The nature of challenges Australia is facing are increasingly complex both at local & global levels. Challenges such as the climate crisis; self determination of First Nations peoples; increasing displacement of refugees and asylum seekers; housing affordability and increasing homelessness; and overall increasing inequality in Australia. The responses of government and the service system however tend to still be grounded in programmatic, silo-ed responses, relying on external experts to solve the challenges. These responses by themselves may be useful for simple or complicated challenges but are insufficient to address complex adaptive problems which require changes in thinking, behaviour, power or values across many parts of society. We know it’s a complex challenge when it has:
• multiple and intersecting causes
• little consensus about the causes or potential solutions of the problem
• occurs across traditional sector boundaries
• requires the input of a diverse range of stakeholders to identify potential causes and solutions.
At their core complex challenges require collaboration. All those with a stake in the problem need to work together to develop new understanding, approaches and solutions. The nature of complex problems requires co-creation of solutions, with citizens, leaders and organisations agreeing to a common agenda and then aligning their efforts and resources to achieve measurable large-scale change. There is growing acceptance that well-designed and effective systemic collaboration is at the heart of initiatives that bring about deep, lasting large-scale social change. There are three big challenges to addressing complex problems in Australia:
1. Lack of understanding of how to respond to complexity
There is currently no easy and accessible way to develop the required understanding.
In the Australian social impact sector technical solutions are primarily used to address complex problems. Technical solutions are needed but they alone are not sufficient. They do not address root causes, meaning they do not change the underlying social, economic, administrative and political conditions which create the problem in the first place. Complex problems will not be solved by our current ways of thinking and working. They require people to understand complexity and learn new ways of thinking and working.
2. Lack of skills in systems change, collaboration and leadership
There is currently no easy and accessible way to acquire the required skills.
Many initiatives start the work of collaboration applying the skills which work for leading organisations or delivering programs. They soon find that these skills are insufficient to sustain collaboration and achieve large scale change.
3. Lack of curation of learning & evidence of impact
There is currently no easy and accessible way to learn from the emerging Australian field
There is a growing practice of collaboration for systems change emerging in Australia. However, the infrastructure to communicate and share experience and expertise is weak and fractured, where it exists at all. Basically, stakeholders are not collaborating very well to collaborate better. As a result, learning is not as fast or as effectively as needed. Stakeholders haven’t learned quickly and effectively from the experience of people who are working on the ground where they are trialling using different collaboration processes for system change. Too much of that work is disconnected and fragmented and the way people find out about what works (and what doesn’t and why), is slow and inefficient.
The literature and practice is clear. In order to solve complex problems people must intentionally and consistently:
• Co-create solutions with the communities or beneficiaries of the solutions
• Agree to a common agenda and then align their efforts and resources over the long term to that agenda.
• Use data to support their learning and efforts, capturing impact continuously.
• Engage in ongoing learning.
This way of working is counter to most institutions culture, processes and what they incentivise. Without increased capacity and learning, most collaborative efforts revert back to status quo. To make the changes required people need:
• To acquire the knowledge and skills to deepen community, foster citizen engagement, collaborate across sectors, measure and evaluate community change, and support innovation.
• To learn to change together.
We believe that true community and systems change occurs when citizens and organizations adopt new ways of thinking and working together that embrace an asset-based approach that emphasizes what is possible if we work in collaboration. Since 2013, Collaboration for Impact has been walking alongside social change initiatives working on large scale collaborative change. We have been harvesting and sharing learnings from what’s happening on the ground across Australia and internationally resulting in the gathering of tools, practice and resources to embed in the support we provide on the ground. We have seen the best of what works and have a metaview of the learning from what doesn’t work. Communities, governments and practitioners have been consistently calling for a platform that allows access to what we are learning as a field to enable initiatives to guide their own learning but also importantly have a platform to come together and share with peers and continue to learn from and with each other. This is why have invested in the creation of Platform C – because large-scale change requires collaboration in learning, not just implementation.