An independent review of the QCOSS Conference 2018 - movement for change

By Vicki Smith

It was a privilege to be invited to attend the 2018 QCOSS Conference held in Brisbane on the 16th & 17th May, 2018. The state conference attracts an enthusiastic cross section of people from health and community service organisations all over Queensland. This year QCOSS put out an exciting call to action -­‐ ‘Movement for Change’.

Held over two jam packed days the conference was well organised and driven by speakers who were knowledgeable, clearly motivated and ready to help people attending the conference navigate a quest for social change!

Day 1

Richard Denniss offered the first key note address with a no-­‐fuss, candid approach to understanding economic jargon and political commentary in the media. While ordinarily an economist might delve into complicated algorithms and lengthy descriptions, Richard provided common-­‐sense explanations to political jargon and unpacked the hidden agendas behind what he calls “econo-­‐babble”. It was clear the attendees found his blunt delivery somewhat refreshing and were in full support of his explanation -­‐ “politicians don’t want you to understand, so they speak in a language you can’t understand,” Denniss said. He went on to challenge the room to realise a more empowered approach to understanding government economic policy. Democracy requires political leadership and the onus is on the people to keep asking politicians the basic questions and demand clear answers.

The middle session offered stories from four progressive organisations. The panel representatives from Hands Up Mallee, Logan Together, the Puuya Foundation and Family by Family led a forum on how they have been able to affect change in the community. While the issues are complex and specific to each location, some common themes emerged.

Primarily, the need to assimilate with communities to build connections of reliability and trust.

Hands Up Mallee evolved from a community outcry for a more local response to social dysfunction in the area. Much of the evidence gathering came from meeting with a broad range of people, from CEO’s and community leaders to mums and dads. On every level the message needed to be heard. Hands Up Mallee developed a systems approach to reaching common goals and was able to formulate a targeted agenda that was strengthened by local engagement and a shared vision for the area.

Similarly, Logan Together creates change by focussing on the development of its youngest community members (children 8yrs and under). By anticipating the problems and mitigating the negative impacts on young families, Logan Together takes a preventative approach to its social challenges. Of course, focussing on ‘outputs’ rather than ‘outcomes’ is much harder to track. But strong mapping and evaluation processes hold the program accountable to incremental change.

Understanding the need for a local approach was also at the heart of the Puuya Foundation and its mission to empower the indigenous community of Lockhart River. The documented failings of the ‘fly in-­‐fly out’ support programs prompted a demonstrated need to build relationships within the community that exhibited a clear understanding and appreciation of local issues, customs and culture. By establishing a reliable presence amongst the people, the Puuya Foundation was able to create a support service that produced genuine outcomes for the Lockhart community.

Family by Family demonstrated the benefit of using lived experience as a tool to support families in need. By facilitating the connection of a family with a lived experience with a family in need provided mutually beneficial outcomes to both parties and the building blocks for more cohesive communities and networking opportunities.

In general, the messages channelled a compelling challenge to attendees to move beyond the comfort zone of remaining at arm’s length from the people most in need. Ultimately lived experience accounts for the greatest insight to program initiatives and the impetus for focussed change.

Further advice from the panel suggested attendees have a greater personal investment in service process and delivery by maintaining a positive approach to the ongoing challenges of the sector.

After lunch people had the opportunity to attend a choice of three workshops. I choose to attend a session titled – Words, Messages & Stories. The experienced panel navigated the attendees through the maze of language within the human sector and provided context to its opportunities and limitations.

Nick Moraitis talked about the analytics of language in the media and gave the results of targeted research on the subject. The results provided specific direction on the use of rhetoric in the service sector and its impact on listener perceptions. That is, “facts are insufficient at communicating complex ideas”. Indeed, the evidence showed that mixed messages created mixed emotions amongst focus groups with colloquial and emotive language driving a stronger, more receptive response. Likewise, rephrasing terminology can invite a more constructive reply. For example, a statement that begins with “A good Government would…” is more productive than “Government should…”.

Amanda Alford provided evidence of how language was an essential tool in a successful media campaign to protest funding cuts to community legal services. The fact-­‐based campaign used well-­‐chosen media talent with personal stories of hardship to reinforce key messages. Language was tailored to create an emotive response, ‘a funding cut’ was transposed to ‘a funding cliff’ in order to stimulate the correct response from media.

Jo Lynam is the mother of a young person with a disability. Her story addressed the importance of telling a story that is positive and authentic. This kind of transparency challenges people’s perceptions and supports opportunities for those who might not have a voice in the community.

Nance Haxton discussed how the media industry has evolved over the last 20 years and the active role it plays in exposing stories of significance. Media channels such as social platforms, radio and podcasts allow the public to really engage with the story and develop a greater empathy for the subject. Finally, attendees were given some tips to understanding journalistic concepts and jargon.

The afternoon was a chance to engage with another panel of industry standouts. The theme – ‘I can make a difference’. The facilitated discussion allowed participants to ask the panel how they had made a difference.

Taj Pabari, is a powerhouse as the 18 year old founder and CEO of Fiftysix Creations. His message for teaching young people “skills of the future” relies on being flexible and responsive to the needs of the industry and being surrounded by positive people!

Nadia Currie shared a private story that exposed the importance of being courageous and confronting difficult issues. Her sharing prompted much admiration from those who witnessed it.

David Spriggs is an IT guru with a passion for making technology available to the social sector. His advice to the group was the importance of partnerships. Corporate partnerships have the potential to create opportunities to services in the community sector that might otherwise be unattainable.

In conclusion the panel was asked to reflect on their hopes for change in the industry. Their suggestions included a strengths-­‐based approach to problems and a greater cooperation amongst services.

Before the day ended, Luke Pearson from IndigenousX reflected on the issue of bias in media messaging towards indigenous people and presented several examples of derogatory language in the public domain. He challenged attendees to advocate for greater equality in media messaging and to hold industry accountable.

Participants left feeling tired but energised by the successful stories of demonstrated change and the constructive themes of purpose.

Day 2

The day was a chance for participants to become involved in uncovering the formula to create an ‘action for change’. Facilitator Max Hardy provided a framework for the day and discussed the tools for attendees’ involvement. The stories and valued experience of the participants was essential to creating a clear vision and decisive actions for the future. The enthusiasm for group discussion was infectious as people shared valuable insight into a range of human services. There was an unmistakable unspoken respect amongst those in the room. As discussed on Day One, the value of experience was compelling and provided the greatest resource for idea sharing and thought-­‐provoking discussion. At each intersection of the action-­‐making process we were asked to reflect on the evolving themes. Attendees had the opportunity to further explore topics of interest and separated into groups to collate further direction on the emerging key themes for the future.

Lastly, the groups were separated according to areas and regions in Queensland. The goal was to develop strategic commitments to support the sector and each other.It was clear that participants were heavily invested in the priorities of the conference and grateful for the tools to create actual change. The value of sharing and the opportunity to network within a specific industry is always beneficial in a conference setting. However, it must be said the calibre of contribution from those who attended the 2018 QCOSS Conference through lived experience and shared values is the greatest strength in a collective movement for change

Who am I?

I am the single mother of four children. My 19-­‐year-­‐old daughter has a physical and intellectual disability and requires ongoing support. My personal experiences have exposed me to a variety of community support services over the years. I have worked in the not for profit sector for the last 10 years in areas including disability advocacy, suicide prevention and supporting mums with cancer.