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RadioActive: Live Sundays at 6pm


RadioActive is an hour long talk show hosted by Natalie Kivell, a PhD student in Community Well-Being. Each week Natalie interviews academics and/or activists from around the world who dive into critical discussions from a Community Psychology lens aimed specifically at addressing structural inequality and the root causes of our complex social problems. RadioActive aims to provoke listeners to think differently about social change and social justice to help shift how we think, act and react to social change efforts in our research and practice.

RadioActive airs every Sunday at 6pm on out of the University of Miami student radio station.

‘Let’s Get Critical’


Why We Need GOOD Strategic Plans

Originally written for Jonathan Rivard and the CANGO team.

The word strategic plan gets thrown around a lot in our communities, and yet we have no common definition or perspective on what these plans would/could/should look like. We do however know when we stumble onto a GOOD strategic plan (and a good process to get there). We know this when past obstacles begin to melt away and momentum strengthens as we move closer to our goals. A GOOD strategic plan can provide the necessary infrastructure and lens through which to accomplish broad social change, and challenge that “we have always done it this way” mantra.

I have heard many reasons and excuses for WHY community organizations do, or do not, have current and functioning strategic plans. Unfortunately many times these reasons centre on funding body requirements (i.e. “We are just doing this to show something to our funders”), or the archaic idea that we should create a quick fix, top down strategic plan that will most likely be put on a shelf to collect dust – wash, rinse, repeat in 5 years.

So I challenge organizations and our local and national funding bodies to understand WHY a good strategic plan can be powerful in building strong and healthy community organizations, and thus strong communities. In a previous CANGO post on program evaluation, Lindsay Buckingham-Rivard states that evaluation “gauges whether a program is meeting its goals”. The strategic plan is what helps us know what those goals are in the first place. And if the strategic planning is done in a participatory manner, including the voices of diverse stakeholders, these goals will be widely known, supported, and more easily monitored for impact.

There are a number of reasons for both funding bodies and other community organizations to go through a co-created and participatory strategic planning process; here are a few of those reasons:

1)   Strategically thinking about goals and action plans increases your ability to tackle complex problemsin our communities, thus making larger and more measurable impacts.

2)   Working together with your diverse stakeholders creates a positive and safe environment for staff, clients, funders and community partners to challenge and push the organization to grow and develop.

3)   Using a good planning process can spur creativity and bring new and innovative ideas to the table.

4)   When working with partners or looking to get grants, the plan can provide a foundation to find partners who are a good fit for your goals, rather than trying to fit into what is out there.

5)   Taking time away from service delivery for focused planning provides the time to ask, “Why do we do it this way? Is this way still working? How can we improve/change what we are doing to better accomplish our goals?”

Check out future posts on strategic planning to learn what questions to ask before starting your plan, when is a good time to do your plan, who should be involved in working on your plan, and what are some different ways to get from where you are to where you want to be.


How I fell into and then in love with Community Psychology

Blog post as found on the Community Psychology Practice Blog 

By: Natalie Brown Kivell

When I think about my journey into the field of Community Psychology, it has felt almost serendipitous, however, my decisions that have kept me here have been quite intentional.

Throughout my undergraduate years, I had this image of  “success.” My ten-year plan was to attend clinical graduate school and to start my own practice. I would be able to not only help people, but also be my own boss, just like my dad! I stumbled into an introduction to Community Psychology class in my second year, and although it was not at this point that I became infatuated with the field, the moment my professor said something like “the principles and values within which I work permeate all areas of my life” really stands out to me. I thought, “that is it! That is what I want! Somewhere I can live and breathe my values both personally and professionally.”

Ultimately, it took more than a few powerful moments to knock me off of my well thought out 10-year plan. After completing my undergrad, and quite accidentally getting a few more CP classes under my belt, I planned on taking a year off and then applying to a Clinical Psychology program the following year. I was then given a fantastic opportunity to do a late application to the CP Master’s program at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU). This was the moment I had to risk it all…I held my breath and I jumped in with both feet.

After that, I can say that I never looked back. Throughout my years in CP graduate school and beyond, I left my “plan” behind and engaged with every new opportunity that presented itself, where I could learn something new about CP or my community, help make an impact, or strengthen my relationships and network. My ignited passion for all things social justice propelled me to gain tangible experience in my community. I conducted my practicum at the Centre for Community Research, Learning and Action (CCRLA) at WLU. This was likely the moment that I realized the diversity of job prospects for a CP graduate outside of academia. I looked at the amazing past graduates working on diverse paths throughout my community and thought, you know what? We can be whoever we want to be!

