Australia’s Historical, Structural, and Cultural Context

Systemic collaboration in Australia necessitates working with the long tail of our colonial origins and our relationship with authority. Paradoxically, Australians are both anti-authoritarian and highly dependent on authorities. We have a long, and in many ways fruitful, dependency with our UK colonizer, with little mainstream appetite for independence. Culturally, Australians look to government to fix problems and also complain about the role government plays. Rather than advocating for less government, Australians expect governments to do more.

At the same time, we have significant mistrust of authority. The nation, which began as a penal colony and a process of forced removal from the United Kingdom, in turn forcibly removed Indigenous people from their land. Abuse of power and authority lingers and has been repeated over time and culture. In order to apply the collective impact framework, collaboratives must understand this context and navigate the dynamics of how formal and informal power enables and hinders collaboration.

The cumulative effect of Australia's historical, structural, and cultural context is that collective impact is framed and practiced with an explicit focus on power. Community members and leaders have had to undertake significant work to understand and step into their personal, cultural, and collective power. Backbone organizations and other intermediaries, dedicated to aligning and coordinating the work of a collaborative, need skills to help collaborations surface and navigate entrenched power dynamics to transform how both formal and informal power are either enabling or hindering their shared agenda. Governments and philanthropists must also acquire a greater level of power awareness to negotiate dialogues on power sharing and enable community decision-making over policy and allocation of funding.

Australia’s infamous culture of being “mates” is real and pervasive. Informal ways of engaging are the national currency and embedded in the social fabric. But “mateship” comes with an inherent casual approach toward different levels of power. While mateship can be an asset to collaborative efforts, its shadow side reveals a low tolerance for conflict or difference. The result is that much of the work of nudging systems toward a shared agenda happens through relationships and outside of formal structures, making the systemic work of scaling impact and sharing power more challenging. Much of CFI’s work as an intermediary is focused on helping collective impact initiatives use formal and informal power to increase readiness, practice, and confidence, to surface and work directly with difference, divergent perspectives, and conflict within the system itself.

Read the full article about collective impact in Australia by Kerry Graham, Liz Skelton, and Mark Yettica Paulson at Stanford Social Innovation Review.