In this week’s episode of Doing Disasters Differently, I sat down with Tracy Collier, GM of Strategy and Programs for the Thriving Communities Partnership and today we are talking about building thriving communities.
Connect with Tracy Collier
A little bit about Tracy...
So, a little bit about Tracy. Tracy is a social design and innovation specialist who is driven by the belief that everybody deserves an equitable system, adequate living standards, and to live free from discrimination. Her career has focused on uniting systems and organisations to work better for people particularly those experiencing vulnerability or hardship. Tracy has over 10 years of experience managing and consulting on economic empowerment and poverty reduction programmes across Australia, New Zealand, and Latin America. As the General Manager of Strategy and Programs at the Thriving Communities Partnership, Tracy is exploring how design methods can support better outcomes for people and organisations by challenging long held assumptions and forging new ways of collaborative working to rebuild trust and communities across Australia.
I like to start with where we met...
Now I always like to start with where we met and I have to say Tracy and I couldn’t actually quite remember. We really had to dig deep for this one. We met through an introduction from a connection that we had in common. We felt we worked really well together and there was a lot of alignment in what we were doing. Grace, thank you so much for the connection.
Tracy, it’s always so great to chat with you thanks for coming on the podcast today.
Here are some questions I asked...
In this episode I’m talking with Tracy Collier the GM of Strategy and Programs for the Thriving Communities Partnership. We’re talking about building thriving communities. So, a little bit about Tracy. Tracy is a social design and innovation specialist who is driven by the belief that everybody deserves an equitable system, adequate living standards, and to live free from discrimination. Her career has focused on uniting systems and organisations to work better for people particularly those experiencing vulnerability or hardship. Tracy has over 10 years of experience managing and consulting on economic empowerment and poverty reduction programmes across Australia, New Zealand, and Latin America. As the General Manager of strategy and programmes at the Thriving Communities Partnership Tracy is exploring how design methods can support better outcomes for people and organisations by challenging long held assumptions and forging new ways of collaborative working to rebuild trust and communities across Australia. Now I always like to start with where we met and I have to say Tracy and I couldn’t actually quite remember. We really had to dig deep for this one. We met through an introduction from a connection that we had in common. We felt we worked really well together and there was a lot of alignment in what we were doing. Grace, thank you so much for the connection. Tracy it’s always so great to chat with you thanks for coming on the podcast today.
Thanks for having me, Renae. It’s always lovely to chat to you too.
1. Now, let’s start with telling me about the Thriving Communities Partnership. What is it about? And who’s involved?
Thriving Communities Partnership, or TCP, as we call ourselves, are a not-for-profit for purpose organisation. What we do is enable collaboration across multiple sectors; business, academia, government, not-for-profit, and working with those with lived experience. Our goal is to make sure that everybody in Australia has better access to the modern essential services they need to thrive. We think about things like access to finances, to telecommunications, to transport, and to utilities. Our approach is really looking at and understanding those complex factors of vulnerability and using crew design, human centred design, and other community led solutions. We look at how we can understand those barriers to access and shift that framework to embed sustainable and effective change. We work with over 80 partner organisations and have over 300 other organisations that participate in our work across the country. Working with organisations in that essential service ecosystem; your banks insurance, your water and energy companies, telecommunications, but also your financial counsellors, your ombudsman, community legal centres, for example. What we think is that life can sometimes be challenging, things can happen. But our essential service system really needs to wrap around the person to support them through those challenging times and we see that sometimes that actually doesn’t happen. We designed these systems many years ago before human centred design was even a phrase. We’re looking at how we can shift the system to focus on putting the person at the centre and having those wraparound services to support them when they need.
It’s so true. We’ll get into how you kindly invited me to be part of it in a minute as well. But I think we say people build resilience. There’s the wonderful work that Professor Daniel Aldrich does; people build resilience, not batteries, or water bottles. And what I really like, and what I’ve been excited to be part of what you’ve been doing over the past couple of years, is that that’s what it’s about. It’s about how people need-led, vulnerability-led, and then how we can change and better the systems and processes to enable people to have those everyday essentials that are a privilege to have or people take for granted. Now you kindly invited me to be part of the working group meetings and the concept conversations for the Disaster Planning and Recovery research project that you created which is focused on the Townsville community in Queensland. It was a really great way I thought for multiple stakeholders, and you’ve mentioned many of them in the question just before, but multiple stakeholders across various groups to get together and share learnings and their thinking.
