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Why NFPs need to look beyond successful pilot programs

10 February 2020 at 4:53 pm
Luke Michael
Many successful pilots funded by philanthropy or government never reach scale and have no impact on policy

Luke Michael | 10 February 2020 at 4:53 pm


Why NFPs need to look beyond successful pilot programs
10 February 2020 at 4:53 pm

Many successful pilots funded by philanthropy or government never reach scale and have no impact on policy

Not for profits need more than just a successful pilot program to influence government and achieve systemic change, a sector leader believes.

Dr Di Winkler is CEO and founder of Summer Foundation, an NFP looking to stop young people with disability from being forced to live in nursing homes.

She spoke to Pro Bono News about the foundation’s advocacy and systems change role in the issue, explaining that it took a lot of work to take a pilot program to scale.                                                 

She said pilots needed to be rigorously evaluated to see what was working, and to provide the evidence base to engage government and philanthropy to go from pilot to scale.

“A lot of people are satisfied with a successful project or pilot and think that somehow a good pilot is going to influence government. It takes a lot more than that,” Winkler said.

“It takes a lot of work around government engagement, as well as articulating the outcomes in the evaluation and talking to people with influence so they’re on board. And then you need to set up the infrastructure for scale.”

Summer Foundation describes itself as a “systems entrepreneur”, which works to change the systems that admit young people into aged care and leave them there.

While the foundation designs its pilot for mass scale with an “endgame” in mind, Winkler notes that many successful pilots funded by philanthropy or government never reach scale and have no impact on policy.

She said the people who could run a successful pilot were not necessarily the same people who could take something to scale.

“Summer Foundation is a great organisation for thought leadership and piloting things. But when it came to scaling something like housing, we set up a separate entity – Summer Housing – with Dan McLennan who has a property background and is a lawyer,” she said.

“And then we set up a board that had the skill set to support him. So I think it’s important to be really clear about what your skill set is and to make sure you get the right people for the right point in the development of a project.”

Summer Housing was established to replicate and scale the initial housing projects carried out by the Summer Foundation.

The foundation owned 12 apartments in 2016, but Summer Housing has scaled this to a point where it expects to have 300 apartments available in major cities across Australia this year.

These properties will be used by people with very high or complex disability support needs, including young people who were/are living in aged care or at risk of aged care.

Other examples of how the foundation pilots solutions include improving hospital discharge practices to stop young people being sent straight to nursing homes, and a program up-skilling NDIS support coordinators and allied health professionals to help people at risk of entry to aged care.

While philanthropy has played a key role in supporting the work of Summer Foundation, Winkler said this tended to fund prototypes but rarely offered the resources to help scale a successful pilot.

She added that governments were often slow to embrace change and risk averse.

To overcome this, Winkler said organisations needed a good evidence base and to understand the costs involved with taking a project to scale.

She used the example of the foundation’s second housing project in New South Wales’ Hunter region, which contained 10 apartments for people with disability spread throughout a 110-apartment development.

“With that project, we documented the cost of the actual build, but also what it took to find potential tenants and people with disability in the local community who were going to be good long-term tenants,” she said.

“Then we had a social financing think tank examine how we could scale that model and what kind of financial models might work. We soon realised we couldn’t make it stack up without additional housing payments.”

Summer Foundation then told the National Disability Insurance Agency what the apartments cost and how it wasn’t affordable for people on a Disability Support Pension.

“We were able to feed that information into government policy so that when the Specialist Disability Accommodation payments came out, the NDIA knew what it took to scale our pilot projects,” Winkler said.

“So what it takes to go beyond a prototype is partly around having an ongoing conversation with governments, but also around having enough resources to take risks and employ the people you need to go to scale.” 

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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