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The Budget and Collective Impact

15 May 2013 at 12:43 pm
Staff Reporter
How will Australia respond to the predicted decade of deficit asks Australian social change advocates Dawn O’Neil AM and Kerry Graham.

Staff Reporter | 15 May 2013 at 12:43 pm


The Budget and Collective Impact
15 May 2013 at 12:43 pm

How will Australia respond to the predicted decade of deficit asks Australian social change advocates Dawn O’Neil AM and Kerry Graham.

Last night Treasurer Wayne Swan asserted Australia would balance the budget by 2017. Last month the Grattan Institute thought it was more likely to be 2023. Swan says our current deficit is primarily due to reduced revenue married with a commitment to improved education and disability support.

The Grattan Institute says it is primarily due to increased structural expenditure on health, schools and welfare. Either way, we collectively face less money in the economy due to increased spending on big-ticket social infrastructure investments in education reform and DisabilityCare.

While these investments are much needed they come with trade-offs. All available funding will be diverted in those policy measures and every Government, no matter what persuasion, will be looking for ways to reduce spending.

What does this mean for communities? For social purpose organisations?

We worry there are tougher, tighter times ahead. We worry that it means that families and individuals experiencing some of our most complex and intractable social challenges – locational and intergenerational disadvantage, homelessness, youth justice – may become further entrenched as less resources flow into their communities. We also worry that social purpose organisation will compete even more fiercely for a smaller pie.

More so, we see opportunities in the challenges ahead. Communities and social purpose organisations have the opportunity to adopt new approaches and develop skills. New approaches like moving away from the less effective isolated impact of government silos and competitive Not for Profit towards more effective Collective Impact approach.

Implicit in the Collective Impact approach is the opportunity to develop skills to:

  • Unite communities under a common agenda
  • Use data, science and evidence to set shared measures and invest scarce resources into the most effective actions
  • Collaborate across sectors and leverage existing resources and networks more effectively
  • Create learning environments that quickly adjust to failure and scale success by aligning the practice of many organisations

As we have been sharing over the past few months (links to previous blogs), the primary proof points for Collective Impact lie in a growing number of US communities and an emerging few Australian experiences.

These case studies show that with a relatively small investment in a ‘backbone’ organisation (the organisation that guides the common agenda and measures, builds public will and drives alignment of activity) significant benefits can be realized in terms of systems change, improved community outcomes and, ultimately, increased effectiveness and efficiency of investment.

While we see many benefits to the Collective Impact approach, it is this latter point about return on investment that rings loudly in the silence after Budget 2013. Collective Impact puts in place systems that assess whether the dollars being invested toward a given outcome are going further than they otherwise would – helping us answer the age-old question, “Are we getting more bang for our buck?”

In the challenging times ahead where resource limitations will become an ongoing fact of life, it is more necessary than ever to ensure we are investing our time, talent, and treasure as efficiently and effectively as possible. Collective Impact gives us a robust conceptual underpinnings for how to make this change.

About the authors: Dawn O’Neil AM and Kerry Graham have just undertaken a Collective Impact study tour in the USA on behalf of the Centre for Social Impact. Their vision is to translate Collective Impact into the Australian context.

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