Gaming Evidence: Power, Storytelling and the “Colonial Moment” in a Chicago Systems Change Project

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Case Study—In 2016 The Chicago Community Trust (“The Trust”), a local Chicago foundation, partnered with Roller Strategies (“Roller”), an international professional services firm, to deploy an innovative mixed-methods approach to community-driven social change on the South Side of Chicago. This partnership convened a diverse group of stakeholders representing a microcosm of the social system, and launched a project with the aim of developing resilient livelihoods for youth aged 18-26 in three specific South Side neighborhoods. Roller designed and facilitated a process through which the stakeholder group scoped, launched, piloted and prototyped community-driven initiatives. While innovative and successful by some metrics, the project had its challenges. The convening institutions and their staff were often perceived as “outsiders” and “experts” without intimate local knowledge of the social challenges they were attempting to address. This dynamic played out in complex power maneuvers across groups in the system. The cultural narratives and interests already at play in the system were employed by individuals and groups at all levels to shape the landscape of agency and power in the system, while attempting to retain the methodological and narrative legitimacy of the publicly-facing project. This case study will explore the narratives and power dynamics at play within the system, look into the causes of these dynamics, and explore the impact they had on the effectiveness of the project as a whole.

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