New ways to break cycles of disadvantage

Episode Four

Episode 4: Collective impact: communities driving change

No major social problem has a single cause so why would a single approach or organisation be able to solve it? Collective Impact starts with social objectives that are agreed upon across all sectors of society. This episode considers the idea at the heart of Collective Impact: that large-scale social change comes from better cross-sector coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organisations. How does abandoning individual agendas and short-term solutions kick-start long term processes of social change?

Matthew Cox shares the experience of building Logan Together from the grassroots up. The project is making gains around a singular focus – to improve life outcomes for children in a region with some of the most entrenched poverty in the country.

We’ll also hear how justice reinvestment works to tackle existing systems and structures geared towards ‘isolated impact’. Julie Williams and Judy Duncan from Just Reinvest NSW give insights into their lived experience of the criminal justice system and talk about their holistic efforts to divert young people away from it for good.

Guest: Matthew Cox, Director, Cox & Collaborators

T: @LoganTogether

Matthew Cox was the founding Executive Director at Logan Together, one of Australia’s largest child development programs. Over the past 8 years Logan Together has pioneered using collective impact approaches to make large-scale community change.

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Prior to founding Logan Together, Matthew spent a decade leading the Red Cross’ human services program in Queensland and earlier had a career in local government and rural and regional industries.

Matthew is now the Director of Cox and Collaborators, a social projects and consultancy business and serves on the board of numerous child development and social change initiatives around Australia.

Other guests: Judy Duncan, Community Engagement Officer, Just Reinvest NSW (Moree)

Judy Duncan joined the JRNSW team as the Community Engagement Officer in Moree. Judy is a Gomeroi woman with almost four decades of experience working with education, disabilities, child protection, age care and juvenile justice, as well as currently working with the criminal justice system at Moree ALS. 

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“What I want to see is less young people before the criminal justice system in Moree. I want the young people to help build our community and utilise their strength and knowledge to empower themselves to make this place a better place, for themselves and everyone else in this community for many years to come so their children and grandchildren can benefit from having a safer, stronger community. JR in Moree is putting young peoples’ voices at the centre.  It’s about giving mine, yours, our children and young people a say, listening to them, making them feel heard and valued, someone is listening.”

“My mob are very resilient Mob, country tough and staunch, fighters, never give up, so it’s hoped through this approach with Justice Reinvestment having whole of community involved in leading decision and assistance involving especially the young people help build bigger and better pathways for everyone.”

“It’s is important the children and young people in our community are given every opportunity to grow, be independent and strong leaders as they are future.”

Other guests: Julie Williams, Community Engagement Officer, Just Reinvest NSW (Mt Druitt)

Julie is a single mother to 5 children, and grandmother to 11 grandchildren. She is a proud Gamilaroi women born and raised in Mt Druitt. She was raised strong in identity, community and culture, through both her mother and father’s family.

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Both Julie and her family have experiences with the criminal justice system which allows Julie to better understand the forces that pull our young people in. She strongly believes in the need for early intervention and better community-based support for families.

“Just Reinvestment allows me to be involved in change and better support parents and their families to lead their own change. The criminal justice system is letting us down, they traumatize young people. We need to recognise that every community is different, and every family has their own story. We need to be looking at our data and deciding what do we do with it, listening to local Elders and young people and taking lead from them to begin the solution. If they haven’t lived our experience, how do they know what our struggle is? They need to listen to us and our stories. We, as members of the Mt Druitt community, have lived experiences of these issues and hold the solutions.”

Episode 4 Transcript

Glyn Davis: Hello and welcome to Life’s Lottery, a podcast about different ideas on breaking the poverty cycle. I’m Glyn Davis.

Jeni Whalan: And I’m Jeni Whalan. Welcome to another conversation in a series that we hope can inspire positive social change and better public policy. In this episode, we’re looking at the capacity of collective impact as a model to address the underlying causes of poverty in Australia, where postcode can dictate your life outcomes.

Glyn Davis: And often those outcomes are described as structural, caused by social determinants beyond the control of individuals or communities who must live with disadvantage. But the interesting question is what can we do together?

