How can consulting create positive social change?

Consulting in Australia continues to be a large mechanism in how organisations seek advice, bolster capacity and deliver programs of work.

9 February 2022

By Melanie Rayment, Director, Social Innovation Consulting, TACSI

Consulting has become intrinsic to how many organisations operate, with the government alone investing an eye-watering estimated $1.2b in 2020 (or the equivalent of approximately 12,000 public sector roles).

While we’re acutely aware of our part in upholding the system, we also continue to seek ways to positively influence these dynamics and build robust ecosystems for social innovation.

Over the last 12 years, TACSI has worked with many partners who have invested in rigorous approaches to tackling social challenges.

These approaches give decision making power to people directly affected by those challenges, build on the evidence of what’s worked before, and boldly experiment with genuine alternatives. 

But our understanding is that this way of working is at the fringes, and in most cases is led by organisations and teams innovating despite the conditions around them, not because of them.


Our principles for supporting positive social change

At TACSI, we continue to learn, explore and hone our shared understanding of how consulting is used to create positive social change. This has led to some difficult moments as we navigate a variety of tensions: financial sustainability, market requirements and project constraints, which bump up against our mission to catalyse and steward experimental and systemic change across sectors and shared challenges.

Below, we’ve explored the shape and colour of TACSI’s shared understanding of how to conceptualise and deliver consulting so that it creates positive social change. We’d like to invite our partners and peers to start conversations to help further progress our collective learning, and how, together, we might challenge expectations in the market for greater outcomes and public value. 

TACSI’S work aims to be systemic, human and experimental, with an ambition to partner with governments, philanthropy, community groups, third sector and private organisations for the long-term and to work beyond project boundaries. We always strive to convene allies and cultivate networks of trust and mutual learning, so that together, we can see the connections, the transitional steps and elevate the strengths, voice and imagination of those around us for positive social change.

In our ongoing journey, we have collectively identified the principles that guide us:

We work in the open to learn

We work openly and generously with partners and invest heavily in our reflective practice so that we can continuously learn. We aim to openly and humbly share our practice and emerging assumptions, lean into the honesty of our mistakes, and make sure our collective learning and experiences not only benefit those we work with, but the broader community of practice.


We lean into difficult conversations  

We define 'difficult' conversations as positive, open opportunities for growth when they occur in the right conditions. We strive in the way we partner to always build safe and trusting spaces for those interactions; to expect and give space to them so that they serve the purpose of the work. Equally, we know when it's enough to notice dynamics and when it’s not our place to lean in.

We invest in working relationally  

We believe in the important and often intangible (and undervalued) ties that sit between people, the natural environment and positive outcomes. We see each interaction as an opportunity to learn together, and believe that good partnering comes when we nurture the mindsets, perspectives, growth and loss of the conditions that can deliver sustained positive change.


We leave capability behind

In each and every project, we seek out the strengths of individuals, teams and organisations. We do this so we can build upon those strengths together, and reflect on the shadows they may leave. We create space in all our work to share how we do that work, and create opportunities to learn, coach, model and observe together so that we build pathways for the work and the authorising conditions to be sustained.

We support our partners and peers to challenge ‘what is’ 

We recognise that with change comes challenges that stem from power, politics, process, ego, privilege, incentives, loss and growth – and ultimately lead to brave decisions. In our work, we aim to create experiences that are safe to challenge, demonstrate approaches to do this with clarity and compassion, and support others to take those journeys together.


We help our partners and peers to imagine what’s possible and take the next step

Led by lived experience and community, we create experiences that explore different ways to imagine what might be. We collectively shape those as vivid images of the future, and work together to find ways to take practical next steps that inspire and build equitable, just and diverse steps forward together.

We hold empathy for all 

We recognise we operate within complexity, and with change comes uncertainty. We hold empathy for all those we interact with, and consider their needs, motivations, histories and incentives that sustain them. This helps us support the stewardship of healthy systems that enable us to collaborate and coordinate across a myriad of boundaries so that we can support others to find new ways forward.

Illustration of a person connecting puzzle pieces

If this prompts thoughts or questions, please reach out to Melanie Rayment, Director of Social Innovation Consulting.

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