Community Employment Innovation Project
Would people who are receiving Employment Insurance (EI) or income assistance (IA) be motivated to take a community wage in lieu of their regular benefits, in return for employment on locally-developed projects created and run by organizations and individuals in their community? Would communities be able to generate meaningful work experiences for people who are unemployed that will also provide benefits to the communities themselves?
The Community Employment Innovation Project (CEIP) was a long-term research and demonstration project that was designed to test an alternative form of income support for the unemployed, which would encourage employment while supporting local community development. It was an approach that challenged communities to build on the “social economy” as a potential source of jobs for people who were unemployed and living in high unemployment areas. The idea was to improve not only the economic and social well being of communities but to generate meaningful work opportunities in the process. As a result, participants could acquire new skills and work experience while also developing valuable work-related networks and “social capital” that could lead to greater long-term employment success.
CEIP grew out of the belief that new government initiatives to improve the economic circumstances of individuals in struggling regions or communities must support local endeavours aimed at creating a sustainable economy. In short, CEIP was designed to build capacity among communities to create their own solutions for community development, while providing new employment opportunities for individuals who were receiving income from either EI or IA.
Sponsored by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) and the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services (NSDCS), CEIP was managed by the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC), a not-for-profit research organization. CEIP was long-term study, which began in 1999 and concluded in 2008.
The key features of CEIP were as follows:
- Communities selected for CEIP set up volunteer boards to define their own needs and identify the kinds of projects that can meet those needs.
- Any local organization could develop a proposal for a CEIP project. If the local community board approved the proposal, CEIP participants were sent to work on the project.
- Individuals selected to work on community projects received a community wage, about $325 per week, for up to three years. This wage was a fixed weekly amount and would be increased with any increase in the provincial minimum wage. The community wage was taxable, insurable for EI purposes, and pensionable under the Canada Pension Plan.
- Participants had to be available to take part in approved CEIP activities for 35 hours each week. While the principal activity was working on community-based projects, participants also spent time in other activities including an initial employment assessment, basic job-readiness training where needed, and short courses in transferable skills.
- Participants could switch back and forth between CEIP projects and other activities, such as work in the private or public sector, at any time during their three-year eligibility period.
In this project EI and IA recipients in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) were selected at random from administrative files and were offered an opportunity to participate in CEIP. CEIP enrolled 1,006 EI and 516 IA recipients to voluntarily participate. Approximately one half of the enrolees were randomly assigned to a program group and are eligible for CEIP. The remaining enrolees were assigned to a control group and are not eligible to participate in CEIP. Control group members served as a counter-factual — a measure of the outcomes that program group members would have experienced in absence of CEIP. Differences in the experiences of these groups were used to measure the impact of CEIP.
Offer to individuals
Program group members were offered the chance to take a job working in one of many community-sponsored and community-approved employment projects for up to three years. In return for working on these projects participants received a “community wage” that was indexed to changes in the Nova Scotia provincial minimum wage. To further replicate the characteristics of normal employment, CEIP participants accumulated an entitlement to “personal days,” which could be taken as paid vacation or sick days. CEIP also paid premiums to provide participants with coverage under the Nova Scotia Workers’ Compensation program, and participants could choose to enrol in a private health plan. The premiums for the private health plan were shared between CEIP and the participants who opted for coverage.
Beyond the core offer of three years of paid employment, participants also received a number of ancillary program services including an employability assessment, basic job-readiness training, and a limited number of vocational transferable skills training modules. In the last three months of their CEIP eligibility, participants also had access to portfolio building and job-search assistance to help make the transition to market employment.
Role of communities
In addition to providing opportunities for individuals to gain valuable work experience, CEIP sought to foster community development. CEIP differed from many earlier programs in the degree of control over project design and implementation that was given to local communities. The CEIP strategy was unique in that the fundamental driving force underlying the project was the notion that local communities — defined as small areas within the CBRM — should be able to define their own needs and then develop projects to meet those needs.