Jeni Whalan: Our guest today is Matthew Cox, the former CEO of Logan Together, which is an approach to working with community known as collective impact on Yuggera and Yugambeh country just south of Brisbane.

Glyn Davis: And it’s great today to be talking about Logan, a community that’s well known in south east Queensland as it is sometimes a tough place, a place where people do it hard but also a strong community, a sense of identity, a sense of pride in being from Logan. And during my decades with Griffith University, it acquired a campus in Logan and gave us all an opportunity to spend even more time in the community and to see both how hard it is for some people to get ahead there, but also how much commitment there is to the idea of education and to the desire to build a community. And so it’s great that we’re able to focus on Logan Together.

Jeni Whalan: And you can’t work on issues of social policy in Australia without knowing about Logan Together. It’s one of the best known and most mature place-based approaches, community-led, working in and with the people of Logan to address disadvantage.

Glyn Davis: Logan Together’s goal is that by 2025, the children of Logan will enjoy the same health and opportunity and potential as other Australian children.     

Jeni Whalan: So Matthew, take us back to your origin story. What drew you to the work in Logan, to the people that go into the communities in Logan?

Matthew Cox: Look, Logan’s an extraordinary community. It’s one of the most diverse communities in Australia. More than 216 different cultures are home there. It’s just to the south of Brisbane. And it’s one of those places where people come to get back on their feet or to raise a family. It’s a big settlement site for people coming in through the humanitarian program. So that’s why there’s people from all over the world. It’s an important First Nations community, one of the largest First Nations communities in Australia. So it’s a fascinating place. And it does that job of helping people get that first go, that first sort of step on the ladder of wellbeing. It does it superbly well. And I think it’s a place that we should celebrate because it does a job that many other suburbs and cities in our community don’t do, and it welcomes everyone from every walk of life and from all over the world.

News archive “Logan race riots”  2013

Matthew: Some of you might remember there was some community trouble in 2013, and it was a slow news day. There was no cricket on. It was summer. And what turned out to be a fracas in a single street in Logan got onto CNN as a race riot in Australia. Australia was in flames, which was a terrible catalyst, but it did spark a whole lot of action because the community said “ Jeez, we’re sick of getting portrayed like this. We’re sick of this being our story and we want some change”. And I was asked to get involved at that point to try and develop some strategies for the community. I had been thinking for a long time about some of those longer term strategies, and I met a whole bunch of other people in Logan who were thinking the same thing. And so serendipitously, a whole lot of things came together.

It was, I guess, a realisation that what we were doing as a whole industry wasn’t really making things better for the long term. It was sort of making being poor and vulnerable a little bit less unpleasant. We weren’t doing nearly enough to solve some of those long term issues. 

So I got together with a group of like-minded leaders across the NGO sector, and we started trying to answer this question. If we were to try and deal conclusively with poverty and disadvantage in Australia, what would you do? And we looked around the world and we found many, many examples of communities that were achieving what some people might think is impossible, you know, seriously reducing the rates of poverty and disadvantage and vulnerability in their communities.

Jeni Whalan: When you started working with the people in Logan and started responding to what the community was asking for help with, how did you go about trying to understand what was important to them?

Matthew Cox: My advice to people like me who are trying to help in those communities is: put aside your own assumptions and your own life history, because it’s often completely irrelevant. And what you’ve got to do is actually not only ask people who live day to day with very low incomes and with lots of challenges, not only ask them, but you’ve got to get them involved in deciding what happens and designing what happens. You know, I’ve been trying to promote kindergarten attendance and you can get very, very low fee kindergarten terms five or ten dollars a week, you know. But if you’ve got 40 bucks to spend and you’ve got a choice between kindergarten or more food, that’s a pretty hard choice. And I think also in a very culturally diverse place like Logan, you really can’t work cross culturally and get the right solutions without putting people from those backgrounds in the driving seat. So we tried to live out that methodology in everything we did to come at with the very best knowledge and science and research, be data informed, but also make sure that we had that public knowledge and that community voice, not in our present and not in a way that we control, that we try to share the decision making. So it wasn’t just about us understanding and then taking actions. It was local people being alongside us, making decisions at quite a micro level.

