The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) is, in its own words, serious about shifting Australia’s big, stuck social problems.

Established in Adelaide in 2009 with seed funding from the South Australian Government, TACSI is not afraid of tough issues such as child abuse, Indigenous disadvantage and ageing. In fact, they thrive on the challenge. A willingness to take risks and move beyond the traditional social innovation paradigm has swiftly become a hallmark of TACSI’s approach.

By cherry picking the best that business, design, and social science has to offer, TACSI uses a disciplined process to identify issues, explore solutions, and test prototypes. A co-design framework informs much of TACSI’s work, which is firmly rooted in community collaboration and the practical application of possible solutions in the context of where they are experienced.

“TACSI isn’t about academic social innovation,” Thomas says. “We really believe innovation starts with people and that the best approach is through people.”

Philanthropic consultant and nonprofit specialist, Stacey Thomas has been a Director on the TACSI Board since May 2013 and says the organisation’s potentially unconventional ways hold enormous potential for delivering real and lasting change.


By exploring non-traditional investment models and partnerships, TACSI works hard to preserve a measure of flexibility within its program funding, enabling deeper investigation of solutions that might otherwise have been curtailed by a strict 12-month funding period.

“We’re really interested in having a footprint in those tough, complex issues, and that takes time,” Thomas explains.

“We give ourselves space for iteration, for testing possible solutions again and again, so that we can do the long-term investigative prototyping upfront.”

Four key principles guide TACSI’s work:

  1. Start with a question: Keeping a question top of mind leaves the door open to new possibilities.
  2. Make assumptions explicit: All assumptions (programs, policy, and organisations) go under the microscope to find what needs to be tested and challenged.
  3. Learn from people in context: Getting out of the office and into the community broadens experience and decision-making, keeping the focus where it needs to be.
  4. Experiment in the real world: Experimentation is essential and testing quickly and cost-effectively ensures solutions have the best chance of hitting the mark when it comes time to roll out a full-scale program.

TACSI’s early focus on children and families led to the development of the Family by Family program, designed to disrupt the country’s worsening child protection statistics. With three sites in Adelaide and one in Mt Druitt in Sydney’s west, the program uses a peer-to-peer network that helps families change the things they want to change.

More recently, TACSI has spread its wings with new partnerships ranging from private sector service providers, government departments and health promotion bodies to boost innovation capability across Australia in three focus areas: families, ageing and Indigenous.

Sharing the learnings is core to TACSI’s ethos and the organisation will host two key events later this month:

Changemaker’s Festival (17-26 October), is an open access festival that brings together hundreds of organisations and over 5000 people at 200 events around the country to explore the ideas and technologies that promise to create a better future.

Design 4 Social Innovation (20-21 October, Sydney), presented in partnership with the Centre for Social Impact promises to ‘go beyond the hype’ to unearth the latest thinking on design-led social innovation through six specialised learning streams.