Effective Systems: What’s Important
When we ask the question: “How do we make families and communities thrive ?” we find we have a pretty good answer … we just need to put it into practice.
Over the last 40 years or so the social services system in Australia has grown enormously. It has developed organically responding to needs across society as they have presented themselves. Today we find the social investment system is very much hostage to problems that it seeks to manage.
We have homelessness programs to deal with homelessness, jobs programs to deal with joblessness, family support programs to deal with families in crisis, and so it goes on. Hundreds upon hundreds of disconnected initiatives funded through similar-but-different policy frameworks and agency arrangements at federal, state and local government levels, and through philanthropy.
These investments land in Logan and other local communities like a meteor shower, each one inspiring in its own way, but often too small or fleeting to meaningfully attack the root causes of poverty. Instead these meteors seek to do the good they can do in their limited life and scope. They manage people through crises. They moderate the impacts of particular social ills. They mitigate harm after it has occurred. They make poverty less unpleasant – for a while.
Make no mistake: many wonderful, skilled people, working for principled and effective organisations are doing good work we can learn from. There are many examples where this work is having a transformative effect. But these wins are achieved in spite of the social investment system, they are not enabled by it. At the systems level, the meteor shower has utterly failed to shift the underlying dynamics of disadvantage in Australia. Worse, it impedes people and organisations who try to create community uplift. At broad scale, social investment over the last 40 years in Australia, as elsewhere, has not made life better for our most marginalised citizens.
Everyone thinks we can do better. Senior politicians, heads of Government, policy makers, community and service organisation leaders, front line workers, families and clients of social services all agree it’s time to change.
The starting point is to change the question at the heart of social policy and social investment. We need to cease asking, “How do we manage the social problems in our communities ?”. That questions leads us to the meteor shower – dozens of disconnected responses valiantly trying to address the symptoms of poverty and marginalisation.
Instead we must ask, “How do we make families and communities thrive?”
When we ask that questions we find we have a pretty good answer: Act long term to build human potential for an entire generation of local people. The early years are the most important in this endeavour so we must start before birth and then do the things that matter for human development at each critical stage of development through childhood and beyond. Connecting people and building social capital is crucial as well, so investment in social inclusion, engagement and connection is vital too.
Designing our service systems and our social investment around these core ideas is the way forward – but it will mean change for all of us.
The issues we’re tackling in our Effective Systems work include:
- Reducing fragmentation of social investment and redesigning integrated services around the needs of families and communities
- Rebalancing social investment so that more resources flow to engagement, community empowerment, capacity building, social inclusion and social connection
- Exploring new decision-making models that devolved decisions closer to the community and involve, in a real way, local people and their lived experience in making decisions
- Building workforce development strategies across disciplines to that anyone with a role that faces families and kids is well supported and well skilled to do this really important work
Tracking the Data
We don’t know how to measure our work in effective systems yet.
We are talking with economists and evaluators to work out how to best account for improvements in the way social investment works and how changes will bring real impact to people’s lives in Logan.
We can think of lots of ways of measuring our activity in this area, but we’d love to hear from you if you can help us frame up how we measure success.