An innovative systems approach to illicit drugs

22 May 2017

Sector-led collaboration examining the multiple systems affected by the misuse of illicit drugs

“It would be hard to deny that most large scale social problems are complex. Issues such as poverty, health, education, and the environment, to name just a few, involve many different interdependent actors and factors. There is no single solution to these problems, and even if a solution were known, no one individual or organisation is in a position to compel all the players involved to adopt it. Important variables that influence the outcome are not and often cannot be known or predicted in advance. Under these conditions of complexity, predetermined solutions rarely succeed.” (Kania & Kramer 2013).

“Transforming systems is ultimately about transforming relationships among people who shape those systems.” (Senge, Hamilton, Kania, 2015)

In 2015 the Paul Ramsay Foundation identified alcohol and other drugs as a key focus area in its initial strategy. The Foundation recognises that the misuse of drugs and alcohol causes significant harm to individuals, families and communities, in addition to the broader social and economic impacts. In order to gain a better understanding of the misuse of drugs and alcohol landscape, the Foundation’s executive team met with service providers, researchers and other key influencers in the field. This initial scan revealed how fragmented existing responses were; that there was no one solution to any of the problems; and that  in order to have a real impact the Foundation needed to try something different. This new approach will focus on sector-led collaboration examining the multiple systems affected by the misuse of illicit drugs.

The Foundation is partnering with Collaboration for Impact to design a collaborative process engaging stakeholders from and beyond the illicit drugs sector. This process uses an evidence-based systemic approach to co-design innovative initiatives to reduce the individual and community harm from illicit drugs.

The Illicit Drug Adaptive Co-design Project

Taking place over 3-4 years the potential phases of the collaborative process are described below:

Phase 1: Establishment – Scoping & Designing (completed)

The Foundation engaged Bain & Co. and Bridgespan to gather current research and provide the Foundation with data identifying gaps, opportunities and system constraints. A System Map provided an initial indication of where there is potential readiness for system change, as well as opportunities, levers and barriers.

Phase 2: Convening the initial group (June – August 2017)

The Foundation is convening an initial group made up of stakeholders with both formal and informal authority on this issue to help further scope the initiative and play a championing role across the sector to engage broader networks in the co-design stage.


Is the Paul Ramsay Foundation currently funding AOD strategies?

No, the Paul Ramsay Foundation is not currently looking for new investments in relation to AOD while the IDAC project is underway.

What’s the scope of the IDAC project?

The project will focus on illicit drug use within NSW. While we recognise that licit drugs such as tobacco and alcohol are responsible for far great social and health related harms, we have chosen to work at an appropriate scale to our current capacity.

How can I be involved?

Bookmark our website and check in regularly. Once we are ready to recruit for the co-design group you will be able to apply here.

Where can I find out more about adaptive co-design?

Maya Bernstein & Marty Linsky (2016) Leading Change Through Adaptive Design. Stanford Social Innovation Review.

How do I find out more about this project?

Contact the Project Manager Althea Mackenzie