Government can be a powerful enabler for those on the readiness runway. This is a phase where an issue(s) has been identified and people are looking for change. Key roles for government during this phase include listening, sharing knowledge, engaging government colleagues and connecting people at the local level.
Government’s experience in policy, system design, funding and monitoring of programs and services means you have a good birds eye view of how communities are faring across your jurisdiction. You’ll often know where things are working well and where communities are facing persistent challenges.
Governments hold a broad range of data sets including demographic data, early years, education, health, wellbeing and safety – as well as expertise in data analytics, linkage and data visualisation. This information can be incredibly useful for communities to gain a better understanding of what is happening at the local level. Government also often has programmatic expertise that can be drawn on to provide the story behind the data, to further unpack and make sense of what is happening. Often communities have access to bits of data that services or local government share, but rarely have access to a comprehensive data picture. Government also has considerable connections and relationships across government departments, funded agencies and thought leaders.
Things to be mindful of:
- Community frustration: in this phase there is not a clear way forward to address local concerns. These issues have often been known by local people for a long time with no change. Communities may feel powerless to enact change, and government is often viewed as a blocker. Be patient and listen, build your understanding about what is happening for people locally.
- Trust takes time: there is an opportunity for government to being to regain trust in this phase by spending time listening and sharing what they know to help community members gain a deeper understanding of local issues and identify places where work may commence.
- Don’t try to fix it: Government often takes on responsibility for fixing complex social problems. Government definitely has a role in the design and funding of key services, but if you jump in to action to quickly you risk disempowering the local community, over-simplifying the issue, narrowing the scope too quickly, and missing the real causal factors that will impact change.
- The complexity of government: Government can feel impenetrable and confusing to navigate. Community members often don’t know who they need to speak to, how government priorities are determined or how decisions are made. By connecting people to your colleagues in relevant government portfolio areas and explaining how government works you can help demystify government as well as upskill community members to engage with government effectively.
- Get creative in sharing knowledge: sometimes it can take time to get the necessary permissions to share data with community members. So… get creative! Confirm if you can share information and what you can share. For example, if you can’t share some data you might instead be able to draw on colleagues with programmatic expertise who can tell the story about what is happening and why from their perspective.
- Sharing connections and relationships: A key way government can support communities is through connections to: other communities who are tackling similar issues; local leaders who are delivering services; and to programs or government colleagues across portfolios.
- The power government holds: At both the national level and state level government is a key deliverer of services to people experiencing vulnerability e.g. income support, child protective services, public housing. Government is also the core funder and monitor of a broad range of services and programs. As such government holds considerable power in the eyes of local citizens and the funded sector. This can make people wary of engaging in honest conversations about what is working and what is not working.