Matthew & Lesley’s excellent (Collective Impact) adventure – PART 2

Matthew Cox and Professor Lesley Chenoweth are on a whirlwind tour of some of North America’s most successful Collective Impact and city development programs.

Lesley and Matthew with Rob Kahn from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Melissa McCoy from Strive Partnership.

After starting in New York city a mere 7 days ago, Matthew and Lesley have already covered 6 cities, dozens of meetings, and more flights and car trips than they care to mention. Now entering week 2 of the journey, the pair find themselves in Toronto, Ontario.

Thanks to Griffith University and the Department of Social Services for making the trip possible.


Day 7 – 29 October 2016

Toronto, Ontario

Niagara Falls

A rest day… well a rest morning. After six days waking up in a different part of the continent each day, meeting dozens of people, taking vast quantities of notes and spending hours at airports, on planes and on highways, we had the morning off.

Lesley caught up with a relative who’s involved in the Centre for Social Impact here in Toronto, and I grabbed a lift with two of our Council colleagues and drove around the end of Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls. The falls themselves are an incredible thing of nature, with a huge torrent of crystal clear water pounding down the wide cliff face.

George Westinghouse and Nikolai Tesla built the world’s first hydro power station here, too, utilising Tesla’s invention of AC electricity and getting the ‘one-up’ on Thomas Edison, whose patents made use of DC. The surrounding town is, sadly, not nice – a couple of second rate casinos, tired looking roadside diners, and a few rusty themed attractions.

Day 8 – 30 October

Vancouver, British Columbia

Port and Waterfront district

Vancouver is a lovely city with the population of South East Queensland but set on Sydney Harbour, and with mountains, snow, fir trees and seals. I’ve spent the day touring their urban renewal precincts, waterfront revitalisation area and looking at their transport solutions.

The city really started to be noticed in the 80s and 90s when the city rediscovered its industrial waterfront. It replaced some of its old wharves and rail precinct with a new convention centre, waterfront paths and restaurants, and like so many things we’ve seen in north America, this sparked a huge wave of revitalisation and investment in its previously declining downtown districts.

Interestingly, Vancouver hasn’t sanitised the waterfront precinct – it is still very much a commercial port, with large commercial vessels tying up just a kilometre or so from the new waterfront.

The sea plane terminal is right in the heart of the new precinct but it’s no tourist show – it’s a working airport with dozens of scheduled departures and arrivals throughout the day. With the rugged British Columbia coastline and islands difficult to serve by land transport, ships and sea planes have long been a transport mainstay, particularly for more remote settlements up the coast. It’s the vibrancy and interest created by this working port and airport infused with the new waterfront amenity that makes it such an interesting renewal case study.

View from Vancouver's Sea Plane terminal

The other thing Vancouver has achieved is the very rare feat of actually decreasing private car use as the population has increased. This is a combination of investment in an integrated range of transport options and determined town planning. The main urban area close to downtown has many high density apartment and townhouse developments allowing people to live in a vibrant urban neighbourhood close to work.

The transport options are numerous indeed. The Skytrain is a truly excellent mass transit system and is the fastest way to get around. The bike network is excellent, with the inner-city road network having dedicated and prioritised bike lanes on just about every street. The city bike scheme is well used and there are numerous car share options, with dedicated road space in prime locations. Uber, however, is not yet welcomed – causing much public debate.

There’s good news for Vancouver’s waterways as well. The redevelopment of the waterfront didn’t stop at the shoreline. When the old docks were removed, new artificial reefs and kelp beds were installed and a newly constructed inter-tidal zone was created, mirroring the natural rocky shoreline exposed at low tide. The resulting growth of kelp, seaweed, mussels, barnacles, star fish, and sea urchins has laid the foundation for a healthy ecosystem. Populations of salmon are returning, and with them seals, otters, mink and sea lions.

There’s a lot going right in Vancouver and tomorrow we will get to visit some of their premier collective impact projects to see how social development fits into the picture.

Day 9 – 31 October 2016


Directions Youth Services and the Youth Ageing Out of Care project

BC Kids in Care networkAcross the province of British Columbia around 7,000 children and young people live in out-of-home care. That figure was 10,000 a decade ago, but with determined leadership from the equivalent of our Child and Family Commission and local partners, the community has achieved this substantial reduction. Of those 7,000 children and young people, about 10% turn 19 and leave the care system each year. 70 of those 700 live in the City of Vancouver.

As in Queensland, the future of many young people leaving care is uncertain. In Vancouver, 40% wind up living on the streets. It’s this issue that the local service community is responding to via their collective impact-based Youth Ageing Out of Care project.

