Ready for disruption? Putting social change at the centre of the agenda

Platform Trust New Zealand is a collaboration of community organisations that provide services to individuals, families and communities where mental health and addictions are an issue.

The group decided it had had enough of ‘business as usual’ approaches to complex health and social issues which didn’t resolve problems.

In the article below, written for the upcoming edition of VICSERV's newparadigm journal, its CEO Marion Blake outlines how Platform Trust changed the way it worked and some of the lessons that emerged.


Marion Blake writes

Matariki is the Māori name for a cluster of stars that rise in the New Zealand winter and signal new beginnings, a time for connecting and giving thanks; a time to turn to the future and celebrate new beginnings. The Matariki constellation serves as a symbol of the future that we are creating; no individual, single organisation, group of people or point of view has a starring role, the future we are creating will take all of us.

Platform Trust is a New Zealand collaboration of community organisations whose work is providing services to individuals, families and communities where mental health and addictions are an issue. As a membership organisation we have focused our attention on the shared problems that inhibit our members’ ability to deliver good services: such as inequality between the government and non-government sector, poor government contracting practices, lack of investment in the community workforce and overall lack of recognition of the role of the community sector.

The mental health system may have served us well in the past, however there is now overwhelming evidence about the huge personal, social and economic costs of mental ill-health and addictions, and we now know the impact of poor mental health extends beyond individuals and families to communities, schools, prisons and workplaces.

The way we are doing things must change and there is no one agency that can solve these complex social issues. Catch-phrases like 'mental health is everyone’s business' or 'no health without mental health' might work for a campaign but are at risk of becoming meaningless clichés without focused attention about what mental health service providers need to actually do differently.

The endless supply of policy and strategy documents constantly fail to address the systemic issues and 'top down' approaches rarely bring the fundamental change which needs to be embedded in community and through the layers of complexity that make up modern health and social systems.

The problems have been identified over and over again and now it’s time to reach beyond the culture of blame and competition. There is a long way to travel if we are to put social change at the centre of the agenda, create shared responsibility, and collaborate across the whole community system. While occasionally there have been wins, the core issues remained.

We decided to change course, lead from the front, find some partners and together do what we could to transform the way the system works.

'Disruption innovation'

Social technology is one area of new invention and innovation. We are seeing increasing supportive evidence that social design, social network theory, collective impact, complex adaptive systems theory and collaborative theory are gaining traction through application and adaptation.

American writer Clay Christianson has coined the phrase 'disruption innovation' and has written extensively about this through the lens of business. It is not difficult to see the impact in travel, banking, communications, media and increasingly in general health. We have seen “disruptive innovation become the new normal” – for example last year the cofounder of Uber raised US$14 million to set up ‘Uber for Healthcare' .

The health sector has evolved through specialisms and specific areas of clinical knowledge often occurring in isolation and often far from the social determinants of health. Creating new networks across silos and including new technologies is critical for the systems change required in mental health.

The following are two practical examples of work and ideas that Platform has been involved in to demonstrate the impact of doing things differently. They are initiatives that use the 'crowd' to build a network and they support understanding the assets that already exist and using the data to co-create the system.

 What we are learning

From developing and running NZ Navigator we learnt:

•  Community organisations have similar needs, so let's share more.

•  Take risks but manage the process – in our case we balanced a young team of developers with an experienced project manager with community knowledge.

•    Test, adapt, test, adapt and keep the end user in mind.

From Equally Well we learnt:

There are so many other world views and asking for help is OK.

When people can see their part of the picture they are usually happy to be responsible for that bit.

Collaboration with unlikely people who do things that we don’t all know can help.

Having a wide conversation, through multiple lenses, offers more solutions. Diversity matters.

•  Good ideas travel fast.

•  Start anywhere – just start … many small actions will bring change.

From other industries in the start-up and technology world we learnt:

  • Lean and agile development builds innovation and brings a customer focus into everyday practice and builds team transparency.
  • Design starts with enough of an idea to then test on the customer for feedback, in contrast to a service designed by staff or committee then rolled out.
  • 'Stand Ups': short daily meetings to keep the team on task, on track, accountable to each other and learning together.
  • 'Sprints’ are a specific duration, for exampleone week, two weeks, one month to have agreed work completed and made ready for team review.


Taking a wider view about how we can transform the system and who we can engage to help has been liberating. Innovative disruption has something to offer the community health and social sector and we should be prepared to be bold. We don’t need to start at the beginning and there are many industries, 'start-ups’, and innovation laboratories whose experience, successes and failures we can draw on. As community agencies we have our own specialist knowledge and that must be counted and valued.

Community development across complex issues will require us to behave like Matariki, a constellation, where no individual, single organisation, group of people or point of view has a starring role; the future we are creating will take all of us.

You can watch Marion Blake talking about the changes Platform Trust have steered in this interview, filmed as part of Croakey's coverage of the VICSERV Towards Recovery program held in Melbourne this year.

Disclaimer: Marie McInerney works as a journalist for Croakey.

Power to Persuade