Case study: How we’re building Regional Innovation Capability (RIN)

We’ve long known that in order to grow more innovative approaches to addressing complex social issues, we need to build the capability of people to think and act differently about how we work, fund and collaborate for change.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve had the opportunity to dive into what this means through a long-term project called RIN (Regional Innovators Network), which is based in regional NSW.

Our partners

To combat entrenched locational disadvantage in Western NSW, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation (VFFF) and the Dusseldorp Forum (DF), have made a significant commitment to place-based funding that supports collaborative community efforts to address local social challenges, such as: how to reduce the overrepresentation of Aboriginal young people in the Juvenile Justice system; how to ensure that both the youngest and oldest generations in a rural area can continue to contribute and thrive into the future; or how to explore economic development as an integral part of community renewal. 

VFFF and DF fund “Community Connectors” in Bourke, Condobolin, Lake Cargelligo and Dubbo to drive these significant place-based efforts whose role is to initiate, convene and support collaborations that work to address their local challenges.

What is RIN?

RIN (Regional Innovation Network) turns learning and innovation in the regions on its head. We start with what is happening on the ground already. We look for innovators and innovations, work with them to not only grow their programs of social innovation but help them spread these learnings in their own communities and across the region (and possibly beyond!). We are growing a new way of learning with communities, and of community to community capability building.

The background

The funders saw that in order for communities to work on big and sometimes fuzzy challenges, dedicated capability building was needed. There had been many opportunities created for people to attend workshops and training, but the fruits of this learning had not been translated into tangible changes in on-the-ground work. 

It was clear that while these workshops were enjoyed by participants and they found the content relevant and helpful, there was something missing in the process when it came to how they were going to translate the learning into their practice. 

This is where we, TACSI, came into the picture. We asked the question, ‘What would it really take to build capability in place for place-based outcomes?’

What we have done

Alongside VFFF and DF, we’ve been working to develop regional social innovation capability, starting in Western NSW and involving other communities that may be interested as we move forward.

We’ve focused on building capability by walking alongside local community workers within real, local projects. We’re calling that work the Regional Innovators Network (RIN).

The purpose of the network is to: 

  • Develop regionally relevant social innovation (SI) resources and a voice for regional stories and examples

  • Strengthen the SI skills and confidence of community workers through practice and development of projects

  • Support peer to peer connections between community workers across regions

  • Ensure community workers feel they have the support they need to create bold change in their communities

  • Create opportunities for capability ‘stretches’ so that community workers can identify structural and systemic barriers and opportunities, and ways to influence these from a regional perspective.

We used TACSI’s expertise in co-design and innovation as the basis for discussions with teams in these communities to reflect on what they needed to learn (capabilities) and how they would like to learn (approach).

The RIN team

Collaborators involved in RIN standing in front of plant foliage.

Capabilities & mindsets

Alongside local community teams, we identified a set of mindsets, skill sets and process capabilities needed to conduct innovation work:

Mindsets are the fundamental beliefs, attitudes and mental frameworks that orient our actions. They need to be a fundamental part of any capability building because they essentially help people to translate new learning into action. We harness the mindsets that we know foster success in creating successful change in and with communities.

  • Continuous learning + strengthening curiosity

  • Maintaining energy + passion

  • Self Awareness

  • Working with ambiguity

  • Staying grounded in + connected to community + place

  • Doing ‘with’ others not ‘for’ others

  • Working across cultures

Skill sets & the process

The skill sets

The skill sets we cultivate in place-based work help people turn strong ideas into real and sustainable actions. They represent the fundamental ‘know-how’ of place-based work and the way we develop these skills helps people to immediately translate them into action, wherever they are in the process of change.

  • Laying the groundwork

  • Developing insights with people

  • Synthesising insights + opportunities for action

  • Trying, testing + learning

  • Making it happen

  • Understanding + leveraging systems

  • Spreading impact + capability

The process

The process we engage with communities around is based on the innovation cycle. It is a rigorous, action-focussed process that builds practice-based evidence about what and how people should work together in place. The process is people-centred and can be adapted to whatever issues or challenges a community is facing or wishing to work on.Catalysing change through the right partnerships

  • Thinking + acting strategically towards broader goals

  • Facilitating meaningful + productive gatherings

  • Bringing others along on the journey

  • Communicating effectively

  • Collecting, analysing + reporting outcomes

The approach

In terms of an approach, we have been testing a multi-layered learning experience that includes:

  • Coaching alongside community projects

  • Online peer network sessions

  • Co-facilitated team sessions

Every week, TACSI works alongside community workers in these communities on innovation projects that seek to address local priorities. To deepen capability, we support and coach workers one-to-one or as a team.

Every fortnight, community workers across these communities and the TACSI team meet during Peer Network sessions to reflect on a different capability. Using frameworks and materials provided by TACSI, peers reflect on what the capability means to them and share stories of past experiences.

Together with community teams, we co-facilitate group sessions to bring others along the journey, leverage local wisdom, and help identify what is needed to progress the community’s projects.

What we’re learning from this approach is that real translation of skills, mindsets and processes into practices that create outcomes requires more than a workshop, more than coaching and more than a network – it requires this and more!

Online platform

Alongside the fortnightly peer learning sessions, we’re testing an online platform that provides access to learning content and growing the body of knowledge on what it takes to do innovation work in regional and rural communities. This is where we are showing what it takes to build capability – and we are showcasing what really building capability can deliver in place and for places.

Have questions or want to learn more? Read more about the Regional Innovator’s Network or get in touch with our team.

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