Blog Post #2: SJLE - In this blog post we are featuring the Saint John Learning Exchange Incentives Project, a project of the Social Innovation Fund

Rewarding the hard work of getting ‘unstuck’

Saint John Learning Exchange tests an innovative motivator to goal-setting.

The Saint John Learning Exchange has had some early learnings of its own around its new goal-setting research project that is testing a financial incentives model.


“For some of our learners, it’s so difficult to name a goal or to think in terms of success,” says Claire Ashton, Project Manager at the Learning Exchange. She’s heading the initiative to add incentives to all her organization’s programs. The aim is to recognize various milestones for success, including but not limited to the significant goals of education and employment. 


And even those who are succeeding may not see it that way.


“Some people have a hard time acknowledging they are doing good work,” she says. “It has a lot to do with self-esteem.”

The program is supported by the Social Innovation Fund, a five-year, $10-million provincial investment in creative ways of countering generational poverty. While the incentivized goals program is new, many of its participants are long-time clients of the SJLE, which provides adult education, training and career development. The Learning Exchange is a provincial leader in assisting adults transition from social assistance to employment by supporting their academic and other goals.

“It’s brought people back into our fold. I think that’s one of the strengths of continued goal setting,” Claire says. “It can counter the shame people feel around the perceived failure of not getting ‘there’ the first or second attempt.”

In the first months of the program, Claire and her team were somewhat surprised by the variety of goals among participants, which has increased the one-on-one coaching component of the program.


“That’s required a lot of human resources,” she says.


Luckily, she has a great team around her, including Taylor Wells. A social worker by training, Taylor grew up in Greater Saint John, returning from British Columbia to join the Learning Exchange as a soft-skills coach and facilitator.


“We are meeting people where they’re at,” she says. “The individualized nature of our program is very client-focused.”  


Their goals range from the practical, such as getting a driver’s license, to self-care, like getting counselling or exercising. There are academic goals and employment ones. One woman, who has refugee status, has set goals around getting permanent residency. Another is working on public speaking.


“That’s something we can incentivize,” Taylor says. “We’re helping them help themselves.”


The bigger goal of the program is to gather evidence that could shift policy.


“I think we need to start looking at social sciences the way we look at hard sciences. There are new systems and ways of connecting and motivating people,” she says. “It’s good to embrace that change.”


Taylor says early indicators are good. Attendance and engagement are up.


“People are more motivated,” she says. “We want to keep moving them forward.”

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