30 June 2021, Sydney – As we enter a new financial year, I take a pause and reflect on Climate-KIC’s pathway to impact. I joined the organisation three and a half years ago, keen to apply the innovation and strategy capabilities that I had built up in financial services companies, to the climate challenge. When I joined the organisation, our goal was clear – we wanted systems transformation. The IPCC refers to this goal as ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’.  The question was then, how would a small organisation such as ours contribute to this change? 

At first, we tried multiple approaches. We focused on building education programs, supporting startups, creating networks, experimenting with financial interventions, testing new innovations, and running large scale on-the-ground projects. After each step, we iterated our theory of change and strengthened our business model. Over time we started to see impact from each activity which was demonstrated in last year’s FY19-20 Impact Report.

Over the last 18 months, we have shifted our approachWorking closely with EIT Climate-KIC we realised that key to driving systems transformation was leveraging systems thinking and dynamicsHow might we play a role in building communities to drive towards missionsutilising a systems innovation approach and creating non-linear effects? After years of experimentation and reflection, we have the right ingredients to head towards scale and our goal of systems transformationHere are my key learnings: 

  • Work towards missions alongside challenge owners – Mazzacuto argues for mission economies to be formed around grand challenges of our time, to successfully coordinate public and private sectors and a establish sense of public purpose. Since I joined Climate-KIC, I have observed our State Governments leaning into missions, laying out bold plans for climate actionThese challenge owners and others such as Industry Groups, have the mandate and ability to create demand driven transformation and we work together to identify spaces where our approaches might support their ambitions. 
  • Communities drive change – Climate-KIC and ClimateWorks co-convened the Australian Industry Energy Transitions Initiative, which brings together Industry to determine pathways for hard to abate sectors (e.g steel, aluminum, etc). This group is generating insight to inform the ambitious plans of transformation in regional areas who are connected to these supply chains.  The initial Industry ETI community and the regional communities where they operate will gain faster traction by working together, rather than each organisation acting alone. 
  • Collaboration does not just happen – communities require convenors and ongoing backbone support. I lead a project called Fairwater Living Lab where we are testing the effectiveness of ground source heat pumps in a residential settingA small community supports this projectincluding three funders, seven delivery partners and a wider network of interested partiesDespite clear objectives and deliverables, the project has required significant ongoing supportIn communities that are more emergent in nature, this role is amplified and the ability to bring communities together, maksense of context and design parameters for action is an important capability. 
  • We do not need to control all the elements – as convenor it is our role to bring the community together and support with structure, governance and frameworks but not control and/or try to deliver all the parts ourselves 
  • Applying a systems innovation approach is key to providing structure – we have developed a framework of HOW to deliver systems innovation portfoliosThis provides structure for communities to come together to identify a portfolio of interventions that will create transformation. 

As we begin FY21/22, four times larger than when I joined Climate-KIC, we have the building blocks in place and capability to move towards our original intent. 

Please reach out if you want to talk more.

This is the part of a series of thought pieces where we unpack our work at Climate-KIC Australia and our systems innovation approach.

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…Key to driving systems transformation was leveraging systems thinking and dynamics. How might we play a role inbuilding communities to drive towards missionsutilising a systems innovation approach and creating non-linear effects?

Belinda Whelan
Director – Strategic Projects – Climate-KIC Australia