Glyn Davis: So this puts you as part of a sort of global and very interesting initiative, which often has the name of collective impact, can you say a little about how what you were doing in Logan nestles into this broader set of ideas around how community can work together and co-design and deliver change?

Matthew Cox:  Well, it’s really about a methodology for achieving long term improvement where there’s complexity. In addressing poverty or marginalisation or disadvantage we’ve got this big know/do gap. We know a lot. We’ve got a very coherent theory of change. We just don’t do it and don’t do it at scale. And that’s where collective impact methodologies are really the best I could find, really in organising many, many inputs into a coherent strategy that harnesses to a particular population group.

Jeni Whalan: And we would love to get into a bit more detail on some of the nuts and bolts of what collective impact really means Matthew. But what was happening in Logan before the community wrapped around this idea of collective impact?

Matthew Cox: Probably you’d see this in most communities is a meteor shower of programming of well intended activities and programs that derive from all sorts of different places. They originate in ideas in Canberra or in George Street, which is the government administration precinct here in Queensland, or in philanthropic brains or do gooders like myself. And these single issue or promising ideas to deal with a particular social condition originate and then they arrive in a fairly disconnected way in communities like Logan, in their dozens and dozens and dozens. And together, they add up to a lot of money, but they don’t conform to a single theory of change or plan. Some of them are done very well and some of them aren’t. A few of them connect to other initiatives. Many of them don’t. So that’s, you know, the conditions we find ourselves in. 

The growth of the human services system, you can chart it from about the 1970s that really got going. And since that time, we’ve wired up very worthy and well intended and honest, you know, good, honest attempts to make things better. But we’ve done it responding to symptoms and to mitigate harms. We haven’t sat back and thought, how do we make everything better for the long term? And that’s what we saw in Logan. And you see this incredible fragmentation of effort. And it’s you know, the bill is usually between $20-40,000 per head for every resident in the community in these sorts of circumstances. Nobody thinks it’s in an ideal state. It’s not to say that there isn’t excellent work going on. But when you go at it in that sort of – with that lack of systemic coherence, good work doesn’t cut it, you know, good work palpably doesn’t  solve the problem.

Glyn Davis: And the strategies meant you have a big focus on school readiness.You really did focus on young children and getting them together, and you set an ambitious 10 year time plan for doing it. Tell us why you chose that as your primary target. 

Matthew Cox: For the last 40 or 50 years, if not longer, we’ve known that if you start well in your life journey, then you massively boost your life chances. What is striking is that we don’t, we don’t do what we know makes a difference for kids at scale. We don’t have, still to this day, a national growing kids up well plan. And we don’t have an early child development strategy for the country, and we really should.

Glyn Davis: So Matthew, one of the key challenges for the collective impact approach is how does the community coordinate all of that government and potentially philanthropic funding. How do you get agreement on core priorities? And then how do you persuade government to surrender control to a different form of leadership, which has been a challenge in many of these experiments, not all of which have succeeded?

Matthew Cox: Well, it’s a work in progress Glyn. How do you bring people together around a common plan? You develop the plan and the goals together to own it. You communicate and collaborate very consciously and visibly. There’s governance structures or collaborative governance structures that bring the tribes together, the non-government sector, the government sector and the local community. So there’s some fairly structured methods of doing that. And we’ve got a long way down the track with those methods, but I think. It’s fair to say that in Logan, as elsewhere, we’ve started to hit what you might call systemic ceiling. We really need some institutional reform. We need different decision making and different instruments that combine the many different government inputs into a much more coherent strategy. 

There’s some good work going on around the community of Bourke with the New South Wales government. But I think there’s just no getting away from it. If we continue to invest from dozens and dozens of different program lenses in Canberra and state and territory level jurisdictions we’re not going to solve the problem.

