Event summary: Collaboration for social outcomes

Event summary: Collaboration for social outcomes


Collaboration is critical to delivering different and better outcomes for citizens in NSW. Premier the Hon. Gladys Berejiklian recently restated the role collaboration plays in achieving innovation. The NSW Government, through the Public Service Commission (PSC), has worked to create an authorising environment to open channels for collaboration and to create resources that build capacity for innovation.

Nous recently hosted a forum for leaders and stakeholders from key departments, agencies, peak bodies, corporates and NGOs to discuss the opportunities for and barriers to collaboration in advancing outcomes for citizens in NSW. The forum featured insights from special guest Dr Martin Laverty, Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia and champion of public sector collaboration in NSW. This article provides a brief summary of the insights from the discussion.

Collaboration continues to be a priority for the NSW government

There is clear potential for collaboration to deliver better outcomes for citizens and communities. However, despite the obvious benefits and enthusiasm surrounding collaboration, it is widely acknowledged that the opportunity is not yet being fully realised.

Speaking recently at the CEDA State of the State event, Premier Berejiklian stated her belief that “collaboration is the most powerful driver of economic growth and innovation”[1]. The Premier’s perspective continues a long running commitment from leaders of NSW government to foster a culture of impactful, sustainable and outcomes focussed collaboration.

Dr Laverty, through multiple roles, has had an opportunity to look closely at the potential benefits of innovation and understand how NSW is tracking. In 2013 the PSC partnered with Nous Group to develop the Collaboration Blueprint and framework, aimed at enabling more effective collaboration between sectors to drive outcomes for citizens. In 2016, Dr Laverty led a Collaboration Review which identified examples of success, but also found that the use of collaboration remains sub-optimal.

The Review highlighted that capability for collaboration is lacking in Government but also in other sectors including NGOs. This creates a need to continue to bring about the conditions for collaboration and build capability, particularly in Government.

There are many barriers to effective cross-sector collaboration

The Nous forum brought together a diverse range of stakeholders seeking to enable greater collaboration. However, several challenges were discussed, including:

  • A lack of clarity about the levels of investment and governance structures that are required to establish an authorising environment
  • An over-reliance on key relationships (often informal), inciting long-term risk
  • A lack of citizen and community involvement in collaboration
  • The risk of over-engineering and subsequent impact on resources
  • The potential for competing priorities to water-down the intended impact of the collaboration.

Despite these barriers, the collective energy in the room suggested that the benefits of collaboration outweigh the challenges, and Dr Laverty provided some validating examples of successful collaboration in NSW.

When collaboration works, the impacts are significant

As part of the 2016 Collaboration Review, Dr Laverty identified some of the state’s important success stories when it comes to collaboration for social outcomes. Perhaps the most powerful reference made was to the Coledale Action Plan.

Coledale is a community located just outside of Tamworth that represents an unfortunately recognisable example of socio economic disadvantage in regional Australia. Challenges in Coledale include lower than average educational outcomes; high levels of unemployment; low uptake of public health initiatives; and a need for focus on Indigenous wellbeing and closing the gap.

In 2012, high levels of crime prompted the establishment of the Coledale Action Plan, a collaboration between the local community, NSW government agencies, Tamworth Regional Councils, the University of New England (UNE) and several NGOs. The collaboration provided a local solution to break the cycle of disadvantage in Coledale.

The Plan came to life through a Steering Committee led governance model and a community engagement team made up of operational staff from all major stakeholder groups. There have been three cross agency action plans developed so far and achievements include:

  • Securing over $10m funding from the Federal Government to build a new access road, facilities and landscape improvements
  • The introduction of a UNE led community health program
  • The establishment of several police led community safety initiatives.

Dr Laverty referenced Coledale as a significant example of place-based collaboration, that demonstrates the positive influence collaboration can have when well executed and sustained.

There are some obvious hallmarks of effective collaboration

Collaboration is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Barriers often get in the way and render a collaboration costly, resource intensive and ineffective. However, there are some essential ingredients that are recognisable in successful collaborations, including:

  • Mutuality – the parties share a common goal and bring innovative approaches
  • Trust – there is an innate camaraderie and sense of trust amongst the parties, although there might be variances in motivating factors
  • Strong leadership – leaders in the collaboration check their egos at the door, and don’t let individual or organisational KPIs overshadow the mutual goal
  • Individuals – there is a sense of personal investment in the outcome. Nobody is in the room because they “have to be”
  • Governance – the governance and investment models are well-considered and embraced by all parties to the collaboration.

Collaboration should be an absolute priority

Dr Laverty’s conclusion is that the object of the public service is to achieve public good. Therefore, if the capability required to achieve this sits outside of the public service, we should be agnostic about where expertise and capacity comes from. Evidence from the 2017 Collaboration Review suggests that there is still some way to go. The Review found that collaboration as a practice is ad hoc and not properly embedded in the public sector. It also highlighted a lack of accountability for and understanding of NGO priorities within governments; capability gaps within both the public sector and NGOs; and prohibitive inflexibility in government procurement practices.

These and other challenges associated with collaboration should not be ignored. To make collaboration worthwhile we must accept that it exists on a spectrum and ask the right questions at the right times when deciding when or how to collaborate.

Orange, grey and green diagram showing the collaboration framework

The collaboration framework Nous developed for the PSC provides a valuable point of reference when setting out a collaboration initiative, proven through its use in Coledale. The review highlighted that the framework is effective but it is not being widely used. There is an opportunity to utilise available resources and learn from the examples of good practice, such as Coledale.

There is much to be inspired by when it comes to collaborating for social outcomes. Our forum highlighted excitement around the potential for place-based approaches; how collaboration has and can bring the objectives of the NDIS and consumer directed care into reality; and how community involvement can enrich collaboration outcomes.

The value that collaboration can create is clear and well evidenced in cases like Coledale. The enthusiasm is there, as demonstrated in our lively discussion forum. The support of the PSC and state government leaders should therefore be a mandate for stakeholders to think and work differently, to bring the power of collaboration to life for the citizens and communities of NSW.

Get in touch to discuss how Nous can support you to identify, assess and implement collaboration initiatives in your organisation.

Nous would like to thank Dr Martin Laverty for generously sharing his insights, and all who attended our discussion forum for their contributions.

[1] Committee for Economic Development of Australia: https://www.ceda.com.au/News-and-analysis/CEDA-Events/Collaboration-powerful-driver-of-economic-growth-and-innovation-NSW-Premier