Being connected is good, but…

I had an “a-ha” moment this week after city council approved Calgary’s new Poverty Reduction Strategy.

I have been in Hamilton, Ont., for the United Way Centraide National Conference. The opening speaker, Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon, shared insight that made me see the value of the poverty reduction strategy in a new way.

Homer-Dixon talked about resilience and connectivity. He said that as a person’s connectivity goes up, so does that person’s resilience—but at some point, this peaks and then actually declines. At some point more connectivity actually decreases resilience.

The hypothesis is that as connectivity goes up, so does complexity. People can end up with too many choices, and it can become overwhelming. Decision-making in the social services sector, meanwhile, can get too far removed from the front lines. If connectivity becomes complexity in social services, the danger also increases for system failures—especially in times of crisis.

This reminded me of the Poverty Reduction Strategy objectives of making the system less complicated. The strategy includes a number of ways to make the system simpler. Calgarians will only need to tell their story once to access services, for example. I’ve always embraced the idea of making the system simpler, but thinking about how systems that are complicated can actually reduce resiliency is a new twist.

Clearly, Calgary is moving in the right direction.

—Dr. Loreen Gilmour is Director of Poverty Initiatives and Research for United Way of Calgary and Area. Thomas Homer-Dixon photo by Greg Locke.

Want to learn more about the bold plan to tackle poverty in Calgary? Check out this article in today’s Globe and Mail!