Rethinking the Ottawa Hand in Hand Policy

City: Ottawa, Canada

Reporting to: Program Manager of Business Support

The Challenge

The City of Ottawa supports access to its Recreation, Cultural, and Facility Services (RCFS) activities by offering the Ottawa Hand in Hand fee subsidy program to eligible households and individuals. This policy was originally created in 2002 with the intention to increase access to participation in programs, activities and memberships for residents who face financial barriers. Through incremental revisions, the policy now allocates $1.06 million (CAD) of the annual RCFS operating budget toward these subsidies. Since the pandemic, community needs have risen exponentially – with an influx of new immigrants and rising economic hardship citywide, the allocated budget is consistently being overspent with questionable reach and impact. City leadership believes that the Hand in Hand policy is due for a thorough rethink and rebrand that reflects the current needs of its communities and provides meaningful relief to low-income residents within the context of available subsidies and supports.

Although the RCFS has made several revisions to this policy over the last two decades, the current version still has frontline teams manually reviewing and processing applications and applying a fixed credit to client accounts that are deemed eligible. Additionally, clients pay a minimum of 25% of the cost per activity out of pocket prior to using available Hand in Hand credit for the remaining balance. Within the current policy framework, individuals must demonstrate eligibility for financial relief based on income through a means test1 or be in receipt of one of the following: Ontario works; Child Care Subsidy; Essential Health and Social Supports; Ontario Disability Support Program; Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities; Guaranteed Income Supplement; a referral from Ottawa Community Housing (with supporting documentation that the individual has been screened and approved under the low-income cut off).

City officials believe there is potential for more efficient use of this funding, so the dollars allocated have a greater community impact. The fellow, working closely with the Business and Technical Support team (which sits within RCFS), would help kickstart this rethink effort, and would ideally add a fresh, third-party perspective to reimagining a policy that could be the difference-maker for reaching the city’s most vulnerable and disengaged residents with recreational programs and services. Working together with RCFS, they will review the current policy and seek to answer a few essential questions:

  • How can RCFS best support residents with access to recreation in the current economic climate?

  • Does traditional fee assistance like the current Hand in Hand still work, or are there stronger models to inform future policy?

  • How can the $1.06m (CAD) budget be spent to support access to recreation with maximum impact?

  • Are the existing eligibility criteria still the most relevant metrics for determining need, or can the criteria be updated to promote more accessible recreation within the city’s current means?

What You’ll Do

The fellow will engage key internal and external stakeholders to research and inform policy review and redesign. These stakeholders include the city’s Business and Technical Support Services, key frontline teams at Community Centres and Complexes, and the city’s extended Departmental Leadership Team with the opportunity to conduct local public and partner consultations.

The fellow’s work also has the potential to connect to the city’s ongoing work on improving access to recreational and cultural opportunities in the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative’s Innovation Track through which a cross-departmental city team is learning innovation techniques to engage residents and test, adapt, and scale creative ideas to tackle this priority.

Key Deliverables Include:

  1. Hand in Hand policy review
    • Learn about existing policy frameworks through individual research and consultations with internal groups to reveal any strengths, weaknesses, and gaps.
    • Benchmark with other Ontario municipalities and recreational organizations to reveal current practices and standards.
    • Research broader examples of accessible program delivery models and integrate best practices, if possible, into proposed revisions and/or changes.
    • External consultation and engagement with the public and partner organizations to gather additional feedback and inform direction.
  2. Presentation of findings and recommendations for policy updates/changes/rebrand to key senior city stakeholders.

What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills:

  • Policy analysis
  • Policy development
  • Data analysis
  • Qualitative interviewing and analysis
  • Stakeholder engagement and management
  • Writing and editing




1 Determine the number of family members in the family unit and the total household taxable income to confirm if family is eligible for Ottawa Hand in Hand. If the total taxable income is less than the amount in the Low-income Cutoff Table, based on family unit size, then the family unit is eligible.


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