Australia Ahead of the Curve Blog Series #3: How to adopt new ways of working for social change

Rhonda Chapman, Linda Kelly and Tim Ford

06 Oct, 2016 | NGO Effectiveness

This post forms part of ACFID’s blog series on Australia Ahead of the Curve: An agenda for international development to 2025. Views contained in this series are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of ACFID or its members.

To learn more about this series, read the introductory blog post. To view other submissions and find out how you can contribute your ideas on the future of development, visit our page on the ACFID website.


Innovation is widely touted as presenting the best opportunity to address current and future development challenges. However, innovation will only contribute to positive social change when a wide range of stakeholders can contribute new and different development thinking and practices.

One of the biggest challenges is enabling a broader range of actors beyond development professionals to effectively work together in the development context. This includes local actors, enterprising people in developing countries, private sector, funders and academics.

We believe this requires different ways of working, where the future is enabling enterprising and professional people from all walks of life to authentically collaborate to achieve positive social change.  

Using modern Coworking approaches to enable inclusive collaboration of equals

We need to create an enterprising culture where in-country entrepreneurs and people from outside the development sector who are contributing to and participating in funded projects can communicate as equals with development practitioners in Australia and internationally.

Coworking communities enable entrepreneurship and innovation to flourish across traditional professional boundaries. The term ‘coworking’ was coined in 2005 in response to the way that technology was facilitating gatherings in new and unprecedented ways. Since then, the concept has evolved into a decentralized movement centered around a core set of shared values: Community, Openness, Collaboration, Accessibility, and Sustainability. While the exact set of values that comprise coworking vary somewhat by interpretation, it is commonly accepted that coworking represents something far more than simply that of people working in the same place. It represents a fundamentally new way of thinking about how we work and share with one another.


In a development context, a coworking model could see small focused teams made up of project doers (practitioners and entrepreneurs in the field), funders, and outsiders working collaboratively. The teams would operate through shared commitment, responsibility, and learning, using technology to reduce geographic isolation and facilitate collaboration. In such groups, people focus on what they do best and identify gaps in their team that can be selectively filled with other coworkers. These small active teams have a clear purpose and adaptability with a small outlay and low risk.  Together they develop understanding of the challenges, share and develop ideas.

This is not a new idea. For example, in May 2016, a 24-hour global virtual “People at Work’ summit was successfully conducted across 7 continents. This was a highly accessible event conducted via two web-platforms (which worked well on non-high speed connections) and fostered broad accessibility with low conference fees and no expensive travel. Weekly pre-conference discussion groups enabled relationships to be established and ideas exchanged ahead of the summit. The summit itself presented practitioner-led experiential learning across a range of themes and ideas, and has enabled numerous learning groups and connections that have been maintained.

Creating locally developed and co-designed solutions

Innovation and ideas that have ownership of all stakeholders more naturally lead to shared implementation, improved participation and practices. This enables participants to gain different collaborative perspectives, ideas, suggestions, solutions and skills.

One such approach is hackathons. Hackathons were first used in the tech world of software development and coding to come up with innovative technical solutions to problems. They have since evolved more broadly as a short-term, co-design methodology to develop ideas, often involving the people who will benefit from the end solution. They are used by organisations or groups in search of inexpensive and innovative solutions to challenges, bringing together skilled people from a variety of fields that may or may not be obviously relevant to the challenge at hand to advise, design and adapt alongside practitioners, funders, and others. Solutions take on a whole new perspective, with the added value of deepening understanding of each other’s perspectives, developing relationships, and creating ownership of the process and solution.

Embracing failure as essential to success

These new approaches require a risk appetite appropriate to supporting innovation, failure, entrepreneurship and trial-and-error. While the actual risk involved in such collaborative approaches can be minimal whilst optimising efficiencies, new approaches to risk will be needed by established organisations and agencies more used to minimising risk. Development organisations will need to identify and accept a level of risk and failure; maintain high standards of accountability and ensure transparent decision-making in order to promote and engage in collaborative, shared innovative responses to challenges.

So what…

If Australia is to be actively engaged with others to collectively solve contemporary development challenges into 2025 and beyond, new ways of working accompanied by new organisational forms need to emerge. This will take courageous leadership willing to adopt flexible work and management practices; develop new risk appetites which can accommodate experimental approaches to problem solving that are organic and unpredictable; a willingness to engage in diverse collaborations and partnerships that involves participants from within and outside the sector; and define a new understanding of and appreciation for failure and shared learning. The culture and systems of development organisations will need to radically change in order to keep pace with the modern, entrepreneurial approach to addressing the social challenges of 2025 and beyond.


This post has been adapted from a submission to Australia Ahead of the Curve: An agenda for international development to 2025. The full submission is available here.

  • Rhonda Chapman, Linda Kelly and Tim Ford
    Rhonda Chapman, Linda Kelly and Tim Ford

    Rhonda Chapman is a Principal of Co-Impact Consulting with 25 years as a development practitioner, community facilitator and partnership broker advising to international development NGOs and donors. She is also the co-founder of Cohoots Coworking.

    Dr Linda Kelly is the Director of Praxis Consultants with over 30 years experience in international development, providing high-level advice to DFAT, NGOs and other institutions. She is also Co-Director for the Institute for Human Security and Social Change, La Trobe University.

    Tim Ford is an entrepreneur, qualified enterprise coach and adult educator with over 30 years experience in the community, tertiary and flexible learning sectors. He is a Principal of Co-Impact and co-founder of Cohoots Coworking.

0 others found this useful.


    Add new comment

    This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
    Image CAPTCHA
    Enter the characters shown in the image.