Glyn Davis: Matthew, you mentioned the Just Reinvest project in Bourke. Would you like to say a little more about why that’s caught your eye and since what you’ve drawn from that you’ve drawn from that?

Matthew Cox: Well, it’s just extraordinary. I mean, the work that Alistair Ferguson and his community have done there is important for the country. So that’s an example where the tribal council and other local structures have led. So to this day, I think they’ve probably got the most effective data dashboard of any community in the country. That’s been designed with Aboriginal people living in that community, so they’re really in charge of the issues, they really are monitoring how things are going carefully and then implementing community level strategies, without compromising cultural values or a cultural way of working. And I think they’ve also got some very important support from senior political leaders who are solving that fragmentation, that meteor shower problem. The overarching thing it’s telling us and the justice reinvestment idea is that you can get ahead of these problems, if you like, in a preventative way, and it’s cheaper to do so. And rather than just chasing our tails for the next 50 years, dealing with the symptoms of poverty, trying to mitigate the harms of poverty and disadvantage, you can actually get ahead of it and start to do things that change the paradigm.

Glyn Davis: Matthew Cox there from Logan together, raising the idea of justice reinvestment.

Jeni Whalan: The organisation Matthew is talking about, Just Reinvest, also works on Kamilaroi country in Moree, responding to high crime and imprisonment rates, particularly amongst its young population.

Glyn Davis: So here’s Judy Duncan from Just Reinvest.

Judy Duncan: My name is Judy Duncan, the community engagement officer with Just Reinvest in Moree from the Kamilaroi/Gamilaroi Country. Born and bred in Moree.

Back in 1997, I was sent to jail. I did the wrong thing and I was sent to jail. Never really thought about the criminal justice system until it impacted on me and my family. When I was released, the Aboriginal Legal Service gave me the opportunity to put my foot back in the door into the workplace, and then through that involvement, you could see the gaps and the issues.

You know, Moree, we’ve had a lot of suicides over the last several years, and it’s quite saddening just to think that some of these young people had no hope there, nobody to support them.

Moree’s got 70 plus services in this community. Non-government organisations, government organisations, there’s multi millions of dollars coming into this community. The service sector is doing the best they can, but there’s a problem there somewhere because we’ve still got all these problems and issues in the community. So through Just Reinvest, we’re looking at community-led change and trying to assist the service sector to work differently.

It’s about working across the board with all organisations because we’re focussed on youth, it’s any service that’s dealing with the youth sector. Whether it be mental health, homelessness, housing, Centrelink, the criminal justice system, the Education Department. So it’s dealing and working collaboratively with them. It’s getting to the underlying issues as to why young people are before the criminal justice system and delving into why young people are committing crime. And once you go into that, that’s where it opens the doors up. And just because they break the law doesn’t make them a bad child. Maybe, you know, they’ve come from a home situation where you know, there’s drugs and alcohol involved. There’s domestic violence. We’ve got young people that haven’t even got homes to go home to. In some cases, or don’t feel safe returning to home.

In Moree, we’ve got a lot of young people on the streets late of a night and early hours of the morning, and we’ve got a youth service, but they haven’t got the funding to be able to work those particular hours. So, you know, this is where we’re trying to influence the local sector. Then hopefully this will all get fed up to the governments and saying, ‘Hey, we need to look at changing how we work.’ So we’ve got our youth workers on the street of a night.

It’s important that young people are being heard and we need to show them that they’ve been heard through the actions that they can see things happening.

Look, I get a little bit disheartened at times because, you know, we’re out there and then, you know, first thing Monday morning you’ll hear everything. What’s gone on over the weekend, how many people have been charged or this car’s burned out or houses burned down. And deflates me at times thinking, ‘Oh, is this all worth it?’ But I’ve got grandchildren growing up in this community and I want things to be set in place that they’re going to be able to benefit from, but not just them, but the whole of the young people in this community.

We’ll never forget what the Aboriginal community have been through. But we need to move forward to make progress. It’s an ongoing process. It’s a living process that’s going to be happening while wherever we’re here and we’re not government funded, it’s all through philanthropy. We’re very fortunate for that to be happening in this community. It’s about continuing being out there, getting people involved to help be part of the solution, trying to do it the Moree way.

