,” notes Denise. It was helpful having the support of someone on the outside looking in, she reflects. “It helped us see the forest AND the trees. We knew this collaboration would help us better cover all our bases.”

HC Link always helped LHION locate resources and tools relevant to the task at hand. “Sometimes it is just about having a go-to person for bouncing off ideas,” notes Denise.

By August 2016, LHION was preparing to make a transition to a new organizational structure. The goal was to increase and improve the opportunities for residents and agencies working in these communities to discuss current and emerging needs of the community and to execute activities. A new partnership was fostered through HC Link staff that helped support this work and allowed LHION to share insights from their experiences, and LHION began working with the Collaborative Leadership in Practice (CLiP) project.

In addition to offering opportunities for LHION representatives to network with other equity-focused groups within the province, CLiP funded a small community-based research project led by two LHION community researchers. This research project reviewed existing LHION reports and then facilitated community conversations with community members in all of LHION’s neighbourhoods to gather perspectives on how the network structure could better emphasize resident priorities and properly reflect community feedback. One of the community researchers, Kaydeen Bankasingh (also co-chair of LHION at the time) asked an HC Link consultant to advise on the design of a collaborative data analysis session for LHION’s full steering committee that would allow them to together discuss and draw conclusions from the information collected at the community conversation sessions.

LHION4LHION’s focus on figuring out how to govern “from the inside out” has continued to lead much of its organizational development efforts. Denise highlights that the most recurring challenge for LHION is how to bring more residents to the centre of the network’s governance and activities. To this end, “working with HC Link and the CLiP project helped us reflect more on issues of intersectionality, and to look at the privilege of being part of LHION – even as a resident.” When LHION brings in new people, even though they share a PPT and walk them through it, this is not, in itself, enough. “They still cannot grasp the LHION structure, navigate the different initiatives, and contribute to something right away,” says Denise, who hopes to continue the work of conversations about relationship-building.

Among LHION’s already active members, there is relationship work too. “There are always meetings going on to try and address the many challenges we face,” says Denise. “We need to figure out how to navigate through conflicts and how to avoid the top-down fallback that the network can so easily retreat into. It takes ongoing effort and resources to understand and return to the collective that is the intended structure for making decisions.” Change is hard work. The strength of LHION (as noted by six LHION members who presented at a 2016 SW Ontario Forum on Collaborative Leadership in Practice in Brantford) is its commitment – in particular, the commitment of resident leaders.


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