Meet the community taking children’s wellbeing into their own hands.

CASE STUDY: Place-based initiatives, Northern Mallee
2022 SIMNA AWARD WINNERS: Hands Ups Mallee and Clear Horizon, Outstanding Collaboration in Social Impact Measurement

We’ve all heard it takes a village to raise a child. But what does that look like in practice?

Hands Up Mallee offers us a glimpse – bringing together the community, organisations and services to support children and families to thrive.
Here’s how we’re helping them achieve greater community health and wellbeing outcomes.

About Hands Up Mallee

Hands Up Mallee is a Collective Impact Initiative based in the Northern Mallee region of Victoria on the land of the Latji Latji people. They take a place-based approach – working in partnership with community members, service providers, agencies, philanthropy and government to create and implement solutions driven by the community to meet their unique needs.

Meaningfully addressing the different social issues experienced in the Northern Mallee region means going beyond transactional consultation to instead work alongside community members – early and often – learning from their knowledge and experiences of local challenges. Communities need to be engaged to collaboratively design the initiative itself – along with local businesses, the services sector and funding bodies. This creates a shared and evidence-informed approach to guide action and investment for the greatest possible impact.

But, when you have multiple stakeholders with different skills, backgrounds and priorities addressing different needs across a 22,083 square kilometre region, how do you keep a line of sight on the impact being made? How can you demonstrate to funders and community that their investment in these interventions is worthwhile? That’s where Clear Horizon comes in.

The Mallee community

In the far north-west of Victoria, the Mildura local government area covers around 10% of the states’ area and is home to nearly 55,000 people. The local community is rich in cultural diversity, with a large Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population (4.6% compared to 0.8% for the rest of Victoria), and over 40 different migrant groups.

The region is known for its big skies, rich earth and the mighty Murray River. It has a proud and longstanding reputation as a place of resilience and resourcefulness. Hands up Mallee was created from these foundations of self-sufficiency, and the knowledge that those within community are best placed to address the ongoing effects of intergenerational social, health and economic inequities.

Despite growing up in a region with vast natural wealth, local children begin life behind in many areas. Many families face high housing and food insecurity rates, living on household incomes significantly below the state average. There are elevated risks of family violence and crime, and increased rates of drug and alcohol misuse. These conditions reduce opportunities to thrive and create a complex backdrop to childhood development.

Creating and tracking community change

Hands Up Mallee partnered with Clear Horizon to co-create a Measurement, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Framework to help guide and track their work with partners in delivering better, more sustainable outcomes for children and families.

Working with many moving parts, partners new to the world of social impact and measurement, having finite resources, and trying to map instances of activity and impact to 15-year-population-level outcomes was challenging, to say the least.

Here’s the approach we took to address these issues and put MEL to work for community:

1. We focused on collaborative capacity building

MEL coaching was woven into the workshops where we co-designed our MEL Framework. This way of working helped build our partners’ capacity along the way and embedded a strong learning culture at the grass roots level – a solid foundation for lasting impact.

2. We co-created a holistic framework 

While a one-size framework can’t fit all needs, a holistic framework can help us all keep sight of the overarching developmental, systematic, and population-level changes we’re trying to achieve. The MEL framework ties together six important elements and has a strong focus on learning and accountability to community.

We also worked directly with local changemakers to create ‘nested’ Journeys of Change* and Key Evaluation Questions**, to help guide and track Hands Up Mallee’s work improving outcomes for children, youth and their families over the shorter and longer-term in specific areas of activities.

*’Nested’ Journeys of Change: Activity or program-specific Theories of Change sitting within a broader Theory of Change.
**Key Evaluation Questions: The high-level questions that an evaluation is designed to answer. 

3. We embedded new activities into existing ways of working

MEL shouldn’t be something partners are expected to do in addition to their existing work. That’s why we streamlined core MEL activities – data collection, reporting, and strategic learning – into existing processes, building on the excellent work Hands Up Mallee was already doing and looking for opportunities to improve and consolidate MEL-related work.


Our impact so far

While the population-level changes will take many years to achieve, we’re already seeing the benefits of a collaborative, community-focused approach to measuring change. Hands Up Mallee is building an evidence-base for what’s working, what’s not, and of the systems changes and early instances of impact they are contributing to.

Developing Journeys of Change together and creating a shared vision for giving Northern Mallee children and youth a brighter future has strengthened partnerships and overall support for various initiatives Mallee communities are undertaking. Hands Up Mallee and their partners are better skilled and equipped to measure and learn from their impact. Critically, they are also able to identify what might need fixing (early) and adapt or find initiatives proving highly successful. They can scale and share these throughout the region.

Hands Up Mallee and partners have embraced using a range of MEL tools and approaches to share and communicate their progress with partners, community and funders – supporting project momentum and accountability.

Like to know more about place-based approaches and how to evaluate them?

We offer a 6-week online course on Evaluating Systems Change and Place-Based Approaches, where we sharing our key learnings and practical tools to help backbone teams, community workers and funders tackle shared measurement, community-centric approaches and more in this emerging evaluation space.

Case study details

Initiative name: Measuring change together: co-design and implementation of Hands Up Mallee’s joint Measurement, Evaluation and Learning Framework.
Clear Horizon in partnership with Hands Up Mallee and recognises the wide range of individuals and organisations who actively contributed to the co-design process of the overarching MEL Framework, including:
• Parents/carers and young people (12-18 years)
• Not-for-profit organisations
• Government teams and agencies 

Lead Principal Consultant
Co-creator; Australia’s first Place-Based Evaluation Framework
Co-creator; Evaluating Systems Change and Place-Based Approaches course

Senior Consultant
Mentor; Evaluating Systems Change and Place-Based Approaches