Jeni Whalan: That’s Judy Duncan of Just Reinvest, Matthew Cox says one of the tough things about doing this work with communities is coordinating at a local level. All of the different government and NGO programmes going on in a single community space.

Matthew Cox: We should track the investments that go into a community like Logan and we can and have done. The next bit’s hard. You’ve then got to bring those investments of the various schedules they set on in the Departments of Health and Social Services and Child Safety and housing and homelessness and drug and alcohol services. And I think you have to put them on a different schedule, which is about local ownership and control. And different people have to start making decisions about that combined new schedule. And that includes our government partners we’re not saying let go completely. We’re saying, share. And share responsibility with local people and share responsibility with local NGOs. So that’s the second thing. I think that institutional reform very much about who makes decisions about resourcing and program design and policy design has to change, has to become local and it has to decentralize. We need to stop exclusively focusing on program delivery of a very specified program models, and we start to need to have a much more development mindset and an innovation mindset. 

Glyn Davis: I’m going to ask Jeni for a second, to reflect on her time in government, because what you’re asking and in fact, making imperative for the success of these programs is governments that are willing to change their priorities against the community priorities. Jeni, when you think particularly, I guess, about the answer to many Education Department, how plausible this is, how willing are governments to actually rethink delivery delivery?

Jeni Whalan: Well, it’s a really tough one, isn’t it? Because if you’re a state government, let’s say, you have responsibility to serve all of the people in that state and not have it divided up among different communities, that is some of the basic principles on which the system is based. So even though starting with the best of intentions, it’s quite hard for a bureaucracy to step away from an idea that it needs to serve all people through its policy and practice. I think the other dimension is how difficult it can be to have unified community voices. And I’d love to ask Matthew to tell us a bit more about what he’s learned about just how hard it is to forge that common action plan, that common set of goals, because, of course, it’s often it’s at the most local level that the politics can be most acute. I think the two dimensions that make it quite hard from a system level to set aside that are the systemic, systemic plans and timelines that cross an entire jurisdiction and work at the pace and the readiness of individual communities. It’s a really inevitable challenge to grapple with, but it’s helped when you can find places of unity and common division and cohesion at the community level.

Matthew Cox: Absolutely. Just on the change challenge that you were just talking about, I think you’ve encapsulated pretty well some of the ingrained mental models that make it difficult to do what I’ve been advocating, except we do it all the time. Particularly in Queensland, when there’s a natural disaster, we do precisely these things, we set aside normal chains of command. We have very effective executive leadership that brings together multidisciplinary responses. And we bend rules and we do things that need to be done, and we do them very swiftly. And all we’re really saying is we just need that to operate where there’s a slow burn disaster of poverty and disadvantage.

But your point about local consensus building. Look, I don’t want to present an unsophisticated or Pollyanna sort of view on this. You know, whenever you get people together, whether it’s at a school P&C or a body corporate meeting or a footy club, there is, you know, sometimes you have real disagreements and real lack of consensus about how to go forward. But we also have ways of resolving that don’t we? And coming to a position people might disagree with.

And that’s also part of the collective impact methodology about having sound governance arrangements that allow things to be resolved. Well, in my own experiences, 80 or 90 percent of things, particularly when you’re dealing with early childhood, you know, people will put aside all sorts of things if it’s about the kids. Children are a great focal point for social change.

Glyn Davis: So Matthew, alongside the literature that’s very supportive of the approaches that you’ve just outlined in the Collective Impact approach there is, of course, a critique, as there always is in this world, and you know, one of the critiques is there are many damaged communities or communities with significant issues where there just isn’t the cohesion, and some of the failed attempts at collective impact projects have been where they haven’t been able to find that core vision or that point of communication or that agreement about what the priorities should be that allows us to go through and presumably, therefore, in setting up collective impact, a project there’s a long period as a front end to have to work through that and either tap into or we can create that level of social capital. 

