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February 23, 2017

Sector trends: stories from the frontline part 2

Leaders reflect on how their organisations are responding to current sector trends in evidence-based practice, innovation capabilities, place-based service design and collaboration. See part 1 for trends 1-4.

There are seismic shifts in the sector impacting on organisations ranging from small social enterprises to large service delivery organisations and philanthropic foundations.

SVA Quarterly event
To take a deep dive into these issues, join the SVA Quarterly event in Melbourne on 27 February 2017 for a panel discussion with sector CEOs on how their organisations are responding to these trends. For more information and to register, visit SVA Quarterly event.

In part 1, we explored four of the top trends that leaders from a range of organisations around Australia had identified.

In part 2, we hear about how they are responding to the following trends – and the opportunities created – in their ongoing effort to increase impact:

  • Evidence-based practice
  • Innovation capabilities
  • Place-based service design, and
  • Collaboration.

What is fundamental when you see any trend is that you stay true to the needs of the people you work with.

June Oscar
June Oscar, CEO, Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre

June Oscar, AO, CEO of Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Crossing Women’s Resource Centre (MWRC) and recently appointed Social Justice Commissioner highlights that:

“What is fundamental when you see any trend is that you stay true to the needs of the people you work with. We have to use trends to our advantage to enhance our work but never let them detract from what the community needs.”

“For instance when it comes to community safety, we work with women across the community to tell us what empowers them in life to make environments in our society conducive to safety for them, their children and families. It is very important that we listen to lived experience so we implement what works, not what we think works. Then we all work to achieving the outcomes we all hold in common.”

5. Evidence-based practice

When it comes to evidence-based practice, June Oscar says:

“At this point in time it is incredibly important to be able to justify what we do with relevant and relatable evidence. But evidence can occur in many forms. Based on our local knowledge and lived experiences, we adapt evidence that has informed best practice holistic models of community development.”

… continually thinking about how we can use data to improve what we do and support the communities we serve.

Dallas Leon
Dallas Leon, CEO, Gidgee Healing

Dallas Leon, CEO, Gidgee Healing, an Aboriginal community-controlled health service, based in Mt Isa, which provides a range of primary health care services, to the local region reflects:

“Collecting and using the data that we generate through client interactions and in program delivery is a major focus for us. At a minimum, the ability to demonstrate that we are achieving the outcomes set by government is critical given the trend across the board for funding bodies in our area to tender competitively. However, we’re also continually thinking about how we can use data to improve what we do and support the communities we serve.

“For example, we’re providing families and schools with information on a child’s developmental status as well as tailored home and classroom strategies to enable a whole-of-community approach to helping all children grow up healthy and strong. We’re also providing local health councils with reports on the services provided and health issues impacting their community to empower them to make more informed decisions in their health planning. Our data also helps generate an evidence-base to inform future funding and policy development.”

Lyn Millett, Executive Director, Family and Community Services MercyCare, notes the importance of translating evidence into practice.

“There is a growing need to strike a balance between high level academic thinking and research and pragmatic application to service delivery. MercyCare has invested in teams that understand evidence and how it relates to practice, can analyse service design and conduct evaluations.

“We have investigated promising international practice in the context of new and existing services as well as sponsoring some cutting-edge practice discussions in WA. For example, MercyCare is showcasing the Alternatives to Suicide program which is an innovative peer-led suicide prevention program from the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Centre in Boston, USA. The February showcase outlines how this approach evolved and why it has been so successful.

“We have also invested with SVA in the development of an evidence-based organisational theory of change model and how this influences our thinking about new growth opportunities to ensure they fit mission and purpose. This links with an outcomes framework and person-centred program logic plans.”

… we are still slow to adopt ‘someone-else’s’ evidence-based practice.

Sarah Davies
Sarah Davies, CEO, Philanthropy Australia

Giving a funders perspective is Sarah Davies, CEO of Philanthropy Australia which works to represent, grow and inspire an effective and robust philanthropic sector for the community.

“There’s no doubt that funders and investors are looking for proof that organisations are translating evidence into practice; some require this to be demonstrated before agreeing to fund. Non-profit organisations are well on the way to building their capability and practice in this space. However, we are still slow to adopt ‘someone-else’s’ evidence-based practice.”

