BLOG: Burnie Works Is Working
16 December 2015 at 11:04 am
A Tasmanian community initiative called Burnie Works received international acclaim earlier this year as one of Australia’s most promising collective impact initiatives. Research consultant Kerry Graham and Rodney Green, from Burnie City Council take a look at how it is faring.
In March of 2015, Burnie Works in North-West Tasmania was selected by an international judging panel as the most promising, early-stage collective impact community initiative in Australia. 10 months on – the judges made the right decision.
Burnie is a beautiful deep-water port town, historically prosperous through shipping mineral, forest and agricultural resources and manufacturing to the world. Forces beyond the control of the community – advancements and decline in mining and forestry, climate change and the GFC – resulted in reduced shipping and major corporations closing their operations. In 2011, Burnie had one of the lowest rates of post year 10 retention and highest rates of youth unemployment in Australia.
That’s where Burnie Works comes in. Catalysed by leaders from the Local Council and Commonwealth Department of Human Services, Burnie Works is a cross-sector collaboration focussed on improving the systems that support all children to stay at school and all young people to be employed.
In seeking to create this ambitious change, the catalysing leaders recognised that addressing early school leaving and youth employment was not something any one government department, organisation or program could do in isolation.
Lifting the aspirations, engagement and employment outcomes of a generation would require everyone in the community to pull together. So that is where they started – by building the capacity of the community to collaborate in ways they had not done before. If you watch this video, you’ll get a sense of what that looks and feels like in practice.
The Burnie Works backbone team have done a great deal of slow and sensitive work to build the collaborative culture that is so evident in the video. They have done this in two ways. The first is through constant and open engagement that actively seeks to understand people’s drivers, demonstrate value and quietly deliver above expectations.
The second is to convene collaborators through a series of small-scale experiments focused on improving outcomes with and for children and young people in education and employment. The first approach is the bedrock work of collaboration; the second is the often-talked-about-but-hard-to-do work of “emergent practice”. Emergent practice – learning by doing, testing and trying, adaptation and data-based decision making – is the practice required to make progress in complex problems.
Burnie Works was selected from a field of 49 communities through an initiative called The Search. That initiative was made possible by a group of progressive funders who committed to contribute to and raise $1 million in support of the selected community over three years.
Since the announcement in March 2015, the collaborative culture of Burnie Works has been strengthened and focused by the resources and skills of the progressive funders. It has been inspiring to watch.
Social Ventures Australia has supported the cross-sector leader group to sharpen their vision, strategy and capability to lead this ambitious change initiative. Westpac Foundation has significantly bolstered the capacity of the backbone team to coordinate the hundreds of moving parts of the collaborative response. The Centre for Social Impact, Results Leadership Group Australia, Blackbaud Pacific and Gilbert & Tobin lawyers are building the data competency and evaluation capacity of the backbone team.
The Grace & Emilio Foundation and Digital Storytellers are helping the backbone team capture and communicate the collaboration’s story, progress and impact.
As we look into 2016 we see nothing but more promise for Burnie Works and its children and young people. Their impressive and nurtured collaborative culture is becoming embedded in the ‘way things get done around here’ at the same time as the package of resources is bearing the fruit of greater capacity, strategy and discipline. These are the “secret sauce” of successful collective impact – collaborative culture meets a laser-like focus on outcomes.
About the authors: Kerry Graham, is the Director at Collaboration for Impact, and Rodney Green is the Director of Community and Economic Development at Burnie City Council. Subscribe here to learn more about Burnie Works, collective impact or systems change.