Back in October I wrote briefly about a trip I did to Burnie in Tasmania as part of the The Search initiative in Turning the Curve Thinking. The Search was an initiative of Kerry Graham and Collaboration for Impact to select the most promising, early stage collective impact initiative in Australia.

As stated in the brief “This community will act as a ‘lighthouse’ example for future Collective Impact initiatives, and transform the way that Australian communities work together to solve our toughest social issues.”

As I headed back to Burnie in mid November, as part of the Executive Visit of the Catalysing Group, I wondered how the work being done by the Burnie Works initiative would live up to this brief. As we arrived to spend two days learning together about the work being done it was evident from the packed agenda there was a lot going on – but would it be transformational?

We first took a tour of the town and heard the back story of the rapid growth and then demise of major industries/employers in the town which left Burnie with the underlying challenges around employment and keeping children at school and/or in a learning environment.

We broke into groups to visit and learn about different parts of the initiative:

  • Dream Big – a program that encourages Grade 5 students to Dream Big and look beyond perceived barriers when considering their future beyond High School.
  • BIG – an industry and education group formed by representatives in the community focused on valuing education and guiding children onto a positive career and life pathway.
  • Hilltop Garden Market – A community food hub to support the development of skills and knowledge around healthy lifestyles and food production.
  • Communities for Children – provides funding and coordination for services and activities that ensure children have the best start in life by encouraging a positive approach.
  • 10 Families – is using collective impact and a whole family approach focused on school attendance to assist families to ensure that their children remain connected to education.
  • Employment Partnership Group – is made up of representatives for Jobactive Providers, Registered Training Organisations and Disability Employment Services in Burnie.

After day 1 it was evident that there was certainly a level of passion, a sense of community and a common agenda. Each program in it’s own right was doing good work but was it enough to be transformational? At dinner we met with the Local Enabling Group and came away thinking that along with the passion, sense of community and common agenda there were some visionary and emotionally intelligent people leading this initiative.

On day 2 our group visited the 10 families initiative and this was the moment for me that it all came together. We met a the Family and Community Centre/Hub and witnessed the depth of the collaboration. This was not just a number of parts operating independently to a common good but a interconnected body of work that was operating to turn the curve. At the core of this, and this is the kicker, was a focus on outcomes for the families. The initiatives and all the good work was contributing at multiple levels to effect a change in outcomes for families. From parents having the opportunity to attend tertiary eduction (which they had not believed possible), to grade 5 children having the ability to experience and dream big their future, to employers retraining and re-skilling, displaced workers – and thats just a small slice of the action!

And there we were sitting around a table hearing from those involved in 10 Families how they had put the families at the centre enabling them to rise above the limitations of how agencies are funded and to provide wrap around services drawing on the collective resources available. This was transformational.

My trip to Burnie has left me with a belief that this community has found the secret sauce to making collaboration work. Theme’s emerged – being humble, about the group and what we are doing not individuals, innovation, willing to work with us, prepared to experiment and take risks, come from a client perspective not a service provider perspective.

There is much work to be done to sustain the initiative to make an impact over time. To do this requires multi-level change:

  • Change Outcomes at Employment & Education level
  • Change Behaviours at Families level
  • Change Practice at Organisation & Institutional level
  • Change System at the Funder level.

The quote on the Burnie Works new website says it best:

“Many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world”

Anonymous – Berlin Wall

This is the essence of the initiative – it has only come about through good people who had a collective vision and the commitment and purpose to bring people along on the journey (They are featured in the video!). I feel privileged to have spent time with those people and can’t wait to take the next step of the journey with them.

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