Operation 2770: TACSI’s Family by Family expands to Mt Druitt

(For the full 27 minute video from which this 6 minute video has been extracted, click here.)
Family by Family about which you’ve heard before is spreading its wings. We’ve started in Mt Druitt where we’ve scoped the program investigating how it should be changed to optimise it to the local community. Here’s the Scoping Report which I think makes interesting reading.

Anyway we launched the scoping report with the Minister who’d commissioned us to establish the program – Pru Goward. And here are notes for my speech at the function. One thing that got my attention was the fact that, according to the scoping report, quite a few people from the area have tattooed their postcode – 2770 – to themselves. And the supporters of Greater Western Sydney take signs of their postcodes to fixtures against Sydney Football Club – which is now more explicitly the team from the leafy suburbs.  I’m thinking that that pride about their postcode has the same kind of glorious defiance in it that Nicky Winmar showed one day at Victoria Park, when he pulled up his jumper and pointed to the colour his own skin to insist that it wasn’t his problem – it was the Collingwood outer’s problem.

Here also is the audio of a recent interview on this by Alex Sloan.

Notes for a Speech by Nicholas Gruen, Chairman of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation at the launch of the Family by Family Scoping Report for Mt Druitt, 12th March, 2014


Welcome to our modest function at Postcode 2770

Still, I’m reliably informed that from little things big things grow.

These are the words of Mystic (pronounced Mystique). She’s 21 now but was in out of home care since she was 3.

It happened so quickly. Once I turned 18, they sort of kicked me on my arse. They said ‘here’s $750, see you later, thank you’. And I’m just like ‘what the hell?’. A book and $750. That’s for being in care all your life.

Actually it makes you feel like an outsider. It makes you feel non existent on this earth. Like you are an alien. It does. It affects when you go to school too. You’re so used to being called ‘client’ and stuff that you start looking at yourself different to everyone else.

This example is not from NSW, but it’s not such an extreme example for those who know the system. And this is after what must be a decade, perhaps two of talking about “citizen centric services”!


Family by Family is different.

It began with ‘Ethnographic work’ a ridiculously elaborate expression that means spending time in the world of the families you’re trying to help.

The designers of Family by Family noticed the value of connecting families – families who were connectors, and helpers of others. They noticed how much both the givers and the receivers of these services gained from them.

So they began a process of co-design. They explored with families their idea of building on this model, of formalising it and turning it into a program. They’d design up some aspect of a program – say a meeting between a mentoring family and the family they’re mentoring with a workbook to go through some questions and strategise some solutions. Then they’d ask the families what they thought. What worked, what didn’t and what could be improved.

The penny dropped for many of the families when the team came back the next week and everything had changed. The families had been listened to. Those families had no doubt been involved in exercises in which they were ‘consulted’ before. But oddly enough if the consultation had led to any change, it had been marginal. When things changed, the families enthusiasm for the process skyrocketed – for once they were being listened to. They really were being involved in building a program which embodied their world, their knowledge, their insights. It was becoming their program.

With Family by Family, everything is about starting with the people we’re trying to help.

• Families seeking some kind of help
• Families sharing their experience
• Family coaches coaching sharing families.

Martin Stewart-Weeks – one of our board members – puts it very well:

Instead of assuming people … need a traditional service, it suggests that . . . they are the service. The real subversion of the design method is that it assumes the best way to learn is to look and listen …

For all its obsession with focus groups and customer surveys, the public sector often finds this extraordinarily hard. This is why people react so positively to Family by Family for all its simplicity and old-fashioned ordinariness. It’s so far removed from the often rigid and contrived rhythms of ‘consultation’ that consume the professionals.

And just as crime and doing the wrong things radiates out harm, so when families help other families, good things radiate out in all directions. As families get better, their physical and mental health gets better, the education of their kids gets better.

Often seeking families become sharing families.

And those in the families go on to pursue rekindled passions.

Sharing family

• single mum with four kids
• never finished high school
• had first child at 15 years, grandmum at 31
• trapped in low hopes and expectations
• realised her passion as sharing family
• realised if she wanted her kids to succeed she’d have to show them she could do it
• tried a pre-uni course, loved it, did very well
• now in 2nd year of uni honours in psych
• her 4 children have a new role model
• so do lots of seeking families in Adelaide
Family by Family builds the resources to thrive within the community.

It’s not a fly in fly out operation between postcode 2000 or the leafy suburbs and postcode 2770.

And the money doesn’t flow out of postcode 2770. The Family by Family program is delivered from here and each of our sharing families receives a small payment for some fairly time consuming training to be a sharing family. So the money stays here too!


Here are the words of one seeking family on a video that you can watch on the net if you like

Sue: It’s… sorry, I am getting sad because, it’s the kind of thing that family actually does, you know, when someone sick or they going to have an assessment for a disability, you know the family ring up and say how the outcome is or someone meets you there, and that’s never happened, for myself and my children…. makes me, at the end of the day, feel more special as a person, that someone does care about us, and yeah, I’m… I am a better person because of that.

Instead of me telling me “no I am useless”, or this and the other, I have got someone saying ‘No, you are a good Mum, you do a good job’, you know… so… it’s just… yes, that helps immensely. Life before ‘Family By Family’, was pretty [terrible], and now life is… as, it’s just going to get better-it’s as good as it can get for me at the moment.

What a turnaround! What a wonderful thing to be part of!

And bubbles did it!