2. Can you just share with my listeners what was the purpose of the project? And then what was the outcome?
Yeah, sure. We really connected your organisation and how you’ve been putting the human effort centre. I think that’s why we connected right from the very beginning. The purpose of the project was to identify opportunities for tangible, actionable, cross-industry, and cross-sector improvements to support people impacted by disaster. It was formed back in 2019 following the monsoon event in North Queensland. Our partners; our utility providers, banks, insurers, and community organisations came together and acknowledged that they could improve their own services, but that would have a limited impact on community wellbeing. They needed to understand all of the services that people needed when a disaster happens and in disaster recovery, how they all align with each other, and how they can improve that whole system. We decided to divide the project into two phases. The first one was understanding the experience of residential individuals and small businesses. Understanding the lead up to and up to a year from that disaster event and understand their experience. The second phase we went and spoke to frontline service provider organisations to understand things from their perspective. It really is the humans inside the organisations that provide the support. We wanted to understand what their perspective was. We’ve produced two reports with research findings. We’ve got two journey maps one for the resident experience and one for the small business experience and also a systems map of all the organisations involved in that experience. What we also like to make sure we do at TCP is make sure research doesn’t sit on a shelf. So, we’ve run a number of workshops, ideation sessions, and roundtables across the country where we’ve had over 280 people from across 120 organisations participate. What we’ve really been hearing is that a lot of those have taken those findings to look at their own organisations internally. Then in Townsville we have two groups that are working together across sectors to look at how we can communicate better with the community during recovery phases of disaster. And how can we better communicate across organisations during that recovery, but also beforehand and during a disaster event, to understand what services and support each other are offering.
It’s so great to have the small business stakeholder group included. What I loved about being part of the workshops is that it was a really inclusive and supportive environment because so many of the organisations participating had differing levels of experience. Some were obviously based in Townsville which is absolutely fundamental as you need that real grassroots experience. But then also there were others who were experts in certain fields that could contribute. I found I learned something in every session that I was in and hopefully I contributed as well. You could see the growth in the capability and understanding of consequences and things like that “if this is the way our organisation does it, wow, there are impacts that we might not have considered so let’s look to how we can change our processes and systems and unite in some way so that we’re all doing it better for everyone”. Which I thought was a really great approach. During the workshops there were so many great case studies and you mentioned before about lived experiences shared from the community of Townsville.
3. Tracy, what were some of your standout ones? And how will this project bring positive change to those?
The small business findings were the standout of this research and particularly back in 2019 when a lot less focus was really given to the experience of small business. Now that COVID has occurred, and the impact on small businesses has been so great across the country, there’s a lot more awareness. What we were seeing out of some of those findings was that the employer is really active in the community and they’re so integral to community recovery at that holistic, macro level but also at the employee-to-employee level. One of the case studies was one of the small business owners that we spoke to. He shared how he saw his role in providing young teenagers with their first job opportunity, in training them in customer service, and in general business administration. He had such care for his employees and everything that he did. He did everything that he could to make sure he could keep them on and employed during that recovery phase as well. And not only that he also as soon as he could was opening up his businesses to have them up and running to provide food and coffee for people who are working on that clean-up. He really was contributing to so many people’s lives and supporting them. At the same time that was having an impact on his own family and his own mental health and his own financial health and all of those aspects. We’ve seen this growing interest and understanding from essential service providers of their small business customers over the past few years and what it means when a small business is struggling to pay a bill or struggling to pay their finances. The individual and the small business really blend and a lot of businesses, essential service businesses, have support programmes for small businesses. So, if a small business is struggling to pay a bill or is struggling with something they’ve got somewhere to reach out to. There are programmes in different services at a government, community, and at a business level, which I think is great. That is something that we’ve heard this research has helped to build; that understanding of the experience of small business owners during a disaster event. That’s been positive and for me it definitely connects to my heart. I grew up in a family where my parents owned and ran a small business. So, the findings and the stories that we heard and that experience is really something that’s quite close to me. That’s what stood out most to me.
