Complexity. It underlies many social issues in Australia. It’s why community dynamics sometimes suddenly shift, funding opportunities open or close, government policy changes, and community leaders emerge. It’s behind the many twists and turns that minimise the effectiveness of traditional programs and services dealing with complex social issues. And it’s why there’s growing momentum in Australia for using a Collective Impact approach.
But is Collective Impact the right approach for all complex social issues?
THREE GATEWAY CHECKS TO UNDERSTAND IF COLLECTIVE IMPACT MAY BE THE RIGHT APPROACH FOR YOU
- You have a complex social issue that can’t be resolved with standard interventions
- There’s energy, alignment and a desire for change in the community
- Services, government, business and philanthropy are prepared to work collaboratively with the community to achieve change
YOU’LL KNOW IT’S NOT THE RIGHT APPROACH IF:
- The issue isn’t clear or measureable
- The approach is mandated or imposed by those not living or working in the community
- There is no agreement about who can perform the backbone function
- Spend time working with the local community to understand issues, build trust, and identify priorities
- Build relationships and alignment among all stakeholders, so they respond to and work with the local community
- Frame the issues and approach in plain English
- Develop collaborative structures and processes
- Start small to allow for failure, to demonstrate the way of working and build momentum
- Engage in continuous monitoring, learning and improvement
JUST BEWARE THE COMMON PITFALLS
- Mistaking meetings for collaboration
- Relying on technical experts
- Introducing ready-made solutions from elsewhere
- Not adequately resourcing the ‘backbone’ function
- Trying to move too quickly, without changing mindsets and building a collaborative culture
One thing is for sure, when we work in complex environments, much is unpredictable. It’s simply not possible to control all the variables at play.
What we can do is position our initiatives to withstand the shocks, and leverage the opportunities complexity creates. But this means always remaining agile and open to harnessing serendipity. Collective Impact can help enable that but all involved must embrace that at its core, the approach means this is not business as usual.
Are we in the social purpose sector, government, business, philanthropy and in communities prepared to do things differently?
David Lilley is Senior Manager NSW at United Way Australia, and the founding Director of The Hive Mt Druitt, a Collective Impact initiative in Western Sydney, co-founded in 2014 by United Way Australia, the ten20 foundation and NSW Family and Community Services.
This blog was originally posted by United Way Australia.