So, I tested the waters with my professional network, and spent time brainstorming with family, friends, community leaders, and a couple of really cool mentors. We discussed what I should/could do next, and where I would be best able to have an impact in our Region now that I was the proud owner of a Master’s degree. Big risks had worked for me in the past, so I went for it again. Three months after graduating, I opened my own facilitation and community-based research consulting company called Common Thread Consulting. My business name resonates for me because my work is so diverse that it can often be hard to define who my clients are (non-profit, government departments, community groups), and what I do for my clients (research, facilitation, action, or any mix of these). So for me, the  “common thread” that I can pull through all of my work is linking my values with practice. My values, which I share and keep at the forefront with all of my clients and partners, are (1) collaboration and participation of all stakeholders in planning and decision-making, (2) inclusion and diversity, and (3) social justice in terms of understanding and addressing root causes of social issues, and working towards transformative changes.

I have now been doing this work in the Region of Waterloo for the past three years. Over these three years, every project I have worked on has felt brand new and exciting. Each client, whether a small government department, or a large poverty reduction agency in our community, has allowed me to work in collaboration with different levels of staff and their diverse external stakeholders to creatively address community needs using participatory facilitation methods and community-based research. Much of the focus of my current work is using strategic planning to help (or lightly nudge) organizations to challenge the “we have always done it this way” belief system, and transition into asking hard questions to help leverage change for maximum community impact.

My passions are poverty reduction, equal access to all levels of education (including university), as well as innovative and alternative forms of education. Most of my clients mandates fall within these categories, as they have become my area specialties, and what I am known for in the community. However, the work I do has included sustainability organizations, women’s organizations, outreach programs, leadership training organizations, media organizations, intergenerational work and much more. 10 years ago, as I started this journey I could never have imagined that this is where I would be. I did not know that “this” existed.

And so, I now consider myself a CP practitioner. I have made it to the end of the 10 years in my “plan” and I regret nothing. And dad, you should be proud… I am my own boss!


The gift of food: A family affair

Day 7 of the #12daysforgood was a family affair of collecting money for food and loading up the local food donation bin! And what better way to work together as a family but to build in some healthy competition.


We all put money in the pot to buy food for our foodbank up in Meaford Ontario raising 270$ between my family and 3 of my best friends. We split the money in half and created two teams. Each team had the challenge to fill their grocery cart with the HEALTHIEST food they could while not going over their team budget of 135$. We tore around the store trying to make wise and frugal decisions to provide the best quality of food for our local community while making sure we were able to get as much food as we could.


We developed tactics of hiding our groceries with coupons books so the other team couldn’t steal our brilliant ideas and blocking each other while we put the remainder of all of the non-perishable milk for children’s lunches or peanut butter in our carts! In the end our choices complemented each other so well and we covered all of the food groups and focused on high protein foods where possible.

After all this (and a fun photoshoot via our smart phones) my team of myself, my mother and my husband Kurt went over our budget by four dollars thus losing the competition to my to best friends Sarah and Viveca, and Sarah’s lovely husband Mitch. We laughed, we smiled and we managed to fill a completely empty food donation bin to the point of explosion with two packed full carts of healthy groceries!


Since I’m a sore loser we made a second competition where my dad marked the receipts for the healthiness of the food per dollar spent, and low and behold my team ranked on top!

This was a fantastic experience for me and for those in my family as we were able to give back while working together, building fantastic memories and getting that wonderful warm fuzzy feeling that you can only get by giving back to your community.



The simile of Motorcycles and Community Based Research

In an attempt to keep my blog momentum going from my recent motorcycle adventure I asked myself what is it that I love so much about riding a motorcycle, and what does it have to do with my other all consuming passion Community Based Research?


On the surface you may think “what are you talking about? Riding a bike and doing research have nothing in common!”


Well after 14,000 kms to ponder this very question here is my simile for you.


Motorcycles are like Community Based Research because….


1)   it will always takes you longer to get anywhere than you initially plan.

2)   the people you trek with or meet along the way will be the foundation of a successful (and memorable) journey.

3)   The journey is just as important as the destination.

4)   Practice doesn’t make perfect – the world will always have new variables to throw in the mix.

5)   The map you create before leaving may be altered along the way – flexibility is key


Perhaps now that I have written these down they will stop running through my head every time I participate in either riding or researching!


I hope you have enjoyed reading my ponderings as much as I did thinking and writing about them.



Anything you would like to see me blog about? Shoot me a message at


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At Common Thread Consulting,
our vision is a community that is interconnected, capacity rich and efficient in implementing
positive change.
Contact us to learn more about how we can help you achieve your goals.


“Natalie is one of the most consultative people I've had the pleasure of working with. She is able to start with a skeleton of an idea and bring it to fruition. She is youth focused, engaging, and always enthusiastic.”
by Lila Read, Principal at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School