I agree. I’m a small business owner and I think you’re so right you hit the nail on the head in terms of how we talk about small businesses in particular. They are so central to communities and so many of them put their employees before themselves because they don’t want to let them down. They know the potential impacts if they lose their jobs, and then they’re still trying to run a business to put food on the family table, and they are out there serving their community. I think it’s really under-recognised and what I love about that being one of your standout stories is that we do need to put more focus and spotlight on the role those small businesses play in communities. Without mentioning names there are great evolutions from major corporates and utility providers, and other business-like insurers and banks who have really taken the time to look differently at the vulnerable community. You could certainly put small business owners in that list as well these days particularly with COVID impacts in that they are struggling to pay bills; electricity, power, and heat bills. We know the consequences if you don’t have a place to operate from or you don’t have power and then can’t access the internet. I think it’s really progressive and it’s great to see the outcomes that the participating organisations are doing something about it Which alludes to what you said before with the focus on thinking differently and doing differently. Again, that’s the great similarity between what you guys are doing and what we’re doing too.
4. What’s next for Thriving Communities Partnerships? Surely there’s a bit more to be done?
There’s always more to be done. We definitely want to continue to share our research findings more broadly and working along with the groups in Townsville to understand what they’re learning and share that back at a national level. One of the things that I’m really excited about at TCP is that we have launched our One Stop One Story hub project. Which is in its pilot phase but it stems from that idea of what we hear when someone has got financial difficulty, they have to contact each and every one of their essential service providers to get the support they need. That means retelling your story multiple times which can be really traumatising and exhausting. For example, you’ve got someone who’s experiencing family violence or someone who’s experienced a disaster they’re having to ring a bank and then ring a utility provider and then ring everybody else to retell that story. It can be just exhausting. So, the One Stop One Story Hub is a digital tool where people can tell their story once and get connected to all of the support that they need. That means it’s actually an organisation-to-organisation referral tool. We have five corporate and seven community organisations involved and it’s available for people who’ve been impacted by family violence. But as I was mentioning we see that there’s an applicability to this beyond that and particularly to a disaster situation. We hope we can expand the access to the One Stop One Story hub more broadly to disaster situations in the future.
Again, another great example of doing something about it. We know the stats; that disasters impact domestic violence and many other initiatives as well. There’s definitely a direct connection there. Again, what a great simple idea that puts the customer first or the end user first helping them just to tell one story. That’s exactly what we heard from businesses when we’re connecting with them after the bushfires, and even more recently in COVID time, that they just don’t have the energy anymore to retell the story. And quite frankly it’s really frustrating that people are not listening or that people are not sharing and that they have to keep going through that process. So excellent, I look forward to hearing how it goes after the pilot. Again, a lot of synergy around how we can create end user tools to help people to get the help that they need. Now, my final question is always the same and I love people’s responses to this. I’m really excited to hear yours too.
What 2 things would you like to be done differently in the disaster space?
Well, I think there’s been a lot of progress that’s happening. My two things are already happening but they are things that I would love to see more of. The first one is more cross sector collaboration. We’re really seeing more of it. But there’s so many complex challenges and unintended consequences that happen in a disaster space. For example, accommodation availability; where organisations fly staff into support the response but that means people who’ve lost their homes can’t find accommodation and that impacts on rental affordability issues and things like that. I just think if we can come together and have this whole collective conversation where everyone brings a different perspective, we will really actually be able to address some of those. Second, I would love to see more consistency of the support that organisations are providing to make it easier for someone trying to navigate their own experience. To your point before at TCP we look at it that people aren’t vulnerable they’re experiencing vulnerability. A disaster event is a moment where you might have lost your home, you might not. You might be impacted by the emotional overwhelm of it all of wondering how your friends and family are, how your house is, how your businesses are, and to navigate that alongside your finances. I think that that is such a moment where people are experiencing vulnerability through no fault of their own. We think that organisations should be making it as simple as possible for people to connect in. I think more of that consistency across organisations of that support would really make a difference.
Well, nothing more for me to add because of the synergy in what we’re focusing on too. You’re so correct it needs to be multi-stakeholder shared responsibility and outcome focused. There’s too much focus on outputs. We need to be focusing on outcomes which is exactly what the TCP is doing. And again, why hopefully we’ll get to do lots more collaborations in the future as well. A big thank you to Tracy Collier the GM of strategy and programmes for the Thriving Communities Partnership. We’ll have lots of links to the websites. So please check out the research report and the One Stop One Story hub. We’ve been talking about building thriving communities. Tracy thanks so much for joining me.