Building the Foundations. Role of Government


For some, ‘Building the Foundations for Change’ can be an exciting time. A group is emerging that is committed to change. There is a real sense of urgency and activity is underway with partners mapping the system and starting to work on testing hypotheses. For others, it may feel messy or chaotic as there is often not a clear plan.  The purpose of why people are coming together may feel a bit fuzzy and it can seem like it keeps shifting. 

Key roles of government in this phase include learner, enabler and connector. Draw on your colleagues across government portfolios to support the development of a holistic understanding about what is happening across the system. This phase can feel messy and unstructured; it is important to not push a certain direction to achieve clarity or to develop an action plan. This messiness is part of the process and it will sort itself out over time. Government’s traditional linear project management approach from problem identification to solution development is not effective in tackling complex problems. There is value in partners starting out small, testing ideas, trying out new ways of working together, and letting strategy and purpose emerge as you learn. 

You may feel frustration from community that government is too rigid or prescriptive, or is slow to change in response to community need. Sit with it and look for opportunities to get involved in some early projects to test new ways of working. Together you might identify some ‘quick wins’ that government may adopt early in the process, or that community are encouraged to run with.
Requests for data are likely to become increasingly specific and localised as partners are wanting to better define the problem and inform what to do next, and then measure what has changed. Pretty quickly it will become clear that data is not enough to answer these questions, or may not be available. Partners will need to tap into local knowledge to add meaning to what the available data is saying. Your connections across government, the funded sector and thought leaders may be useful to draw on for knowledge, technical expertise or funding. 

During this phase be mindful of:

  • Rushing to define scope: resist the need to simplify the mess and create a structure with an action plan. It is too soon. This is a phase of deep dives into local issues. Narrow in too quickly and you risk missing the connections between causal factors. Strategy defined too early will not be fit for purpose and will fail. 
  • System change over programmatic responses: a programmatic solution, such as additional or joined-up services are not wrong, they are just not sufficient to solve the problem, keep your eye on the system levers you think may create impact at the local level. 
  • Engage broadly across government: use your connections to engage your colleagues across government. Together you can enable easy navigation and engagement across portfolios to contribute to system mapping as well as to draw on knowledge, data and discretionary funding.
  • Community assets: there are many initiatives that community are best placed to lead. They have access to resources and can advocate where government cannot. The earlier communities are empowered to drive change, and make mistakes along the way, the better.
  • The power government holds: be mindful of the signals you send early in the process. Government has a reputation for top-down decision making, rather than collaborating and figuring it out together with community. It is important to ensure community voice is at the table from the beginning. This will help build trust that the intent to collaborate is genuine. 
  • Holding multiple roles: working in government your role may include supporting the current system, or maintaining the status quo through, for example, contract management or performance monitoring roles. Holding these roles whilst participating in a collaborative initiative that asks you to disrupt business as usual to achieve better outcomes is challenging. Be clear that you will taking a different role as part of the collaborative, with the aim to share your expertise and learn from the group about what you or your colleagues may need to do differently to achieve better outcomes.
  • Connect the work to Government priorities: support partners to see the connection between their work and government priorities. This will support your role as a connector and a promoter of the work. 

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