The Winter of our Discontent – Collective Impact in the Australian Context
30 July 2014 at 11:28 am
Australia has much to contribute to the understanding of how the Collective Impact community change framework can be implemented, writes visiting Canadian expert, Liz Weaver, Vice President of Tamarack – an Institute for Community Engagement.
There is a palpable energy in Australia. Even as the cold of winter grabs hold of communities, things seem to be gaining steam. Between July 13 and 27, 2014, I travelled to a number of cities in Australia to meet with leaders across many sectors: business, government, philanthropy, faith, education, and community. They wanted to talk Collective Impact. They were curious about this framework for community change and impact and many were in the early stages of implementation.
The Centre for Social Impact (CSI) and Social Leadership Australia hosted a national convening for 200 participants in Melbourne. CSI also hosted learning forums in Sydney and Canberra. Together SA gathered community and government leaders in Adelaide to participate in a series of workshops, presentations and conversations. The ten20 Foundation staff and board team hosted a day long conversation about venture philanthropy and collective impact. Over the course of the two week visit, more than 400 leaders actively participated in learning opportunities and many more will be able to access the workshop resources posted on the Collaborating for Impact website.
During numerous conversations, I heard the same reframe echo. There is a frustration that we are not able to solve some of the most serious issues facing our communities including economic disadvantage, homelessness, educational achievement, workforce development and social inclusion. Despite our best efforts and deep investments, most communities are only seeing short term results. And leaders from all sectors are frustrated that this is the case. They are searching for a new way of working.
In the winter of 2011, John Kania and Mark Kramer of FSG Social Impact Consultants published a pivotal article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review called ‘Collective Impact’. This article provided a new framework for community change efforts, one based on five seemingly simple conditions: developing a common agenda across diverse partners; building a shared measurement framework to mark progress; working toward aligned activities across organizations; continuous communications and the investment in a backbone infrastructure to drive change forward.
Since 2011, Kania and Kramer and their colleagues at FSG have continued to research, write about and reflect on Collective Impact. Most recently, they launched the Collective Impact Forum as a means of growing the field of knowledge about this practice.
Australia has much to contribute to our collective understanding of how this community change framework can be implemented. I have seen, over the course of two weeks, a tightly woven network of leaders from all sectors come together to learn about this approach. The Melbourne national convening builds on a previous Collective Impact conference held in February in Sydney. Government leaders are looking at Collective Impact as a mechanism to dive deeper on community issues. And, there are some early emerging success stories including Go Goldfields! and Paint Penrith Red which are tackling early learning and literacy challenges by putting community at the centre.
A key advantage in Australia are the networks of community leaders at the grassroots involved in neighbourhood and community centres. These leaders bring an understanding of the challenges their neighbourhoods face and many have a developed capacity to bring the voice of citizens to the table.
Additionally, Social Leadership Australia and similar leadership programs have been developing the grass tops. Finally, there is a network of pan-Australian organizations like the Centre for Social Impact, ten20 Foundation and corporate partners that can bring knowledge, resources and capacity to this new approach.
It may be a winter of discontent, but Australia’s spring looks bright as these interests align. We hope to learn much from Australia over the next year.
About the Author:
Liz Weaver has been working in the field of Not for Profit leadership for over 20 years and recently led a Collective Impact effort in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada which focused on a place-based approach to reducing poverty in a city of 500,000 residents. She is currently the Vice President of the Tamarack Institute and leads a learning community of more than 55 Collective Impact efforts across Canada. She has been practicing, training and writing about Collective Impact.