The project was initiated by Directions Youth Services working with local service partners after workshops by the Tamarack Institute. Those Tamarack folks seem to be everywhere in Canada.

Jane Frawley and I are meeting with backbone leader, Lucie Honey-Rae, campaign partners, and young people who have lived in care and who are helping drive the initiative.

What strikes us about the project is its do-ability. Everyone around the table is confident that across the five or so main youth service agencies, the government, and related service providers, that the required supports are there. These guys have a well developed theory of change and good governance structures, but what really impresses is the way they have harnessed the leadership of young people themselves. Joshua, who sits on the youth leadership committee, is articulate and thoughtful, and along with his peers, is clearly influential in shaping the strategy detailed roll out of the initiative.

The project is 18 months in and has some funding and sustainability challenges to meet, but they have the right people at the table and a very solid operating model.

SCOPE and the BC Child and Family Research Institute

BC Children's Hospital FoundationThe SCOPE team – research endocrinologist Dr Shazhan Ahmed, and project leader Susan Pinkney – based at BC Children’s Hospital, is pulling off something special. Their working to decrease levels of childhood obesity and increase activity levels.

Their core aim is to reduce the incidence of childhood type 2 diabetes – a lifestyle disease never recorded in children in the province until 25 years ago, but whose incidence is now growing at an alarming rate. The evidence base they have built at the Research Institute is clear: an increase in unhealthy eating, combined with a decrease in activity levels have brought this adults disease to an increasing number of children (the average age of diagnosis is 13 years).

The team have translated the core issues into a community mobilisation campaign that is getting traction right across the province. It’s branded as “Live 5,2,1,0”, which translates as:

  • 5 serves of fruit and vegetables each day
  • No more than 2 hours of screen time
  • 1 hour of active play
  • Go for zero calorie fizzy drinks or just drink water

Their success has been to mobilise the community around disseminating these messages and playing a nimble support role as local committees in different communities around the province work out the best ways of spreading the word.

Their research has shown these 4 behaviours have the maximum impact on diet and healthy weight.

Their success has been to mobilise the community around disseminating these messages and playing a nimble support role as local committees in different communities around the province work out the best ways of spreading the word.

The result is a dynamic resource library and support team that works with local people to develop roll out strategies that work in the local context. Where these local resources work, they are made generic and then loaded up into the resource library for others to use.

There’s tools for sports coaches to use as part of their weekly training sessions, “prescription pads” for doctors to use in the consult rooms – where patients leave with a “Live 5,2,1,0 prescription” that guides healthful habits, and – my favourite – local play boxes located in parks which Live 5,2,1,0 members can open with a code and access all sorts of sporting equipment and games.

Halloween at BC Children's HospitalThese are all neat ideas, but it is the co-design process and the sharing and customisation of these resources across different communities that is the key to success.

Holding it all together across a dozen or so different community contexts is the familiar collective impact infrastructure at a local and province-wide level.

It was a great meeting and their methodology can teach us a lot at Logan Together. It was also really fun being at a children’s hospital on Halloween. Everyone was in fancy dress, TV cameras were everywhere, and for one day at least, hospital was an ok place to be for dozens of young patients.

BC Federation of Youth Networks

Matthew and Jane Frawley with Directions Youth ServicesAbout 45 minutes drive from central Vancouver is the satellite city of New Westminster. Here, a small but remarkable organisation is tucked away in an unexciting building opposite the main law courts.

The BC Federation of Youth Networks is pretty unique. It was founded in 1993 by young people who had lived in care and wanted an organisation to give voice to young people from similar backgrounds, and to influence policy and program delivery.

At their board meetings, adult board members can’t vote (they are just there to provide technical expertise and advice) – only young people can.

I’m meeting with Chris Buchner and his team and board members. The extent to which the youth-led ethos of the organisation is maintained is impressive. All but two staff members are young people and just about all have experience in the care system. All their major policy development forums, service evaluation activity, support work and advocacy is led by extended networks of young people living in or graduated from care. At their board meetings, adult board members can’t vote (they are just there to provide technical expertise and advice) – only young people can.

As they put it – “we aren’t about youth engagement, we are about adult disengagement”. They mean that in the nicest possible way – why have adults do things when young people can do things for themselves ?

For a community of young people who haven’t had the easiest start in life, they are a positive and energetic bunch and are a living example of how empowering people to have a voice and control over the issues that affect them brings multiple benefits.

Day 10 – 2 November 2016

Los Angeles

Well, day 10 arrives and all of a sudden the North American Odyssey is over. But not before a visit to two of the best examples of social innovation we have seen.

Magnolia Family Center / Magnolia Community Initiative

Magnolia Community InitiativeOf all the amazing projects and organisations we have seen, Magnolia Community Initiative is probably the most complete mentor site for Logan Together. We are visiting Pat Bowie and Lila Guirguis, who founded the initiative at the Magnolia Family Center.