6. Innovation capabilities in organisations to drive change, learn and revise

The reforms in government policy and funding and ensuing market deregulation and increased competition is a big driver of innovation in the sector. As providers rethink the way they do things, innovation is being introduced as a strategy to respond to sector changes. Organisations are aware that to remain relevant to customers, as competition increases and new market entrants arrive, an innovation strategy can help.

For some it is creating opportunities.

… an opportunity to develop new products and services that customers need, away from the constraints of government contracts.

Liz Forsyth
Liz Forsyth, Executive Director at Northcott Innovation

Liz Forsyth, Executive Director at Northcott Innovation, an organisation which creates ‘unexpected’ solutions for people with disability, says that Northcott is seeing “the National Disability Insurance Scheme as an opportunity to develop new products and services that customers need, away from the constraints of government contracts”.

A number of organisations in the disability sector have adopted innovation strategies. Kickstarting an innovation strategy highlights four of them and details some of the structures being employed to implement innovation strategies.

We owe it to them to put in place best practice and implement the learnings of our practice.”

Luke Terry, CEO of Toowoomba Clubhouse

“Learning and innovation isn’t just a good idea to attract funding. Even though often the first question a supporter asks us is ‘how are you different from the other models currently on offer?’ and ‘how will you know your program is or isn’t getting the desired outcome?’

“Many people we work with have been through many programs. We owe it to them to put in place best practice and implement the learnings of our practice.”

Sarah Davies, Philanthropy Australia

“It is universally recognised that innovation capabilities are a ‘must have’ to be both effective and future-ready. However, there’s still a lag in the resourcing and funding for this work.”

7. Place-based service design

There is an increasing recognition that to help communities tackle the complex social problems of entrenched poverty and disadvantage, services need to be designed for ‘that place and those people’.

Emma King, VCOSS
Emma King, CEO of VCOSS

Emma King, CEO of Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) is seeing a strong desire for place-based approaches and for overcoming the barriers to place-based work.

The VCOSS report: Communities taking power: Using place-based approaches to deliver local solutions to poverty and disadvantage outlines why a place-based approach is needed, a framework of 13 elements for place-based approaches to help communities deliver local solutions, and how the community, the community sector and government can help make place-based approaches work.

VCOSS emphasises the need for place-based approaches to bring the community together to build on local strengths, empower people and over time integrate the solutions.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL), a community organisation that works to prevent and alleviate poverty across Australia, has been re-orientating much of its work so that it gives more emphasis to the issue of the ‘community’ and the ‘place’ in which people live.

Tony Nicholson, CEO, BSL

Tony Nicholson, CEO of BSL says:

“This arises out of a concern that all too often public policies designed to arrest poverty and exclusion are solely directed at individuals or households. They tend to ignore the reality that we live in a place or community in which the underlying economic circumstances and the prevailing ethos create opportunities or throw up barriers to being able to set mainstream goals and pursue them.

“This understanding has led us to two conclusions. Firstly, we need to pay more attention to engaging with and fully understanding the communities in which we work. This involves ensuring local people are heard in deciding what type of services are needed and that local community networks are fostered and volunteer contributions are fostered.

This involves finding ways to work in a complementary fashion with colleague organisations rather than competing with them.

“Secondly, we can only be successful if we work in close collaboration with those who share our objectives. This involves finding ways to work in a complementary fashion with colleague organisations rather than competing with them, and in doing so, driving efficiencies, eliminating duplication and providing an integrated service offer in communities.”

Sarah Davies, Philanthropy Australia

Although place-based service design is not a new approach to social change, popularity has waxed and waned over the years. Fortunately, there is now enough momentum that it’s unlikely to wane again! The challenge is linking it with evidence-based practice and getting the right mix of local ownership and relevance.

… they convened them in small projects that sought to create immediate, measureable outcomes for children and young people through collaboration…

Kerry Graham
Kerry Graham, Director of Collaboration for Impact

Kerry Graham, Director of Collaboration for Impact, has worked closely with Burnie Works, a place-based initiative in north-west Tasmania which uses a collective impact approach to address low school retention and high youth unemployment.