Rather than turning up at a family’s house with our assertion of what the problem is – “your children are not going to school, we need to come up with a plan to get them there” – we get the seeking family to fill in a blank space. They write in a ‘bubble’ what they’d like to change about their life. We ask them to think of three things that might help produce that change and three good outcomes that are likely to emerge as that change is made. That is the start of change – from where the family is, to where the family wants to be.

The seeking and sharing family then measure progress against those goals as the link-up proceeds.


A critical thing I think is that those of us in the bureaucracy and policy community have tended to rest content on knowing THAT services should be oriented and built more around the needs of those they seek to serve. But that kind of talk, it turns out, doesn’t take you far to knowing HOW to do it.

At TACSI we really believe, and I think many of the families here believe, that Family by Family really is starting to show us the HOW.


One Seeking Family

• son 8 was difficult to manage but didn’t know what or why
• seeking family very isolated. Didn’t go out for fear of being unable able to manage son
• Shame of being a ‘bad mum’
• sharing families weekly training included a guest speaker from Autism SA
• So sharing family recognised some traits autism spectrum behaviour
• We helped with funding assessment
• diagnosis => access disability resources
• seeking families has gone on to promote and recruit other families for the program
Our sharing families are becoming a great resource in SA.

Could we do better with whole of government planning? Well there are reasons to believe that’s much harder than we think.

Philosopher Friedrich Hayek showed how dysfunctional socialist planning was. As he put it:

Today it’s almost heresy to suggest that scientific knowledge is not the sum of all knowledge. But a little reflection shows that there’s the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place. [In this] respect . . . practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but of which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him or are made with his active cooperation.

Those words don’t just bear on why Family by Family works where bureaucracy does not.

They also bear on the practicality of ‘whole of government’ services. For Family by Family is showing a way to build ‘whole of government’ services from the ground up, while people like Friedrich Hayek show us that doing so from the top down can’t really be done.

For that reason we’ve convened a Sounding Board around Family by Family in Mt Druitt where we swap notes with the government service providers around here in areas such as

• health
• education
• housing.
It’s a great way to try to join up existing government services and think about the future

• together and
• from the grass roots, where lives are being lived, where needs are being felt, and where they will be met .… or go unmet.
• from the perspective of postcode 2770 rather than that of postcode 2000.

So what I call “Operation 2770” – which is this pilot we’re launching today – might have lots more to offer postcode 2000 than some people might think.

Because the cost of a family in crisis and just two children going into care is well over a million dollars by the time they turn 18. And that’s just the cost of care, not the cost in lost productivity their whole lives, the higher risk of crime, or the suffering and blighted lives of all concerned not to mention the way the endless financial costs it imposes on government – in contrast to what might be – a steady stream of tax income from employed, functioning families.

So you were here at the beginning.

You watched as from little things, big things grew.


In introducing Pru, Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister for Women

I’m proud to call her a friend.

Early 1990s I did interviews on her ABC Canberra morning show

She helped me with ‘media training’ in the mid 1990s when I was at the Productivity Commission.

It was easy. Pru was one of the hounds then.

That’s Malcolm Turnbull’s terminology for the media.

As he puts it, they’re the hounds and the politician is the fox. “Their job is to try to catch and kill us.”

“Since they can catch us any time we step outside, our job is to stop them killing us.”

I know a life in the media isn’t exactly stress free. Lots of deadlines to meet and all the rest of it, but its better to be one of the hounds than one of the foxes.

For people like me, media is really pretty easy.

They’re in the entertainment business and if they’re interviewing me the entertainment is best if they try to help me say what I’m trying to say.

But once you’re one of the foxes, as Pru is now, things change.

I mention this because at a time when it’s becoming harder and harder to get quality people into politics – and it’s not hard to see why – at a time when plenty of good and goodish people who got into politics simply clear out when the going gets tough, Pru’s still in there.

When Pru was the hunted recently, she could have walked away as numerous politicians have done recently from those who’ve spent a lifetime to get into positions of power only to relinquish them to newbies who decamp at the first whiff of grapeshot. Apparently surprised that the politician’s life is so nasty and brutish, they decide to make it short and move onto something more accommodating.

So I for one want to say a heartfelt thanks to the Minister that she’s made of sterner stuff.

Through all the nonsense Pru has been working away trying to turn a big ship around.

She’s steering her Department towards an approach which is built around

• finding out what works and doing more of it
• meeting the needs of people and the places they live.
It’s a huge program if you know something about it, and she’s doing it to make life a little better for families in places like Mt Druitt.

The Centre for Social Innovation has dealt with a number of government agencies now. I can say that dealing with Pru’s department has been the best of them all. So thanks Pru for your leadership. If it’s humanly possible, TACSI and the families of Mt Druitt won’t let you down!

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7 years ago

Hi Nicholas,
I found this website after hearing your interview on today’s abc702s morning program.
I am a worker in Mount Druitt, a community I have come to admire enormously, for a vast array of reasons. After listening to your broadcast today, and subsequently doing some web investigation about Family by Family and TACSI, I was wondering if you, or a representative, is able to provide my organisation with a Family By Family presentation?

Hope to hear from you soon

Ria Lunderskov
Ria Lunderskov
7 years ago

Inspiring and motivating to build on this around: Man & woman, family relationships and friendships.

Would love to have something on paper as a guideline:”How to go about it”, “Ticking boxes” and empty spaces to fill in.


[…] to serve is often quite striking – indeed chilling. These are the words of a girl I’ve quoted before on this blog who was in care from aged three. She’s now […]