The Alchemy of Collaboration

In the world of social care and social disadvantage we are losing badly, despite countless efforts and $250 billion dollars spent annually, disadvantage is growing and we are seeing increasing instances of domestic violence, child protection, mental health and homelessness. In fact in this ‘lucky country’ one in seven Australians live below the poverty line. Social sectors are  largely separated and siloed so no-one ever gets the full picture and our solutions are merely band-aid and reactive. Collaboration exists as a means to an end rather than embedded within the culture, in the core of our work practices. I think it is imperative that we do something differently because in the end, in our ‘business’, peoples lives are at stake.
 Collaboration : Cooperative arrangement in which two or more parties (which may or may not have any previous relationship) work jointly towards a common goal.
Many of the large tech companies have started embedding collaboration days in their calendar, such as Atlassian with their ShipIt day  where staff get 24 hours to work on any project that they are passionate about with a team. Google give their staff one day a week to pursue their passion and 3M give their staff 15% of their time to work on innovation – in all these cases staff are happier and they often work on something that saves the company money or innovates a product such as 3Ms post it notes. Howard Baldwin from ComputerWorld says the frequency of these innovation days range from weekly to quarterly. The reason being that innovation slips off the radar if we don’t create the space for it. I suspect the same goes with collaboration.
My fascination with design, start up and tech is the effortless collaboration and the focus on solutions. This is where innovation thrives, bringing together different minds and perspectives to see the problem differently and imagine possible solutions. People and teams that are thrown together for an event maintain ties,
When I found out about these methods I was inspired by the intensity and creativity, by the focus and action oriented nature of the events and the longevity beyond. This is the alchemy of collaboration that I want to reignite in breaking social disadvantage.   So I started running thought leadership groups where we invite cross sector innovators with and without vested interests to keep things real.

Sadly Government and NGOs rarely get the opportunity to collaborate more widely than usual suspects, and are entrapped by the internal the vortex of meetings and workshops with the same people over and over again. Even the occasional exciting conference and forum ends there and we go back to our status quo ways and habits to talking to the same people but expecting a different result.
So I think Atlassian, Google and 3M are on to something that can shift the way we currently manage social disadvantage and takes to a new place of collaborative alchemy. The idea of ‘rapid prototyping’ solutions to social disadvantage is exciting and worth doing, it is happening anyway in parallel universes and its mobilising end users, tech’s, designers, policy makers and coders to co-create solutions that disrupt the status quo.
Collaboration quote - together we are brilliant
While we are dwelling on the problems and narrow casting solutions we are limiting our ability to be brilliant. Collaboration is the harmonic convergence of ideas from stakeholders and disruptors that share a purpose. Start ups, design and tech provide a structure to vision and rapid prototype solutions. It seems these methods are being adopted more across sectors. Coming up in August – SW/TCH a festival of collaboration to solve big business problems.  Founded by Mark Zawacki and Catherine Stace This is collaborative innovation on steroids with a range of cross sector and discipline disruptors and leaders. I wish that social problems were on the agenda as well. Imagine those great business minds applying their time and talents to solve some of our deepest intractable societal problems? We desperately need that cross pollination of disruptors and business leaders to think about improving the ROI (return on investment) on social disadvantage.
I am heartened to see that people are embracing the merits of disruptive innovation for social good. In the US San Quentin prison is running a tech incubator for prisoners to reduce the recidivist rate. A splendid idea given that recidivism is a product of failed rehabilitation and re-education in prison. Recently the Australian Government and People against Violent Extremism sponsored  CVE Hackabout to identify social impact solutions to extremism. The competition replicated a hackathon and sought collaborative projects that  could be deployed and iterated. Similarly Random Hacks of Kindness brought together techs with NGOs to help them design tech solutions, the winner BenJam – an app that a dad designed for his non-verbal son to communicate with the world.
In July I am trialing a social innovation pitch event in a remote town in NSW. A pitch event for community action where community pitch ideas to solve a local project. The aim is to identify project teams that will meet up beyond the event to develop and implement the project. The idea is to seek re calibration of existing efforts and funds to support community driven initiatives and to support the community to help themselves.  I am also excited to be on the organising committee for GovHack Sydney where we have been encouraging government and NGOs to participate. Rapid prototyping and Hackathons have collaboration in their DNA, they create the space for collaborative alchemy and new solutions.
The challenge with any collaboration is sustainability so ideally any event for social impact would be billed as a platform for ongoing engagement and collaboration. With the work in remote areas distance and lack of connectivity remains a concern. Establishing a blend of face to face and virtual communities of collaboration is important to sustain the excitement and practice. I was recently introduced to the world of google groups and google hangout free collaboration platforms and know these can be leveraged better by communities. I see a lot of opportunity for disadvantaged communities to benefit from cross sector collaboration and cast a wider net to stakeholders, innovators and disruptors that can facilitate their aspirations.
Stay tuned on my innovation for social change journey, follow me on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter