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A Hive for Collective Impact

9 September 2015 at 11:00 am
Ellie Cooper
The bar is being raised for children in a disadvantaged suburb through the collective efforts of families, community groups, government agencies and business, reports Ellie Cooper.

Ellie Cooper | 9 September 2015 at 11:00 am


A Hive for Collective Impact
9 September 2015 at 11:00 am

The bar is being raised for children in a disadvantaged suburb through the collective efforts of families, community groups, government agencies and business, reports Ellie Cooper.

The Hive, a collective impact organisation in Sydney’s Mount Druitt, aims to create a network between previously disparate service providers to give children the opportunity to reach their full potential.

“The measureable outcomes for children here are really quite poor in terms of health, numeracy, literacy, experiences of various family and social issues,” The Hive Director, David Lilley said.

“At the moment you literally have all these organisations who are doing their own thing and there’s massive opportunity to join things up, and over time there’s really great opportunity to genuinely start doing things differently.

“People don’t normally see those opportunities because they’re not having conversations with everyone in the room.”

Lilley described The Hive as a facilitating body that enables residents and service providers in Mount Druitt to drive the direction of projects.

“I spent quite a bit of time late last year going out and talking to community members and local organisations about collective impact and about what we thought some of the possibilities and opportunities were – in a sense of asking for permission to come in and play the backbone role,” he said.

The Hive, set up by the Ten20 Foundation and United Way with funding and support from the NSW Family and Community Services, launched this year with a broad philosophy.

“We talk about The Hive as a number of different things. It’s a place in that we’ve got a community centre that was set up with a whiteboard and things so we can have workshops and create a presence, and we invite community and other stakeholders into workshop with us,” Lilley said.

“It’s also a network. We’re trying to get beyond the idea that The Hive is just a small team of people, like an entity or an organisation, and try to think of it more as a network who are all trying to tackle the same sorts of issues.

“We also talk about it at times as being a movement. We’re quite interested in how we use social media and other communication mechanisms to create that sense of a movement particularly among the community, as well as service providers.”

Lilley said The Hive works within the traditional collective impact approach, incorporating common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication and backbone support organisation

“We take the five elements of that quite seriously. I think a lot of people think they’re doing collective impact when they really haven’t understood the depth of it and the interconnections between those five elements,” he said.

“But we’ve really not at all emphasised collective impact in talking with stakeholders because I think it gives people the sense that there’s this formula or recipe that you follow, and I really don’t think that’s helpful.”

The Hive developed an “action-learning cycle” to communicate to stakeholders how they will achieve change.

“Collective impact is a framework, but the way that we work with all stakeholders is very much a co-design sort of process,” he said.

“We’re not a bunch of service providers sitting at a table planning what’s going to happen in community. We’re really keen to make sure community is involved in everything we do and, over time, that we’re really building community’s capacity to lead on all of this work.”

Stage one of Hive’s approach is the “swarm”, the first of which was held in March this year.

“Periodically, it might be every nine to 18 months, we will bring a diverse group of people together, from governments, from local service providers and from the community, and have a check-in – where are we up to, how to we prioritise our work, what’s going well, what needs to change and doing some macro-level decision-making,” Lilley said

“We identify one or two things that we think we can tackle for the next six months or 12 months. At the moment the two things we’re looking at are ‘transition to school’ and ‘child-friendly community’.”

The next state is the “incubation” with workshops designed to bring out different perspectives, generate ideas and create prototypes.

“We take a fairly active role in initiating action in those areas and we do that really collaboratively,” Lilley said.

“We work with testing and if things are not working in that area, what can we do differently, and more creatively.

“And then we try to transition that over so it’s not The Hive team, or even The Hive network that are holding that are holding those pieces of work.

“We try to integrate them into the local service system, and then The Hive will have a monitoring and supportive role and we’ll cycle back to another ‘swarm’ event.”

Lilley said working with service providers has been a learning process, and The Hive’s approach has developed over time.

“Originally we tried to engage with a really diverse group of service providers and invite them to a swarm event in March, but since then we’ve narrowed the work down and our immediate focus is on ‘transition to school’, so we’re primarily working with schools and preschools,” he said.

“We’ve gone from really diverse engagement with the sector to quite narrow segments to do some work on the immediate priorities.”

The “streets-based community approach” emphasises in collective impact articles has also informed The Hive’s engagement in the community.  

