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Unleashing the power of communities: A social. . .

Unleashing the power of communities: A social innovation fund for place-based initiatives

By Dev Mukherjee.
Published on the VCOSS Voice on 8 January 2016.

VCOSS recently published its 2016-17 State Budget Submission: Putting people back in the picture. A series of blogs will examine some of the proposals in the submission.

Concentrated and entrenched poverty and disadvantage has multiple and interconnected causes. Further, the effect of one form of disadvantage can reinforce other forms of disadvantage.  Society, communities and governments are struggling to address these ‘wicked problems’ that are complex and difficult to solve. Dominant factors in communities facing locational disadvantage in Victoria include unemployment, criminal convictions, disability, low education and child maltreatment, family violence and psychiatric admission[1].

Place-based initiatives are better positioned to break down funding, program and policy silos, deal with complexity and address the unique local factors that affect poverty and disadvantage. Complexity can be addressed through a focus on outcomes and addressing the local factors that cause poverty and disadvantage to be reinforced. Depending on the local need and profile, place-based initiatives could cover a range of priorities such as urban renewal, regional development, employment development, education, justice reinvestment, early childhood development and family strengthening.

Community-led, place-based initiatives that combine, government, non-government and private sector efforts to build on community strengths and raise social and economic activity have been shown to have an impact. Community sector organisations have an important role to play by drawing on their local knowledge and established relationships to help develop and deliver place-based approaches.

The Victorian government can help communities overcome entrenched disadvantage by establishing a social innovation fund to support place-based initiatives that enable organisations to participate without needing to cut existing community services they deliver to people. The social innovation fund should encourage:

  • Local decision-making

To address poverty and disadvantage over the long term, communities need to be involved closely in identifying problems, developing solutions and implementing plans. This builds capacity of individuals and organsiations as well as harnesses local knowledge and other local resources.  Successful place-based initiatives include a local decision-making body that brings together service providers (e.g. non-government community service representatives), community leaders (e.g. local council representatives, local businesses), local decision makers (e.g. departmental officers) and people with lived experience of the problems that are trying to be solved.

  • Innovation

“Place-based approaches offer a paradigm shift for how governments, the community and business sectors, philanthropy and local community members work together”[2]

Place-based initiatives focus on new or different ways of providing services or developing communities. The focus on innovation recognises that new ways are needed to reduce persistent poverty and disadvantage in the long term. The innovation might involve integrating services or better coordinating services across an area. Others might seek to develop new services to tackle disadvantage and social exclusion or adopt a community development approach to fundamentally change the culture and attitude of service providers, decision-makers and community members to develop positive aspirations and achieve positive outcomes for the community. Innovation is not without risk and many innovations take time and strong leadership to achieve their objectives.

  • Outcomes measurement

Place-based initiatives should focus on measuring and achieving outcomes. Measurement of outcomes is becoming more common across social policy and programs as governments seek to measure the impact of their social spending on people’s lives.  Similarly, community service organisations are seeking to confirm they are making a difference in the lives of the service users and the communities they serve.

  • Tackling the causes

Traditionally silos and centralised ways different sectors operate mean actions to address poverty and disadvantage are narrowly focused, uniform, with top down policy prescriptions that struggle to do more than ameliorate problems.

A social innovation fund for place-based approaches can encourage new ways of working that address the presenting problems or symptoms caused by poverty and disadvantage whist simultaneously tackling the root causes of entrenched locational disadvantage.

[1] http://www.dote.org.au/key-findings/

[2] West, S. Place based approaches: how to get them moving, Community Sector: Climate of Change, VCOSS Insight magazine, Issue 13 (p. 36)

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