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19 Dec 2021

The role of government as a partner in community-based collective change

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The role of government as a partner in community-based collective change

By Rodney Greene & Kylie Burgess, Burnie Works


Burnie Works was one of the first place-based Collective Impact projects to participate in Stronger Places, Stronger People (SPSP), a joint state and federal government-led collective impact initiative. As one of the first projects established for the SPSP initiative, we wanted to share the learnings from our experience, in the hope of further strengthening the initiative and giving other communities a head start.

Self-determination by communities, especially disadvantaged communities with limited formal leadership capacity and opportunity to express their voice, is critical to the success of SPSP. However, the community can only do so much on its own. Governments alone have the power to influence many of the policies and processes that hold conditions in place and enable or block community-driven change. A partnership between all levels of government and the backbone organisation committed to understanding the role of power and the capacity to influence is vital to support systems change.  

Some SPSP and other collective impact sites are demonstrating what can be achieved when government partners are close to the work on the ground and willing to make changes in areas that they have power and control over. There have been significant shifts in some states for data sharing with communities to enable sense and meaning-making of administrative data so that communities can make decisions about the focus of action. In our experience, we have also seen what can be achieved when government officials, who have the power to make decisions and influence other internal government stakeholders, are in the room with community leaders. Changes, for example, access to previously unavailable data, can happen in a day.

While some state governments and sites are leading the way, others aren’t consistently working this way yet. Government’s hold data that communities don’t get to see or be part of conversations about what might be contributing to the data outcomes; determination of community needs must respond to what the data is showing. They also set strategies, policies and prioritise programs based on their own agendas, which may not necessarily be the community’s agenda.

We have observed that the difference in relationships can be explained by different levels of risk appetite, confidence in communities to be part of decision making and ideas creation, and resources available to government officials to engage deeply and consistently with what is happening on the ground.

This difference in relationships and power dynamics between all levels of government and communities will impact on the capacity for SPSP and other initiatives to achieve long term objectives and need to be considered in the evaluation of SPSP and other place-based initiatives.

Burnie Works has completed two learning cycles to reflect on the progress of its collective impact work with its partners. Relationships and power dynamics is a key theme that we continue to reflect on with our partners.

We offer the following strategies to work towards a nationally consistent approach to partnering with government for the systems change needed to create long term collective impact.

     1. In addition to the current assessment of a community’s readiness for place-based systems change programs, there needs to be an assessment of readiness of each level of government to commit to contributing to systems change. This includes an appetite for and capacity to manage risk, and commitment and capacity to influence change across agencies and systems within the government ecosystem.

     2. Intentional reflection by all partners on the concept of power in authorising environments. Generally, services are delivered by government acting within a Westminster system with final accountability being with a Minister. In place-based collective impact, it is the community which determines the services they need and how they are delivered. What does an accountability framework look like within those communities, and between communities and government, when power is tipped on its head?

     3. The regular action planning process and resulting plan should include mutual expectations and commitments of action by each level of government to address the barriers of systems change and processes for mutual accountability linked to the funding agreement. This could include agreed outputs and KPIs relating to access to data, policy reform processes, flexibility for place-based funding and quantifying in-kind support.

     4. Ensuring that there is alignment between government strategies that relate directly to long term community change, the KPIs in these strategies and KPIs and expectations of communities. For example, recently released wellbeing, family safety and other state and Commonwealth strategies.

     5. Expectations of what communities can achieve through nationally funded programs may need to be adjusted to reflect what is possible in the specific state context. Understanding the impact of the context on outcomes needs to be included in national initiative evaluations.

The SPSP initiative is achieving some great outcomes. Stronger, more equitable and consistent partnerships between government and community would only amplify that impact.


This post is part of a series about our learnings from Burnie Works. Stay tuned for more!

See previous posts in this series:

10 Tips for Making the Most of Collective Impact

About Kylie Burgess

Kylie’s role in the Burnie Works team is to embed systems and practices that enable shared learning across the place-based community change activities. The goal is that these approaches support the evolution of collective impact models as they become a way of working. She brings to the work her 20 years of experience in government and non-government sectors where she was involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of social policy, programs and initiatives. Kylie is passionate about leading and working with others to create environments for social change. This includes working with all parts of the social ecosystem to adapt and thrive so they can meet the complex needs of the communities they serve while challenging the policies and power dynamics that maintain unjust systems.  


About Rodney Greene

Rodney is the Systems Leader for Burnie Works on the northwest coast of Tasmania, and is also program manager for the Connected Beginnings site at kutalayna in Tasmania’s south.

He has been involved in Collective Impact initiatives for the past eight years and continues to grow and apply his knowledge on systems leadership across multiple sectors. He has a particular interest in applying collective impact principles to economic and workforce development.

He holds a Masters degree in Community Management and is a board member on the Tasmanian Council of Social Services.


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