Over the last 2 years we have witnessed the interconnectedness of our community at a scale not witnessed before in our lifetime. We’ve seen that every action we take has both intended and unintended consequences. We’ve locked down our communities to save lives during COVID, but this has also seen a growth in demand for mental health and domestic and family violence support.
If only the challenges we faced were as simple as 1 + 1 = 2, but they’re not. The traditional and linear problem solving methods we’ve used in the past don’t work in the society we live in today. Nor do they work for the complex or “wicked” problems we are currently confronting.
If only the challenges we faced were as simple as 1 + 1 = 2, but they’re not. The traditional and linear problem solving methods we’ve used in the past don’t work in the society we live in today. Nor do they work for the complex or “wicked” problems we are currently confronting. Wicked problems like poverty, inequality, and climate change are not individual problems that can be solved with one simple action or by an individual organisation. Instead one problem is a symptom of another problem, difficult to define and involving numerous stakeholders with different ideas about the problems and solutions (Rittel and Webber 1973).
Despite this, we are optimistic at TCP. We believe we can create a world where every person in Australia can thrive. A world where everyone has fair access to the essential services they need to thrive, and a world where we can all experience wellbeing and fullness of life. But to achieve this we need to look at why there is such a great disparity between the vision we want for Australia and the reality that many people across the country are living, and to look at what we need to do differently to overcome this disparity. The problems we face today cannot be solved in isolation, nor with the same thinking that created them in the first place (2). We need to rethink not only what we are doing, but how we are doing it.
At TCP we know the best results for individuals, organisations and the community occur when we have a movement of organisations working collaboratively within and across sectors working to build an equitable and connected essential service ecosystem, centred on people.
At TCP we know the best results for individuals, organisations and the community occur when we have a movement of organisations working collaboratively within and across sectors working to build an equitable and connected essential service ecosystem, centred on people. We’ve been working this way since TCP emerged from the Vulnerability Roundtable in 2016. Since then we’ve further developed and explored both what and how the TCP community has been working to bring our collective vision of thriving and resilient communities to life. What we’ve developed is a concept we call Collaborative Social Innovation, which we define as the following:
“Collaborative Social Innovation brings together actors from across sectors and disciplines to work collaboratively on societal challenges for the purpose of developing and implementing innovations that deliver value to society as a whole, rather than just a privileged few, in a way that is sustainable.
It places interactions between organisations, individuals and the community within an integrated, networked ecosystem, aligning everyone under a common vision and shared understanding. It provides a safe space to co-design, create and adapt the ‘what we do’ and the ‘how we do it’ through a cycle of continuously evolving and adaptive learning and practice.”
Influenced by the fields of innovation and partnership, the concept recognises that these two fields are interconnected in that both need one another to successfully address the complex problems that we are faced with. Innovation offers new ways of thinking and learning, while partnerships offer ways of doing and acting collaboratively (3).
TCP’s Collaborative Social Innovation Cycle
To bring this concept to life, we have created a Collaborative Social Innovation Cycle, a process that is at the heart of everything TCP does. The Collaborative Social Innovation Cycle is built on the Partnership Brokering Association’s principles of partnering: diversity, equity, openness, mutual benefit and courage, as well as TCP’s social design principles of humanity, inclusion, curiosity, achievement and contribution.
The cycle combines design thinking and systems thinking, putting the human experience at the centre of the ecosystem they are trying to navigate. In this cycle everyone plays a role, everyone has different responsibilities, learning and opportunities for action, both individually and collectively. When multiple organisations come together, there are often competing priorities, differing expectations and uncertainty. TCP’s role as the facilitator, or “broker”, in the Collaborative Social Innovation Cycle blends duties such as the connector, ethical advisor, researcher, motivator, and source of governance, balancing the interests of each participating actor to ensure stronger partnerships and a connected, aligned vision. (Click the image to enlage for the full detail)
Collaborative Social Innovation Cycle in action - TCP projects
One of our most recent projects, the Disaster Planning and Recovery Collaborative Research Project, is a great case study of the Collaborative Social Innovation Cycle in action. It was recognised at the Good Design Awards last year winning 'Best in Class' for design research - a testament to the strength of the project and the way it was conducted.
The project sought to understand the way in which humans interact (the human-centred focus) with their service providers and community organisations (the systems lens) before, during and after a disaster event, and through this, the project aimed to identify opportunities to provide tangible, actionable, cross-industry and cross-sector improvements to support people impacted. TCP brought together ten organisations from across sectors collaboratively defined the project vision, design and the implementation plan for the two phases of the project. While more than 120 organisations have already engaged with the findings through our National Disaster Workshop and Don’t Just Think Tank series.
The graphic below demonstrates how the project has followed the steps of the Collaborative Social Innovation Cycle.
Keith Diamond from Symplicit said it perfectly in last year’s webinar when he said, “there’s enough pain points within each organisation and each sector that they're always trying to solve… but it’s the ability to take a step back and say, what’s the real problem here?... bringing it back to that idea of telling the story from inside out rather than outside in… it’s absolutely huge and a game-changer way of approaching these really complex problems.”
We’ve always liked to think of our unique blend of partnerships and innovation as that TCP ‘special sauce’ - it’s what we bring to the table and it ensures that every piece of work we are involved in reflects what we stand for. Through partnership, the TCP community comes together and works to align responses and develop synergies across sectors and industries, developing and implementing innovations that deliver value to individuals and society as a whole in a way that is sustainable. This is part of our collective identity at TCP, so seeing it in action ,and articulating it through the Collaborative Social Innovation Cycle, is incredibly fulfilling and inspiring work.
TCP’s vision that everyone in Australia has the fair and equal opportunity to live and thrive can only be made possible by engagement from the entire ecosystem. The Disaster Project, amongst so many other TCP projects and initiatives, is just one example of how we are collectively working to achieve this vision, and the Collaborative Social Innovation Cycle will continue to guide us in our actions towards achieving this ultimate goal.
General Manger, Strategy and Programs at Thriving Communities Partnership
- Riedy C, Fam D, Ross K, Mitchell C (2018) Transdisciplinarity at the crossroads: nurturing individual and collective learning. Technol Innov Manag Rev. http://hdl.handle.net/10453/127531
- Rittel HW, Webber MM (1973) Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sci 4(2):155–169. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01405730
- Collier T (2020) Partnerships and Innovations Relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals. Partnerships for the Goals. In: Leal Filho W., Marisa Azul A., Brandli L., Lange Salvia A., Wall T. (eds) Partnerships for the Goals. Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-95963-4_129