Matthew Cox: This is a very, very, very important point. Readiness is a key idea if you want to set up a collective impact project. Readiness is what it’s all about, which presents some challenges if you want to do it at scale. Because, again, you know, what governments like to do is say, well, there’s 25 communities that aren’t doing as well as we would like. We’d like to roll out something to those 25 communities. And we’d like to do it on our time frame. Now upending that idea and that way of working and saying, don’t do that, do it based on readiness. Make an offer to communities to say, when you’re ready, We’re here to support you. If you want to work in this way, we’ll support you when you’re ready. And, of course, some of the places you might most want to support aren’t ready. Well, what do you do? Well, you get them ready. And so you put in some development resources to get them to the point where this sort of approach might work. On first blush, you think, oh, well, governments couldn’t work in that way. On second thoughts, you think, well, why not? Why do you have to have these big bang rollouts when we got 50 years of evidence that they don’t work? Why don’t we try something different?

Glyn Davis: I think the underlying point is that not every community is ready for this, it isn’t going to work everywhere, and the failure of, say, attempts in the early 2010s to have sort of a national rollout of a scheme was pretty sobering because it achieved relatively little. And some of the responses to those failures, the empowered communities, for example, amongst Indigenous communities, which is self organizing and outside government, and happy to work with government, but not looking to government to lead, which is also the Logan story, I think is a really important shift. It’s over the past decade, something we’ve not seen in as overt a form before, but an explicit argument that says let’s not rely on government to do this and let’s set the terms for government engagement rather than allowing government to – us to work the government’s agenda. 

Julie Williams: I’m Julie Williams. I’m the community engagement officer with Just Reinvest out here in Mount Druitt. I’m a Kamilaroi woman. I’ve been in Mount Druitt all my life.

Glyn Davis: In Mount Druitt in western Sydney, where Julie Williams lives, she’s working on the early stages of a Just Reinvest project, and once again, Julie and her team are drawing on lived experience to shape the program.

Julie Williams: I think what drew me to this work was just my struggles, what I was having with my daughter, being involved with the criminal justice system where she was 11, hanging around the wrong crowd, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting into trouble, not coming home when she was meant to be coming home. I myself as a parent then was up all hours wondering where she was, what she was doing, who she was with. They go through their few little cautions, what they get first from police, after the third caution, then it led to charges. 

Where it just kept going, getting into more trouble. So then that was another charge, and that was another matter that had to be dealt with. With her having to go to court every couple of days, and then being in and out of Reiby, so juvenile detention, given bail, refused bail. Out, in and out.

It even got to the point because there was no services around that I could call. I was calling FACS, Department of Community Services, on myself to see if they could support me. And they said to me, We can’t really support you and your daughter unless you relinquish your care of your child. We can’t help you. She had to be sentenced to get the support from juvenile justice.

There are a lot of services, but a lot of the services, the child has to be 12. And that’s why I couldn’t get support from a service. She wasn’t 12. So you think you’re trying to do everything to support your daughter and be there for her, but it makes you feel very very useless, like everything you’re doing is not doing nothing.

Still, early stages in Mount Druitt, so it’s just having conversations regularly, probably monthly, and a lot of the concerns that community bring up, it’s around policing. A lot of people here in Mount Druitt, they put up with the police harassment, a lot of families. 

Thinking back to our first couple of meetings and that’s what it was all about, like how they’re being harassed. And I know that feeling because, you know, my daughter was harassed. I was also pulled over for nothing.

The work what I’m doing, like the cell support, is for Aboriginal young people, just working with the services and also engaging with community. And if they don’t have support, it’s community that they’re familiar with or someone in their family is familiar with. So they’re known to that young person as well. Yeah, there was times when I couldn’t go and support my daughter when she was in custody. I just wouldn’t want anybody else feeling that way. You know, a lot of people can give you advice or say ‘whatever’, but if they don’t have a child in that same situation, they don’t know.

Jeni Whalan: That was Julie Williams of Just Reinvest, working on Darug Country in western Sydney. So instead of working just community by community, is there a way to get collective impact working at a much larger scale?

