The Marvyn Novick Legacy Group was formed in 2016 following the passing of Marvyn Novick, a dear friend and professional colleague. Marvyn was one of Canada’s leading social policy thinkers. He was a champion for social justice especially focused on poverty eradication. In celebration of Marvyn’s contribution to social policy and community practice, the Legacy Group conducted a memorial event honouring his life, then organized a public event in his name to discuss decent work and basic income in November 2018.
In the last year or so of his life, Marvyn had been studying the concept of the Social Commons and discussing it with some of his colleagues. He thought it held some promise to help reframe the policy discourse on creating an equitable, inclusive and socially just society. His exploration of the concept with others was cut short by his passing.
In his name, Marvyn’s friends and colleagues pursued the idea of the Social Commons, committing to further explore its potential in discussion with a wider network of policy thinkers and community practitioners. and held a major public lecture with an international speaker and a full-day policy symposium on the topic of the Social Commons in November 2019.
The Social Commons:
Originating as a discussion on social justice in the World Social Forum in 2013, the Social Commons has emerged in Europe, Asia and South America as a framework for re-thinking social policies in a transformative and participative way to achieve social and environmental justice.
Our understanding of the Social Commons is informed among others by Francine Mestrum, international researcher and activist on global social development, who was the guest lecturer at our 2019 policy symposium. Mestrum contends that the central objective of the Social Commons is to enhance the health and well-being of all people and to contribute to the sustainability of life, identifying three dimensions that are important to transformational change essential to social and environmental justice. They are:
i) to ensure social and economic reproduction to preserve society and social relations at different levels; ii) to promote social integration and make relationships among people and with nature harmonious; and iii) to give individuals economic and social security and an adequate standard of living, through income guarantees, individual and collective rights, equal opportunities and sharply reduced inequalities.
Feedback from participants at the 2019 Policy Symposium was very positive. They expressed great interest in the Social Commons, although many felt that greater clarity was needed about what the concept means in policy and practice. The Marvyn Novick Legacy Group assumed the challenge to develop and share a deeper understanding of the Social Commons and what it could mean in the Canadian context.
This has been the focus of our work since early 2020 coinciding with the COVID 19 pandemic. Several new members have joined the group, but it remains a small band of relatively homogeneous volunteers with long relationships with each other and a history of work and friendship with Marvyn Novick. Our wish is to seed the study and understanding of the Social Commons, to widen the circle of interest and exploration on the meaning of the Social Commons in policy and practice, and to generate a more diverse and robust leadership group on this mission, which would choose its own appropriate ongoing governance and designation other than the current Marvyn Novick Legacy Group.
Strategy and Activities:
To date our strategy for promoting the discussion on the Social Commons has been to research, write and communicate on the Social Commons as a framework for transforming social policy and practice for Canada approaching the mid-century mark. Our initial outreach and communication has been with the invitees to the 2019 Policy Symposium and our own individual networks of colleagues and organizations. Our activity has focused on the following areas:
- Preparation of a monograph, Re-awakening Our Social Commons, as well as a summary version highlighting its key concepts. [will hyperlink to web site page with the docs] which investigates and documents the international thinking on the Social Commons and outlines some core concepts in framing the potential importance of this framework to public policy in Canada.
- Creation of a Social Commons.ca web site in newsmagazine format that presents our thinking on the main “pillars” of the Social Commons and includes our own original writing, curated posts and reprints. The web site was launched in November 2021.
- We will be reach out to other organizations in social policy and progressive media to build a cadre of regular and periodic contributors to socialcommons.ca and to work collaboratively to extend our reach and ensure that we are supporting community voices in the social policy and community development world.
- Consultation with colleagues in the field on issues relevant to our purpose. One serendipitous consequence of the pandemic has been the willingness of people at great distances from each other to connect electronically for meetings and discussion of shared interests. We have done so with experts on several topics of interest such as a “federal job guarantee”, “livable income” and “transforming seniors care”.
- Outreach to organizations and networks to bring forward our research and thinking on the Social Commons for discussion (e.g. initial webinar and proposed series with Poverty Free Halton and Advancement of Women Halton; developing relationship with Seniors for Social Action in Ontario).
Most of our attention in the last year focused on planning and developing our web site. This helped us in beginning to think critically about the key issues and content areas we want to engage others in exploring.
The Next Six Months:
Now as we enter a post pandemic period, it is time to think through our overall approach to engaging other groups, and in promote discussion and understanding of the Social Commons. The strategy will set some specific goals for widening the circle of leadership on the Social Commons beyond the existing Legacy Group.
Our initial meetings between late November 2020 and early May 2021 envisages two parallel tracks of activity:
- the development of the website, newsletters and supporting an online presence more generally, and
- an outreach and engagement strategy to partner with and enlist the support of others in developing our thinking further and in exploring the social commons as a framework to help connect the dots across a variety of policy discussions and social and environmental justice campaigns.