“We’re doing something different right now. In the “transition to school” work we found pretty quickly the fundamental issue in terms of working with kids in the early years is a lot of kids here aren’t going to preschool. When we looked for data and information about who those kids are, no one had it,” Lilley said.

“Everyone talks about the kids who are in preschool and how you support them from the preschool environment to a school environment, there’s this large group of kids who are not in preschool and don’t receive any services until they start school.

“Then people start questioning why they haven’t been to preschool and why they don’t have some of the literacy, numeracy or social skills that other kids have.

“No one’s actually tackling that issue, so we said we’ll actually survey a whole suburb, literally go door-to-door asking people if they have young children, what ages they are, whether or not they’re in preschool, when they’re due to start school. And we’ll provide them with information and we’ll try to plug them into local services.”

Going door-to-door also allowed The Hive team to ask broader questions about the community, build relationships with people, to introduce them to their work.

“It’s early days but the response has been good and people are really excited that there are people who are taking a proactive interest in their children,” Lilley said.

“Part of the success with the survey is because we’re quite neutral. We’re not there to sell them a service, we’re not government checking up on them, we’re just saying we really care about kids, we really want kids to get the best start in life possible.”

Lilley said one of the major challenges for The Hive has been convincing grant-givers that collective impact is worthy of funding.

“We’ve been really clear since first engaging with the sector last year that we don’t want to compete with people for core funding, for service delivery funding, we don’t want to be in the service delivery space,” he said.

“We see our role as being facilitators or collaboration, basically supporting the local service system to work better.

“That’s tricky because typically, whether it’s government or philanthropists or others, people want to fund quite specific services that you can link to a very specific service output and then outcome for a child. So that’s the challenge for us.”

Lilley highlighted that the private sector has funding provisions for coordinating bodies, but it’s yet to fully catch on in the social sector.

“If you’re working on a physical infrastructure program, if you’re building a bridge, then typically you’ll have a project management firm that’ll occupy that 20 per cent of the budget, and that budget is purely to coordinate all the different pieces of work, from urban planning to approval processes,” he said.

“When you come to somewhere like Mount Drewitt, there is no one who’s funded to do that work. So we’ve got literally a couple of hundred service providers who all have a role in Mount Drewitt, who all deliver something, and there’s no one responsible for joining all of that together and trying to coordinate it.

“It’s an incredibly important role, it’s a role that really requires some reasonably substantial resources, but it’s really hard to convince people that it’s an important piece of the funding puzzle.”

Lilley said an early challenge for The Hive was to facilitate genuine collaboration between community and a raft of other people.

“It takes a lot of time and I think people are quite impatient. Once you’ve been operating for a couple of months people want to know what you’ve achieved for children,” he said.

“Obviously we’re really keen to get outcomes quickly, we want to get the quick wins and the long-term wins, but just putting all the infrastructure in place takes time, and working with people in a respectful way and genuinely including community takes a really long time.

“You need to spend the time to understand community voice, obviously in a community as big as this – there are 60,000 people here – there are really diverse views among community so there’s quite a lot of work involved in preparing the ground, hearing the voices, starting to join people up, collectively identifying priorities.

“Already as we’ve been working on our transition to school initiative, we’ve identified conversations between different service providers, between preschools and schools that were not happening before.”

Lilley said The Hive is designed to coordinate services long-term and hopes it will stay in Mount Druitt for at least 10 years.

“In an area as large as this I don’t think you can actually reach that point where you’ve joined everything up and people are working efficiently and effectively and everything is fine,” he said.

“There are so many service providers and funding is coming and going for different programs, so we’re trying to be a stable influence.

“Whether they’re from government, corporations or philanthropy, most funding is still in one, two or three year funding cycles.

“While that’s the case, and while you have different service providers, there will always be a need for that coordinating or facilitating function.”

Lilley said in the future he will aim to expand The Hive’s influence to perform a coordinating role for funding.

“When you’re looking at an area like Mount Druitt, how do you influence funding so that the funding processes themselves are more coordinated, so that it’s not just a bunch of different programs that are contracted separately without consideration with each other,” he said.

“You would get greater coordination of funding programs and greater levels of community involvement in some of those.

“The dream would be to have longer-term funding contracts so that there is a greater sense of stability, in terms of the organisations delivering the services. So they have the time and they make the connections that are needed to really be effective.”

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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