FACS: Instigating Direction and Collaboration

Project Description





There is an emerging appreciation that wicked problems and opportunities, impacting upon enterprises from all sectors, require a collaborative approach to their resolution.  The old mindset – what I’ve coined organisational ego – of “we’ll stick to our silo and will solve it on our own” just does not work.

The NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) were one of those organisations with the courage to try a different way.  Having staff and funding constraints would always make it difficult to make meaningful inroads into the many social challenges and opportunities that they are presented with.

Yet, it is only natural that there will be different views on what the opportunities are, what the root causes are and how to go about taming them.  That made determining what the strategic direction was a wicked problem, in itself!

Consequently, Phoenix was asked to assist by facilitating two workshops; one with FACS senior and middle managers and one with FACS managers and leading organisations keen to get involved.

Understanding the context first was necessary to enable the FACS teams and external organisations to start the journey towards making a positive collaboration and value creation.  Irrespective of how long people have been working together for, proposed changes in the way people need to work – like collaborating – will challenge current programs and beliefs.  In short, trouble could occur before any solutions are found.


So, time needed to be allocated to understanding the different perspectives with regards to the opportunities and challenges available as well as the capabilities FACS could take advantage of.  In doing so, assumptions could be debunked and differences could be successfully honoured so that people could work together towards to finding a solution.

Yet, exploring and anticipating what a preferred future may look like is not a natural skill.  In anticipating what a group’s future will look like, it is all too easy to picture that vision of the preferable future based on the here and now.  By struggling to effectively anticipate what the future could possibly or probably look like would constrain the effectiveness of the planning.

Accordingly, scenario planning was employed, which allows participants to laterally explore alternative visions of the future.  This assists in connecting the actions of the present with the future as well as considering the transition that may be required to achieve a preferred future. Just as importantly, this exercise helped participants to identify any blind spots in their collective assumptions.


Participants were split up into groups, each allocated one of three scenarios to create; namely, worst case, most likely case, and visionary scenarios.  These scenarios, which were essentially stories being crafted, called on the large amount of material developed when exploring the context – emerging issues, trends, challenges and opportunities.

Facts alone may not engage stakeholders nor will they overcome resistance or questioning.  Engaging people to collaborate towards a particular vision could be hampered due to conflicting assumptions of what that preferred future could look like or how it challenges the status quo.  The various scenarios developed and explored by participants, to a large extent, resolved this.

However, to truly overcome this potential, great success was achieved by employing the use of art – drawings – in concert with the different scenarios developed by participants.  Our associate Tone from Smorgasbord Creative sat with each group to understand what the scenario they were developing looked like in their “collective head” before drawing each of the scenarios.

This brought real emotive meaning to the exercise for each individual.


From the vision came the strategic intent.  A vision of the preferred future, shown above, enabled structuring of the direction that must be taken and allowed for the design and delivery of a more effective and engaging strategic direction.  This was achieved by “back casting” from the vision to the present to determine just what was required.

Through taking a collaborative, empowering approach, participants have truly made a positive contribution and continue to create significant value for the wider community.  The outcome of FACS’ stellar efforts and those of the leading organisations involved has been the development of The Collective NSW.  This collaboration model aims to break the cycle of disadvantage through private and public enterprises working across the State with the community on issues the community has identified are important rather than rely on what government determines is best.