Glyn Davis: When you look internationally, are you seeing inspirational examples, for example the Tamarack Institute’s work in Canada, that have helped you think through what you’re doing in Logan? 

Matthew Cox: Yeah Tamarack is probably the most analogous to the Australian example. And I think they are now supporting about 400 communities across Canada and the US. So that’s what scale looks like. I think they’ve been going for 20 years. They presented some information the other week to me that showed that Canadians living in poverty had dropped from three million people to two million over the course of their work. So that’s a pretty big shift.

Glyn Davis: And telling, isn’t it telling, isn’t it, that Canada, with a much bigger population in Australia, had fewer people in poverty to start with than we did? 

Matthew Cox:  Well, I think we’ve become complacent about it haven’t we Glyn?  One of the challenges we’ve got, is that poverty and disadvantage is seen as affecting some people, maybe 20 percent of people. And it’s the sort of tyranny of the majority situation. People don’t think it will affect the 80 percent of us who are doing extremely well in rich western countries like Australia, think it doesn’t affect us so much or we think it’s an ethical or a moral issue. What a lot of people understand is the costs to us all are astronomical. And the spend on social services each year is about 50 billion dollars a year.

Jeni Whalan: And how do you know when it’s working? Because you’re talking about really complex social processes.  How do you know when it’s working? How did you know when it started to work in Logan?

Matthew Cox: So I’ll give you this really tangible example. Let’s say you want to set up a community centre for kids and families in the district. And our experience in Logan, particularly setting up these maternity and child health hubs in local community centers at a local Pacifika church, at the local refugee welcome centre. And we opened the doors and we watched what happened. And surprise, surprise, people turned up, turned up in really large numbers, and they really valued the service. Many of them said it was transformational. It was life changing. The workers, the midwives and the child health services, health nurses and others said it was life changing for them. It was the work they always wanted to do. All of a sudden they understood because they were in a relationship with people at a deeper level. They understood the other things people needed. And then they went and brought those things into people’s lives as well, so that, you know, it’s working. And in that example, you then look at the numbers and all the good numbers are going the right way. And mostly the bad numbers are also going the right way.

Glyn Davis: One of the evaluation challenges, isn’t it Matthew, is that if you invest in a particular community or a particular set of problems, you can often then make a change in that, make a change to ensure that you’re trying to address. But it’s hard to hold that against the background of the larger community and the larger changes. Logan changed a lot. How did you get a sense of direction of change overall and how did you relate that to Logan Together in the particular? 

Matthew Cox: The evaluation resource is part of the design process. It’s not someone in a white coat sitting in the corner with a clipboard, silently observing. They’re a critical part of the debate about what should we do next? How’s it going? What should we do next? What’s working? What’s not working? And in these sort of social endeavors, there’s always as many things not working as hard as there are working. But you’ve just got to accept it all as an opportunity to learn. 

Jeni Whalan: Matthew, what did you learn from the people you engage with in Logan over that time?

Matthew Cox: Look, just disempowerment and long term exclusion change you. And how you can walk in the same room, walk down the same street, but have a completely different view of what’s around you, because what’s your experience of what’s around you has been utterly different to my own experience. And just to go to a very obvious point, I mean, my view, as drawn from my life experience, is that the government is there to do well by me and my family. For very many people, and particularly First Nations people in this country, our government is a vengeful demon on the other side of the horizon that descends without warning and does things to you that are harmful. So that world view is deeply ingrained through lived experience of people in communities like Logan. 

The bravery and the courage to get up and have another go at it is truly extraordinary. It’s hard to find people who are trying harder than some of the people I’ve met in Logan, particularly some of the mums I’ve met in Logan. It’s hard to find people who are trying harder than they are to make a go of it, to put food on the table, to get their kids a better future, and it’s not through lack of trying, it’s through stacked obstacles that those people can’t find their way through to a better set of circumstances. 

Glyn Davis: Matthew Cox, reflecting on his time leading Logan Together. 