The role played by a community had two main aspects: the creation of a democratic structure — the community board — to make decisions regarding the use of CEIP resources, and the solicitation and approval of specific projects from sponsors within the community to employ the CEIP participants. Although the core of the offer to communities was the free labour supply of CEIP workers for their local projects, in order for community boards to carry out their primary responsibilities, they were also provided with a $30,000 planning grant and access to technical assistance to help with planning and community mobilization.
Five communities within the CBRM (Glace Bay, New Waterford, North Sydney, Sydney Mines, and Whitney Pier) formed community boards, with each board composed of members drawn from the community and chosen at public meetings. The role of the boards was to promote CEIP within their communities and to review proposals for employment projects sponsored by groups of residents or by organizations. The boards also had the responsibility of approving projects that meet their criteria as outlined in their strategic plan. Participants from anywhere in the CBRM could be assigned to sponsored projects within each community.
CEIP’s evaluation strategy included four main components:
- An individual impact study using a random assignment design to compare the experiences of those in CEIP’s program group with the experiences of control group members who were not eligible to work on community-based projects.
- A community effects study using both a “theory of change” approach and a quasi-experimental comparison community design to evaluate the effects on the communities that participated in CEIP.
- Implementation research to carefully document how the project was implemented (in an effort to assess how closely the program in the field matched the original design), to evaluate potential participants’ understanding of the CEIP offer, and to identify delivery issues that can aid in better understanding how and why the program worked (or failed to work).
- A benefit-cost analysis to compare the economic benefits that accrued to both the participating individuals and the communities with the cost of producing those benefits.
SRDC designed an extensive individual impact study to examine the effect of CEIP on participants’ employment, earnings, and their use of EI and IA. The research program sought to answer questions regarding the impact of CEIP on other aspects of the participants’ lives, such as the following:
- To what extent did CEIP result in increased education and training?
- To what extent did CEIP reduce poverty, hardship, and increase overall well being?
- Did CEIP affect the social networks of participants?
- How did CEIP affect total household income?
- To what extent did CEIP result in changes in family formation?
- To what extent did CEIP affect the migration of the unemployed from Cape Breton?
The experiences of participants in the program and control groups were assessed through a baseline survey administered at the time of enrolment and a series of follow-up surveys and administrative data sources. Follow-up surveys, conducted at 18, 40, and 54 months after random assignment, were the key source of data on the labour market outcomes and quality of life of those in the study and would provide the basis for measuring the impacts of CEIP. Administrative data sources — EI, IA, and taxation records — were also used for estimating program impacts on individuals and for the benefit-cost analysis.
SRDC was also interested in the effects of CEIP on the participating communities. The community effects research sought to answer such questions as the following:
- How did the communities respond to the challenge of organizing a community board and developing the capacity to promote, review, and assess sponsored projects?
- Did sponsored local projects make a measurable difference in the physical, economic, and social well being of the community?
- Did residents of communities in CEIP indicate a higher level of social cohesiveness than did non-participating communities?
The community effects study relied on a broad set of indicators that were collected from a wide variety of sources in both the CEIP communities and in comparison communities. Wherever possible, administrative records were used to obtain community-level data. To complement available administrative records data, a three-wave community survey was conducted to obtain information directly from residents of the CEIP and comparison communities. In addition, key informants in each community were interviewed annually during the study to obtain their detailed assessment of perceived changes in institutional structures and civic activity in their communities. SRDC researchers monitored local media, conducted extensive fieldwork to observe local meetings and other consultative events and to interview local stakeholders (especially those who were involved with CEIP at the local community level), and conducted document analysis of local community-planning materials (including meeting minutes and other records of local organizations).
CEIP was a long-term project. Design work and consultations with communities began in 1999. Participant enrolment took place between July 2000 and May 2002, and community projects ended in July 2005. SRDC has released several major reports on the project since December 2003. The CEIP final results report was released in November 2008, Encouraging Work and Supporting Communities: Final Results of the Community Employment Innovation Project.
Full report (PDF format)
Executive summary (PDF format)
CEIP was funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) and Nova Scotia Department of Community Services (NSDCS).