The 1970s Neighbourhood House movement grew out of local community need bringing people together to enhance their opportunities and those of
their communities. The informal approach is probably an ‘unconventional pathway’ to learning, but many coordinators speak of both volunteers’ and
students’ ‘personal development as a consequence of this approach. Some go on to higher education from this point.
The number of Houses and Centres has increased from 230 to 360 (57% increase) and the number of people participating per week has jumped from
57,000 to 106,000 (86% increase) over the last decade. Anecdotally it seems as though every small community has a Neighbourhood House though,
perhaps a little confusingly (for government?), they have a variety of different names: Community House; Learning Network; Community Enterprise
Centre; Living and Learning Centre and so on. AND even more confusing, they all provide different services as they are run BY the community FOR the
community and therefore respond to THEIR community needs! Maybe this is why government seems to have difficulty working out what the Houses do!
Operational costs are met through volunteers’ labour, government funding from multiple sources (requiring multiple reporting procedures), community
support, fundraising and fee-for-service programs which enable a continuity of service to people through their changing stages of life.
Mid September Minister Kosky announced 3 year funding and service arrangements for Adult Community Education (ACE) organisations which should
simplify the current ‘over the top’ reporting processes. Some centres have volunteers working 3 days per week to fulfil the various government
department requirements! An holistic approach to funding would seem to be a more efficient use of resources – financial and human. Concerns at this
(i)Adult Community Further Education (ACFE) conducted 3 focus groups in August, sending a memo on Wednesday July 28 announcing 3 sessions
the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. In addition to the short notice the info available is very broad and lacking in detail.
(ii)As there is no allowance for indexation, organisations are locked into a funding level for 3 years, regardless of change.
(iii)The funding application process has not yet begun and there is concern that the community-based committees of management may not be given
adequate information in sufficient time to ensure smooth continuation of their operations.
It’s worth considering the Industry Commission’s ‘duty of care’ approach to sustainable management which prescribes end results, as far as
practicable, not procedures. Policy is built around stakeholders’ duty of care for the resources they manage (such as the human and financial
resources involved in running a Neighbourhood House). This duty of care gives the organisation’s grassroots leaders the authority to set their own
voluntary standards and codes of practice as they work to get the results their people want, while at the same time conserving resources in the wider
community interest. This approach, it finds, is preferable to regulations imposed by remote public agencies.
Frank Blount, former Telstra CEO, when writing about ‘Managing in Australia’ says that in reality people want to do their jobs and do their jobs well. He
says it’s often the organisation itself that prevents them from fulfilling their potential. If policymaking is separated from program delivery then grassroots
leadership and decisionmaking is encouraged in the context of a broad ‘duty of care’. The system of 16 networks that link Victoria’s Neighbourhood
Houses and Learning Centres already work together effectively – it’s to be hoped the new arrangements will empower this system and not diminish the
talent and enthusiasm at the grassroots level.