The project serves a community of around 100,000 people living in a 250 block segment of this most decentralised of cities. Home to 35,000 children and young people, the neighbourhood is located 10 minutes drive south-west of downtown LA.

The initiative was catalysed by the Children’s Bureau – a 100 year old children’s charity that thought differently about its purpose as it celebrated its centenary. Similar to Australia’s Ten20 Foundation, the organisation came to suspect that despite 100 years of trying hard, social conditions hadn’t improved, and it was time for something different.

That was in the mid 2000’s. Fast forward 5-10 years and the Magnolia Community Initiative is quietly transforming outcomes for the neighbourhood’s children and families. It started with the construction of the magnificent Magnolia Family Centre which co-locates early childhood education services, health services, social services, employment, and financial counselling support all in one welcoming building. The building is so attractive that it has sparked private investment in housing and retail space in the surrounding district.

On the back of this integrated effort, the wider Magnolia Community Initiative delivers social inclusion opportunities and integrated support services across a wide network of partners. The three focus areas are:

  • social isolation
  • child development
  • family stressors

They’ve got all of the elements of a rounded approach to their work: citizen engagement and co-design, data, clear logic models built around clear goals, a continuous learning and rapid prototyping culture – backed with processes, a focus on both physical touchstones – like the Family Center – and integrated working, and a clear recognition of the importance of social connectedness and social inclusion programming as a key tool in achieving social change.

Their intent is clear – in one of the back offices I find a large round sign that says, “we work to lift people out of poverty for good.” Their results are also increasingly clear – across the board, children in the neighbourhood are beating the odds and arriving at school in good shape.

As we are leaving, an elderly Jamaican man stops us: “This is a good place,” he says; “We need places like this all around, then things would be better.”

Promise Neighbourhoods – Youth Policy Institute

Matthew with staff from Promise NeighbourhoodHollywood is synonymous with glitz and glamour. On the ground it couldn’t be more different. Hollywood and surrounding neighbourhoods are the catchment for one of the first five Promise Neighbourhood grants established by President Obama to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone model in cities across the US.

We visit Bernstein High School between Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards to see how the Promise Neighbourhoods model is hitting the ground. It’s part of a cradle to career pipeline they have established in this challenged part of LA. The visit is hosted by the Project Director, Karina Favela-Barreras and her colleagues across the partnership, and Principal of the specialist STEM high school located within the campus, Paul Hirsch. About 10 team members give up their afternoon to host us.

Let’s start with the results: college enrolment rates have moved from 60% to between 80% and 90%; 100% of students have a post secondary plan; and there are no fights in the school, whaereas four years ago, an average of one student would be suspended for fighting each day.

Inside a Promise Neighbourhood SchoolThe key has been to inculcate a culture of college attendance, high expectations and possibility. With that has come an investment in guidance counsellors who know each and every student in the 1,500 person complex, and coordinated support across the social services space. They have also stitched relationships together across the education system. There’s 22 schools in the catchment, and trust building has been a key focus between school leaders and staff.

We meet Sandra, a local parent whose daughter is a student. She is involved in the school and is very proud of the progress her community is making. This year, 15 students went to the prestigious UCLA and one to Harvard. This sort of success is a real possibility for Sandra’s family, but just a few years ago, the thought would have been dismissed.

This is change at scale in a community many had given up on.

Farewell from the excellent adventure

It’s been an extraordinary privilege to meet so many inspiring people doing work that matters right across North America. There is much to learn and apply in Logan, but also much we can be proud of, because our own efforts stand up well against the best of what we have seen.

But for now it’s “adios” from LA, and Matthew and Lesley’s Excellent Collective Impact Adventure.

Our sincere thanks to Griffith University and the Department of Social Services for making the trip possible.

Recent News All News
Peter Kelly, Bert Van Manen MP, Alan Smith, Linda O'Brien Sod turning marks milestone for AEIOU

The official sod turning of a new AEIOU Centre for Logan kids with autism marks the 10th centre for the…

Logan_Together_1_9_2015_HighRes_75 Goodstart Early Learning to share video resources on the early years

Logan Together partner organisation Goodstart Early Learning is developing a range of video resources to highlight the value of early…

collaboration Collaboration for Impact: Community Engagement Workshop

In November, the team at Collaboration for Impact (CFI) brought together people from government and the not-for-profit sector for two…

Logan_Together_1_9_2015_HighRes_41 Go Goldfields celebrates 30 Days of Loved and Safe

Our friends from the Go Goldfields collective impact project in Victoria have been running a great social marketing campaign throughout…