Community Decisions

Community Decision Making

When we look around what do you see? The numbers of people experiencing health related issues of addiction and mental health hasn’t decreased. The number of homeless people remain high. Women continued to be be beaten and killed in acts of domestic violence. Ten year program goals to close the gap for Indigenous people have not been achieved. Despite 28 years of economic growth, we continue to pour record amounts of funding into employment agencies, and the number of people in need of social housing has continued to climb, while people still have to wait for basic aged care. Whatever we are doing, it’s not working. Maybe its time to consider community decision making?

The health and community sector has become too large to be allowed to fail, as it has become a significant employer in Australia, and the bulk of sector funding derives from government, which sets funding targets aligned to policy (and votes) rather than where they may have the greatest impact.

The Health Care and Social Assistance industry is the largest employing industry in Australia. In 2019 there were close to 1.7 million people employed in this industry, which is projected to increase to over 1.9 million by 2024.

That is a helluva lot of people for some very dubious outcomes!

My criticism is not aimed at the passion and skills of individual workers. Many doing admirable work under difficult situations. We have all collectively dipped our noses into the same trough in the 30 or so years since Governments began funding external providers to delivery services, as employees, consultants, politicians, board members and service users. Yet the only sustainable outcomes achieved by the sector is to create employment.

Yes, there has been progress. There has been improvements in chronic illness due to increased research. There has been a modest improvement in Indigenous education outcomes and we all have a much greater awareness of our impact upon the climate and our planet. Less people smoke cigarettes and same sex marriage is now legal.

Is it possible societies wicked problems will never go away? No matter how much money we pour into ‘bandaid’ programs, the next day there will still be homeless people, unemployed people on welfare, domestic violence, rent stress, mental health, addictions and family breakdowns. Is it possible that having become such a significant employer, the sector’s focus is upon maintaining employment, rather than reducing or eliminating social problems?

Too often, as demonstrated by the Queensland Liberal Party’s recently announced policy to impose a curfew upon teenagers, and fines upon parents, our ‘solutions’ are imposed from the top down, with little consultation, and even less consideration for consequences, beyond a media sound bite.

Its a question that has been addressed in one way by Dan Polenta only seven years ago. Polenta focused upon the discriminatory thinking of donors, philanthropists and the media, in the way they held the charitable sector to a higher and different standard than they apply to themselves or the corporate sector.

Others have proposed the business sector as being the saviour of taxpayers funds. With their systems and processes, surely they must be better equipped to eliminate all the hungry, disadvantaged, disenfranchised, homeless, battered, psychologically scarred, addicted, unemployed and critically ill people on the planet? Seriously!

The solution, I believe, lies with community itself. Granted, a community isn’t going to cure cancer per se, however communities that are healthy, housed, employed and safe make great donors of time, money and resources.

The bigger issues, society’s wicked problems, are community issues. Not every community has the same issues; yet every community has some issues. A community understands it people, its environment, the impact of issues and who to engage with in the solution. Policy-led funding ignores the unique needs of individual communities.

The solution may be at the junction of government, business, social enterprise, service provider and community. The solution could lie with the community identifying the most significant problem they experience, engaging with providers to implement solutions and together lobbying Government for the funding.

When community takes responsibility for its own outcomes, we don’t need audits, assessments and program evaluations, or even targets. The problem will be eliminated or its impact will be significantly reduced, to the point of no longer being an issue. The benchmark will be when funding is no longer sought. Success will be when a community says we are healthy, we are safe, we have housing, education, employment and support for those in need.

Around the world, there has been a flourishing of new ways to do democracy that gives me hope amid the gloom of 2020. Bottom-up and participatory democratic processes that recognise the potential we all have to contribute; that make political engagement active and part of everyday life, something everyone can do.

Sydney Deputy Lord Mayor, Jess Scully/The Guardian

The current model of funding service delivery is not working. It isn’t achieving any real improvement. Our processes impose significant restrictions upon charitable organisations. We need to do something different. Flipping the model on its head would be a good starting point, as would a review of current legislation regarding charitable activities. Let’s find a way for community to be engaged in what it needs done and how it will be done. Politicians will not lose. A healthy community will vote for those that help them.

I’m John Coxon. For the past two decades I have guided and advised management teams in nonprofit organisation. I currently provide a suite of organisational assessment tools designed to help you make evidence based decisions and allocate resources where they will do the most good. Email me.

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