On the 15 March 2017 I attended a strategic planning session hosted by NE Tracks LLEN as part of their overall review of reference groups throughout their footprint in the Hume region. Big thanks to Danny O’Donoghue CEO for the invitation and the facilitator Rob. Rather than give a straight overview of the session I have used it to reflect on what has become a major focus for me over the past several years as the NDCO – Collective Impact.
My first real encounter with this term came about as a small group of us local stakeholders went about setting up a network group to support local disability services. As part of that process I came across the Tamarack Institute. The Canadian based organisation professes, “Tamarack’s goal is to equip you with the skills, knowledge, resources and connections you need to make lasting change in your community. We support you in a number of different ways, wherever you may be in the world.” Having waded through their resource, guides and practices it was evident that to solve complex community problems you needed a collective approach and I now carry this with me whenever I attend (or consider attending) strategic planning or problem solving community based networks.
In the past working as a Police officer I had been instructed to meet problems using the process of ‘SMEAC’ which is; Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration (logistics) and Communication. I have noticed this is not a long way from the Collective Impact ideals of; Common Agenda, Shared Measurement, Mutually Reinforcing activities, Continuous communication, Backbone support. I think about this as I sit down for the session where the group will be covering; Current context, Where do we want to be, How will we get there, Next steps.
Let’s have a look at the current context – Benalla is hugely representative of a lot of regional towns throughout Victoria and this group collected here today had the prime focus of how to provide options, pathways and supports for the youth within their community, especially when it comes to transition from school to work life. This includes positive health and well-being outcomes through community engagement and belonging. Following the traditions of most network type meetings we started with the ‘circle of death’. (For some reason I always have a mini anxiety attack waiting for my turn as we move around the circle of introductions. I’m not sure if the longer you have to wait for your turn is better or worse. My mind rehearses what I am going to say and then ignores it as I catch the waiver in my voice). So considering the areas of community that impact on the topic it was good to see representation from the following: The Centre (Adult learning), Department of Employment (federal), Victorian Police, MADEC (Employment Agency), GOTAFE skills and jobs, Benalla Council, Recruitment Select, DHS Centrelink, Tomorrow Today Foundation, The Personnel Group (Ticket to Work program), Benalla Library, Department of Education (state), Mayor of Benalla, Benalla councillor, Benalla P12 (School), Benalla flexible learning (School), Catholic college, Worktrainers (‘geared for careers’ program), several representatives from the LLEN as hosts.
Previously, representatives from these above organisations or services would meet in two different groups to provide advice, actions or platforms for advice or actions as to the question proposed above regarding youth. So the question immediately before us was around the positives and minuses of these two groups. Note, in simple terms, that one group (Education action development team) had been dedicated to education engagement and the second group (Jobs and skills action development team) was focused on the post school process.
(+) there is a strong commitment/ wide variety of stakeholders/ great opportunity to share and network / provided a forum to act collectively / good introduction platform / good stuff is happening
(-) where are the young people within the process / stronger purpose and follow on communication required / lack of awareness re the reference group members and broader community / poor continuity of services re outreach / greater potentials for collaboration/ in built barriers within program members / not being a true representation of a collective action required / gaps of representation / lack of measuring what is success.
The next part of the process involved rating the following systems or categories – as either broken, weak, normal, or strong. Education (school /tertiary / community), Youth services, Health services, Social enterprises, Foundations, Disability services, Employment services, Community, Networks and partnerships, Government, Media where all canvassed with a distinct theme of broken and weak dominating. Although the group did add a caveat to there judgment and added the word ‘improving’ to many of these fields of activity. Note the addition of ‘Transport’ as major underlying area of commonality for these broken and weak systems. One of the other dominate aspects, other than transport, was the continued reference to ‘outreach of services’ that come from other areas in an inconsistent and ad hoc nature.
But where is the ‘gut instinct’ of labelling coming from? Are we working too close with the stereotypical ideal of what constitutes the young person? My comment is that the problems faced are all normal because this is happening at a macro level in a lot of circumstances and in most locations. (Or if I had my cynical hat on I would have just said normal in the context of ‘SNAFU’). Whilst I am mindful that this exercise is there to drive the conversation I reflect back on my recent experience with the process undertaken by Deakin University and the ‘Leave No one Behind’ series of workshops with Wodonga Council (see here), and the more intense mapping process.
Immediate question – where do the two reference groups sit in relation to the overall community map (other networks, initiatives and projects) noting that the LLEN as an individual sits separate to the process. After some discussion it is deemed that there is no need for two separate groups.
Given a one group scenario, how do we capture the intent of this single reference/advisory group. The follow draft statements came from the floor – ‘Better youth outcomes, social and economic, by raising valid aspirations, through informing youth of their potentials, building community ownership and awareness, building sharing cohesion of support, advocacy for young people.’ So we had the basis of a vision and mission statement, with due consideration the following – the need to refocus on the spheres of influence and capabilities of the collective. In summary, “better social, educational and economic outcomes for young people.”
But what does the group do? The first and loudest ideal from the floor is NETWORKING. When broken down this encompasses the below;
- Provides a collaborative space / Host discussions for joint problem solving.
- Sharing ideas and knowledge / Analysis gaps in the system
- Discussions for collective actions / Analysis impacts of actions
- Encouraging best practices of service delivery / Establishes partnerships.
- Guides strategic direction / Advocates for an improved system
I see the similarity to the intention of other networks in the region and I recall the recent presentation on partnerships from Dixon Partnering Solutions at our recent NDCO conference. In that context there is one underpinning word that drives the efficiencies and effectiveness of all such networks and that word is ‘TRUST’. For these networks to succeed and thrive trust has to be at its centre. What I have noticed is that there is a collective drive within our communities to work much more collaboratively and I have sensed a definite shift in this space. I do have real hope that the collective impact change is coming, is happening and I would like to finish by saying ‘trust me’ but no, more accurate is trust one another with the big vision and pay attention to the small steps that matter. I look forward to seeing how this group proceeds out of the reinvigoration process and also how its outcomes align with the other similar workshops being conducted in the Wangaratta and Mansfield locations.