Australia’s ‘slow burn disasters’: why we need to share learning to respond better, together

Are we all in agreement that Australia’s most complex social issues require systematic change to ensure no one slips through the cracks, today or in the future?

As single organisations, our programs and services affect individual lives, but the systemic change that’s desperately needed can only be achieved by sharing learning and tracking change together.

Australia’s complex social issues – including early childhood developmental vulnerability, homelessness, youth unemployment and domestic violence – need to be re-framed as ‘slow burn disasters’. We need to learn from international humanitarian relief: when disaster hits, these organisations are immediately agile, acting quickly to save lives, working together while avoiding duplication, learning together based on rapid and continuous local assessment. This shows Australia’s NFP sector has the capacity to be nimble, responsive and act collectively, including with government, business and community.

Why do we lack a coordinated, urgent response to tackle Australia’s ‘slow burn disasters’?

We are a large sector, with many organisations working to address the same issues, yet we track change and learn in silos. No one plays the neutral coordinating role, bringing stakeholders together, analysing and sharing back to all who work on the issue.

We need to share measurement and learning on what works (and what doesn’t) to help change this. This is one of the conditions of a Collective Impact approach, because it creates an evidence base focus for activities and learning, and helps drive urgency and commitment.

To do this well requires those organisations, across sectors, to commit to three things:

Agreeing on the common goal is often straightforward enough. Agreeing on indicators however, is often easier said than done.

Here are two ways to start, and these can be combined:

Once indicators of success are collectively agreed, a ‘backbone’ coordinating role becomes crucial for enabling the gathering, analysing and sharing of information provided by the collective, both back to the group and where appropriate, to wider stakeholders.

Because the group learns what does/not work to achieve X goal, this leads to scaling up, adapting, and closing down particular activities. Innovation is fostered. Progress is made towards population level change.

The barriers to address Australia’s ‘slow burn disasters’ are not as big as they seem:

About the author

Eleanor Loudon is United Way Australia’s Head of Community Impact, with more than 15 years’ experience in community-led approaches, social inclusion, collaboration, and the management of innovative programming to increase impact and organisational accountability.

Related posts and stories

View All

Add Comment