In an earlier life I was very involved with the Logan campus of Griffith University and part of that set up, and its very early intakes. And one of the striking things about those early intakes is who came to university there in a community living with significant disadvantage. They were typically women with families who often hadn’t finished year 12. But going to university was their aspiration and getting there was really hard work and you just were awed by the sacrifices they were prepared to make to study. When they did study, they overwhelmingly chose nursing or teaching as their career professions. And I had lots of interesting conversations over the years with some of their students, and they’d often say that the nurse or the teacher was the professional they most identified with, they had the most experience of, they could most imagine themselves in that role. And when you ask that interest, you know you’ve not thought about engineering or IT or any of the other things? They were almost unimaginable roles. The idea that you can’t be what you can’t see is powerful and community. It does frame choices. It does constrain choices. And one of the interesting questions for Griffith as it tried to reach out to this community was how to build up a repertoire of showing people what was possible. 

Jeni Whalan: And what was the hope when you set the campus up in Logan?

Glyn Davis The campus was built there in the hope that it could encourage more participation, new industries, all of the investment that might come around a university. It was a very audacious move.  It made a huge difference, but it took a long time. You don’t just build an institution, it’s a 20 year slog. But they become part of community, they’re part of what Matthew is describing. The Logan he’s now encountering is in a small way shaped by those institutions that have grown up there relatively recently.

Jeni Whalan:  And it’s a reminder that it’s not just being able to access universities but feeling comfortable and belonging there. It’s about aspirations that often begin a long time before you’re given the chance to enrol. It’s not just access that matters.

Jeni Whalan: You’ve been listening to Life’s Lottery, a podcast from the Paul Ramsay Foundation in collaboration with UTS Impact Studios recorded on Gadigal Country. We’d love to hear your thoughts. We’d love to hear your questions. Has today’s episode sparked any ideas for you? You can join us in conversation at LifesLottery.com.au 

Glyn: Next time we’re going to think about the role of foundations in defining new pathways out of poverty. And we’ll take an international perspective by talking to Susan Urahn, who is the president of the Pew Charitable Trusts based in Washington, DC. So join us then.

Cycles of disadvantage are numerous, complex and greater than the sum of their parts. This podcast is about big ideas and novel approaches to breaking them. 

Life’s Lottery probes challenging policy questions: Is social mobility still possible? What happened to the idea of meritocracy in Australia? Can successful local programs be rolled out on a national scale? How could we reimagine prison as a place to connect with individuals and work with them to break intergenerational cycles of incarceration?

Join hosts Glyn Davis and Jeni Whalan from the Paul Ramsay Foundation in conversation with public policy experts, thought-leaders, and people whose lives have been touched by disadvantage. Life’s Lottery is a five-part series that delves into the latest research and new programs that are achieving meaningful and lasting change.

Life’s Lottery will be back in 2022. We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas for upcoming episodes – please get in touch via the form below.

Make sure to follow Life’s Lottery wherever you get your podcasts. 

Cycles of disadvantage are numerous, complex and greater than the sum of their parts. Life’s Lottery is a new podcast by the Paul Ramsay Foundation about understanding how these cycles operate and exploring novel approaches to breaking them. 

In conversation with public policy experts, thought-leaders, and people experiencing disadvantage, Life’s Lottery will ask big questions. How can we prevent people from coming into contact with the criminal justice system? Is social mobility still possible? Is the concept of a meritocracy fair? How can massive, global systems be changed? 

Join hosts Glyn Davis and Jeni Whalan from the Paul Ramsay Foundation in this new series that delves into the latest research and new programs that are achieving meaningful and lasting change in communities across Australia. 

Life’s Lottery will be back in 2022. We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas for upcoming episodes – please get in touch via the form below.

Make sure to follow Life’s Lottery wherever you get your podcasts. 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas for future episodes.

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Life’s Lottery is produced in collaboration with UTS Impact Studios

Executive Producer: Olivia Rosenman

Audio Producer: Nicole Curby

Researcher/writer: Jackie May

Theme music and Sound Design: Frank Lopez

Production music: Blue Dot Sessions

Graphic design: Celia Neilson