A key learning from Burnie Works is that the approach requires getting comfortable with emergence: with developing strategy through learning. Rather than building a shared understanding of the challenge and creating a shared approach to achieving large scale change, the initiative instead worked on building the community aspiration for change and the collaborative principles and capabilities.

‘Instead of engaging stakeholders in detailed agenda setting, they convened them in small projects that sought to create immediate, measureable outcomes for children and young people through collaboration,’ writes Kerry Graham in the article: A collective impact learning lab.

‘They learn by facilitating small ‘experiments’, watching them closely for intended and unintended consequences, adjusting as they go and dialling up what works.

‘This is a very different approach to the current way we conceive of place-based reform – which is usually about integrating services or introducing a set of interventions that worked elsewhere. It is also fundamentally different from the way strategy is traditionally delivered, where the intended impact is determined and interventions selected which are then delivered consistently and unchangingly over time.’

8. Collaboration

An often used catch cry in the sector, collaboration is increasingly the response to other challenges particularly resourcing constraints, but also to create the most appropriate and therefore effective service delivery. Any place-based service necessarily involves collaboration.

Sarah Davies, Philanthropy Australia

“Collaboration is inextricably linked with place-based change which can only be achieved through collaboration. Funders’ appetite for collaboration has grown particularly in smaller projects as collaboration makes them more effective and enjoyable and reduces the risk. Collaboration has also increased amongst service providers although it’s more patchy! Overall, we seem to talk about it more than we do it!”

…to achieve better outcomes for the people we serve, we need to seriously lift our collaborative effort.

Jack Heath
Jack Heath, CEO of SANE

Jack Heath, CEO of SANE, a national charity helping people affected by mental illness to lead a better life, concurs.

“If we in the mental health sector want to achieve better outcomes for the people we serve, we need to seriously lift our collaborative effort. This calls on us to rise above our individual and organisational egos to find better ways of working together.

“At SANE Australia, through our online forums, we partner with more than 40 mental health organisations. Together, we are opening up the huge, but largely untapped, community resource of peer support – something we could never do on our own. With the assistance of Social Ventures Australia, we are also working with other mental health organisations as we look to build sustainable collaborations that deliver practical results for our constituents and our organisations.”

June Oscar, MWRC

“In terms of funding we have sought to deepen our partnerships with philanthropic and corporate friends. We have looked at non-conventional funding forms but still highly value our partnership with government at the state and federal level. We see all funders as partners and have moved into co-design relationships that explore resourcing our development approach in more ways than just financial.

“This includes a wonderful partnership with GoodStart Early Learning that has worked with us to develop a secondment program for their staff based on providing cultural intelligence immersion for early childhood educators. Our relationship with SVA is extremely significant as it helps us understand the power of social enterprise for both financial empowerment for women and the possibility of an alternative model to finance operational aspects of our organisation. Here we grasp challenges as opportunities, always prepared to see possibilities when knowing that we must continue to make positive change for women on the ground.”

…we want to make sure we’re delivering what the .

For Gidgee Healing, Dallas Leon reports:

We have found that the ability to collaborate is critical as we can’t expect to do it all ourselves. We have been collaborating with communities to design our services, with partners to deliver the service, and with SVA on monitoring and evaluating our services.

“Collaboration is particularly important because we want to make sure we’re delivering what the community needs, and because we’re in a rural and remote setting which has significant challenges in terms of recruitment and retention.

“For example, we run a drug and alcohol facility in partnership with Salvation Army (in operation for two years) and have been working with Save the Children to deliver integrated services in the Lower Gulf. We plan to do more of this as we recognise that really strong partnerships can go a long way to address some of the specific challenges that are evident in rural, remote settings.”

For Luke Terry, Toowoomba Clubhouse partnerships shape initiatives.

More than 50 partners, many from outside Toowoomba, were involved in the Clubhouse’s recent project, the Vanguard Laundry Services social enterprise. This could not have been achieved without collaboration. Our mantra through the project hasn’t been ‘how much will it cost’ but ‘which one of our partners could help us with this’.”


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