Collaboration matters when agencies are seeking to (or attempting to) introduce new initiatives that don’t fit completely within their operations – and increasingly, complex problems mean that policies and services will involve multiple areas.
Of course collaboration isn’t just important in the public sector – Deloitte recently estimated that collaboration is worth $46b to the Australian economy and that the average Australian worker spent 9.9% of their work day on collaboration. Deloitte defined collaboration as “employees communicating and working together, building on each others’ ideas to produce something new or do something differently”.
So if collaboration matters, and is essential for a lot of innovation, how well are we placed to do it?
At an Innovation Month 2014 workshop ‘Collaboration across agencies – what’s the magic ingredient?’ over 40 public servants came together for a two hour workshop to look at the question of how we might be able to ensure better collaboration practices and identify what makes for good collaboration.
The top level findings are set out in the following table.
|Types of factors that inhibit collaboration||Types of factors that support collaboration||Some ideas to enable better collaboration|
|Territorialism / protecting your patch||Environment||Whole of APS intranet|
|Procedures/tools||Culture||Co-working spaces that can be used by staff from different departments|
|Culture||Procedures / tools||Explicit coordination entry/ contact points for agencies|
|Uncertainty||Clarity||Identify fit for purpose types of collaboration / collaboration measures|
Building on outcomes
The detailed workshop outcomes are summarised below – however what we’d like to try to do is to build on these. We’d like to develop some more structured guidance for those seeking to collaborate across agencies. But in order to do so, we’ll need some collaborative aid J
To try and take this work further and to develop some polished but meaningful and practical guidance for agencies, we would appreciate any assistance with:
- Identifying any existing useful guidance on collaborating in the public sector (not necessarily limited to the Australian context)
- Some practical case studies of collaboration as part of introducing an innovative initiative involving more than one agency (we’d like some Australian examples, but not necessarily limited to the Australian Public Service). Please note that we are happy to conduct interviews and write the case studies up if needed.
We will also seek to run a further workshop building on the outcomes from the previous one. This would seek to devise or refine guidance as well as look at prototyping some possible options for enabling consistently better collaboration.
If you are interested or able to contribute to any of these, please contact us.
The workshop began with some sharing about experiences of collaboration, and three examples of collaboration across agencies (including the new Finance platform GovShare).
The workshop was structured in a World Café style to make the most of the experience and knowledge of participants. Three questions were used and then groups shared back their top ideas for how we might ensure consistently better collaboration across the APS.
- What inhibits collaboration?
- What supports collaboration?
- How might we enable consistently better collaboration?
What inhibits collaboration?
What inhibits collaboration, whether it is within agencies, across agencies, when doing something routine or when doing something different, or whether it is short term/long term, immediate or well established?
Factors inhibiting collaboration
|Territory / Patch||Culture|
What supports collaboration?
What supports collaboration, at either the individual/team level or at the organisational level?
Factors supporting collaboration
How might we enable consistently better collaboration?
Each table was asked to identify their top three ideas and one blue-sky/crazy idea on how we might enable consistently better collaboration.
There was a wide mix of ideas, including:
- Agencies have clearer or dedicated coordination contact / entry points
- Support for cross agency networks1
- Shared collaboration platform and/or a whole-of-government/APS intranet
- Having people attached to projects, rather than agencies
- Co-working spaces for government workers from different agencies / hot-desking
- Physical environments that more strongly support meetings/collaboration
- Internal social media channels
- Having an established collaboration fund
- Clearer processes for translating ideas to outcomes
- Greater sharing of lessons learned
- A quota for staff mobility
- An explicit commitment to collaboration
- Explicit permission and expectation to collaborate and accept the risk of failures
- Place collaboration activities in performance agreements
- Formal structures/processes for time-limited collaborative projects across agencies
- Development of measures of collaboration
- Identify fit-for-purpose types of collaboration.
And some of the blue sky ideas
- Friday cross-government bar – to promote socialising and connections across the APS
- Global public servant exchange programme – opportunity for regular exchanges around the world
- Co-locate the entire APS – as in Brussels, have all of the public service in the one area, to facilitate better mixing and interconnections
- Random rotations/staff swaps across the APS (e.g. an APS 3 swaps with an SES Band 1 for a week).
We’d like to thank everyone who was involved for their participation, and particularly the Department of Education for hosting the event.