The ARLF leadership blog

CE Matt Linnegar on his farm

Theory of change – how we measure leadership impact

8 November 2021

I’ve now been in the role of Chief Executive at the ARLF for over seven years. I continue to enjoy the role, I remain passionate about our work and I challenge myself, my behaviours and my approach regularly so that I can continue to serve the ARLF in the best way possible. 

When I came into the organisation back in 2014, there were some key things I thought we could together achieve. These were to: 

  • ensure that the ARLF team lived its values 
  • better understand the value and connection to the ARLF from the perspective of those closest to us (our alumni, partners and Fellows, and those in our broader network) and to enhance those relationships 
  • challenge and inform our leadership development theory and practice to continue to deliver an impactful, adaptable experience 
  • adapt the business model of the ARLF in response to a rapidly changing context 
  • grow the impact of the ARLF in pursuit of our vision – thriving rural, regional and remote communities strengthening Australia. 

I’m pleased to say after seven years that we have made much progress against all of these objectives and much thanks must go to current and past ARLF staff and directors for their contribution. 

It’s the last of these objectives that I want to dwell on a little longer. When I first arrived in 2014, we held 14 ‘kitchen table’ meetings across the country. One of the first questions I asked each of these gatherings of fellows, graduates and partner organisations were ‘Why does the ARLF exist?’ and ‘Have we achieved what we set out to achieve or is there more for us to do?’. The collective answer was unequivocal – the ARLF has much more to do, leadership is needed as much or more than ever and the ARLF has an opportunity to grow its impact

This has been my guiding light since. 

Our ARLF impact is linked to our theory of change model. It outlines the levers and indicators of change that we seek to understand in relation to our vision (Thriving rural, regional and remote communities strengthening Australia and our regional neighbours) and purpose (To foster and exercise leadership for positive impact), within our changing context. 

Over the past five years, we have undergone significant growth which has seen:  

  • an increase in the number and types of leadership programs delivered  
  • the development of new methods to deliver programs, in response to COVID-19    
  • growth in the number of employees 
  • a more decentralized workforce, which includes permanent staff, contractors, casuals and associates, allowing for a more distributed program delivery model 
  • broadening of the core service offering to include place-based initiatives which involve engagement with communities, sectors and groups 
  • increased diversification of revenue sources to include project grants from government (federal and state), fee for service offerings and philanthropy. 

In considering what this growth could or should look like, our team has considered both our own experience/ context and the experience of others. Our executive has engaged with regional, national, and international leadership organisations to explore opportunities and to challenge the current approach to leadership development with the aim of increasing the impact of its work. 

We seek to increasingly work in partnership with geographically distributed and mission-aligned organisations, communities, and associates who provide the capability to adapt easily and quickly to increased demand for services. This model will also see us respond to the needs of regions and sectors providing place-based service offerings in addition to leadership development programs with the aim of increasing the outcomes and long-term impact. This may take the form of longer, deeper stakeholder engagement pre-program or investing in mentoring or community leadership initiatives. 

Areas of growth 

In recent years, we have expanded our work from stage of leadership program delivery to encompass place-based leadership development programs. 

Stage of leadership programs bring diverse groups of participants from multiple states and territories together in various places nationally. Place-based programs bring together participants from a particular page or region and are focused on that region.  

Place-based programs include: 

  • Leadership for Our Regions  
  • Drought Resilience Leaders (national)  
  • Regenerate Regional Leadership Program (NSW) 

Increasingly we have actively sought to develop and deliver these opportunities with partner organisations including (but not limited to) the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, Regional Economies Centre of Excellence, and the Regional Australia Institute. 

Opportunities from growth 

This expansion provides an opportunity for us to go further than leadership development programs in the role we can play in communities, regions, and sectors. The key area for growth, and one that we will factor in our place-based work, is the role of trusted intermediary and convener/ facilitator of conversations and initiatives. 

The ARLF is a trusted, non-partisan, independent, for-purpose organisation with a diverse group of over 1750 people in its leadership network. We have been working in and with rural, regional and remote communities for three decades and have deep knowledge and experience in working with individuals and groups to build behavioural and social intelligence.  

We are well placed to assist in both developing broader leadership capability and independently convening and facilitating conversations that lead to action.  

Through this approach, it is the community, industry sector, business, local government, or group who will identify their ‘greater good’ – that is their preferred future and the initiatives they will work on collaboratively and inclusively to get there. We facilitate a learning environment, develop processes and convene challenging yet inclusive spaces for these conversations and actions to happen.  

Key features of our approach to working with communities and groups through the prism of leadership include: 


We work with communities and groups rather than doing things to, for, at or about, or on behalf of them. We seek the authority to act through collaboration and conversation with a wide cross-section of each community to include government, commercial businesses and community sectors. 


We work with diverse groups of people in both formal leadership positions of authority, those in informal leadership or influencing roles and importantly those who may be marginalised or overlooked. We seek to understand how people in different contexts would like to be engaged and establish processes for this to occur. 


Having quality conversations at multiple levels is essential for collective and collaborative action across a community or sector. We convene and facilitate a range of these conversations, often where they involve multiple people, at times conflicting views, and where they involve challenge, discomfort and complexity. 


We work with communities and groups to gain a deeper understanding of what true collaboration means and context-specific pathways towards collaboration. 

Acknowledge the wisdom and lived experience of those in communities/sectors and seek to add value, not duplicate or compete. 

We have engaged with many of you in our alumni network, both formally and informally over this period. We believe that as we continue to grow our impact, there will be further opportunities to engage with you in years to come.  

Matt Linnegar, November 2021