July 2022

Learning together about what community-led approaches mean for government

Since 2018 CFI has been working with the Department of Social Services (DSS), the National Leadership Group and ten communities around Australia who have partnered together on the Stronger Places, Stronger People (SPSP) initiative. For DSS, the purpose of SPSP is “to demonstrate that place-based collective impact practice can create better outcomes for children and their families and can disrupt disadvantage in participating communities over time, where decades of interventions have failed.” 

The long-term goal is to explore and develop through strategic learning, regular reflection and joint measurement, a new model of addressing the root causes of disadvantage in Australian communities. As work has developed over the last few years, government and community partners have been holding the question: what are the shifts in ways of working and the capabilities required from all partners to support community-led agendas for change? 

Building on the depth of learning and insight from the local to national level, last month, SPSP held its first face-to-face learning event for government partners involved in place-based and community-led initiatives in Sydney on 22-23 June 2022. The event brought together state and Commonwealth government officials from a range of agencies to learn from each other about what these approaches mean for government ways of working and identify how to increase alignment to community-led agendas.

The workshop built on a series of 3 webinars between March – June 2022, showcasing lessons from SPSP and other place-based initiatives across Australia. The topics were shared reporting mechanisms (Hands Up Mallee), government support to community-led agendas (Maranguka), and challenges and opportunities to align funding and frameworks based on research from the University of Queensland (UQ) and CFI. As learning partners with the SPSP Initiative, Collaboration for Impact co-designed and facilitated the event and webinar series.

State & Commonwealth panel sharing good practices: Prof Jack Beetson (PIC), Max Saxby (NIAA), Tara Day-Williams (DSS), Carolyn Atkins (Vic DJPR)

State & Commonwealth panel sharing good practices: Prof Jack Beetson (PIC), Max Saxby (NIAA), Tara Day-Williams (DSS), Carolyn Atkins (Vic DJPR)

The tensions and behaviours involved in sharing power and decision-making were a central theme throughout the two days. A presentation from ANZSOG explored the role of power and politics, authorising environments and organisational capacity, illustrated by examples from the establishment of the First Peoples Assembly and the Yoorrook Commission in Victoria. This forward looking discussion was complemented by a potted history of place-based initiatives in Australia over the last century from UQ. The need for robust documentation of learning and the role of the civil service in ensuring continuity when elected officials change were key insights. 

Five backbone leads attended on the second day and shared key themes from the Annual Learning Event, held in Adelaide in May with community leaders from SPSP initiatives, and their offers and suggestions for government. A panel of state and Commonwealth officials shared tangible examples of changes being implemented in contracting, sharing decision-making, briefing processes and development of capability and learning frameworks that support community-led approaches. Being comfortable with the level of discomfort operating in this shared middle space demands, and the different notions of time that working in partnership requires were noted. Participants were energised by the opportunity to amplify these ways of working, that a new government with a focus on the four priority areas of the Closing the Gap, and on First Nations Voice, presents.

Four questions were workshopped in small groups, generating a range of ideas and potential actions:

  • How to support a backbone function within government to coordinate and align place-based investment
  • How an existing grant scheme could be a model for integrated funding for community-led initiatives
  • How to explore service and investment mapping as core business of the Commonwealth to support communities to make better decisions
  • How changing Ministerial and other briefing processes can support better alignment to existing community-led agendas

This set of priorities, the culmination of lessons shared by SPSP partners throughout 2022, will form the basis for continued discussion with a wider group of stakeholders both within government, and with communities and service providers working together over the coming months.


Author, Sarah Callaghan – Systems Change Practitioner, Collaboration for Impact.

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