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Burnie Works is a community-wide collaborative initiative in North West Tasmania that is applying the collective impact framework to address the complex problem of low school retention and high youth unemployment. Their generous learning spirit allows us to critically review how Burnie Works has interpreted and applied the collective impact framework and examine what is working well and what could work better.

Australia, like many countries, has been tantalised by the promise of the collective impact framework. Our hope is that the framework will transform the messy and time-consuming work of collaboration into significant and enduring impact for communities. Attracted by this, many communities and funders have begun the process of adopting a collective impact approach. They are learning that the promise of collective impact lies far beyond its deceptively simple and accessible elements and phases.

As Burnie Works shows collective impact is all about getting comfortable with emergence – with developing strategy through learning. Sound a bit new age and abstract? In the beginning I thought so too. But this article will unpack what emergence means in practice and in doing so make the promise of collective impact more real.

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