Get outside the box, then think!

photo of Gabrielle O'BrienGabrielle O’Brien, Chief Executive
Birthright New Zealand

Two months into 2016 and a steady flow of information has come across my computer screen.  Social change statistics, analysis of the characteristics of children at most risk, a report on support networks or lack thereof for some New Zealanders have all featured.  Within reason, I can find information about any subject that interests me.   Reports come from Government, independent research bodies and other NGOs. Often they disagree and contradict each other but there’s always food for thought whatever the angle.  These reports are written by a range of experts who have put intelligent thought, the discipline of their profession or training and a genuine interest in finding solutions into their work.   Increasingly, however, I am struck by the piece of the puzzle that’s often missing. 

I was reminded of this when reading a recent interview with Premier Christy Clark from British Columbia in Canada who was explaining an initiative that has been launched to help combat what had been identified as “stubborn statistics” i.e. single parents staying on social assistance.  She described the problem as follows:

“We say to a single parent, ‘we want you to get in the workforce, but here’s the thing. You’re going to have to find and pay for child care, you’re going to have to find and pay for the education, you’re going to have to figure out how to get back and forth to your school—and by the way, we’re going to cut off your welfare cheque the minute you register for school.’ So of course nobody gets a job!”

The article then went on to describe the Single Parent Employment Initiative, a project that has required various ministries to work together and offer tuition, transportation, childcare, and ongoing income support to single parents who pursue training for an in-demand occupation. So there we have it – an initiative geared to tackle one set of “stubborn statistics” but also addressing another, the skills shortage for some occupations.  My first thought when reading about this was wondering what single parents thought about this idea.  I imagine their first reaction was, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, – “Doh!”.  Their second, “What took you so long?”

I don’t know how this scheme came into being.  I’d like to think someone was actively listening to single parents who make up those “stubborn statistics”.  I hope there were opportunities for single parents to have input and explain what would make a scheme work most effectively for them.  I hope that the experiences not only of the parents who have successfully made their way through the programme, but also those who haven’t, is influencing and shaping further development of the initiative.  Perhaps the training bodies and employers who are teaching and recruiting for in-demand occupations have the opportunity to give their feedback alongside their students and employees who are part of the initiative.

We are fortunate to have access to more sophisticated data and information than we have ever had but let’s not lose sight of involving the people who make up that information and their knowledge and understanding of what would make a difference for them.  As marketing guru, Adam Hartung noted when talking about innovation, “Don’t try to think outside the box- get outside the box, then think!”

Gabrielle O’Brien is the Chief Executive of Birthright New Zealand.

Birthright works to strength and enrich the lives of children and families.  We specialise in working with families led by one person. 

This blog has been contributed by a member of ComVoices

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