Interagency collaboration: Part A. What is it, what does it look like, when is it needed and what supports it?
What does collaboration look like?
ARACY describes some of the key characteristics of collaboration which provide a good overview of what collaboration between agencies might look like:
- Dense, interdependent connections: collaborative approaches require participants to develop interdependent connections with multiple partners rather than remaining isolated in “silos” (ARACY, 2009).
- Frequent communication: cooperative and coordinated approaches are characterised by tacit or structured communication flows respectively; collaborative relationships rely upon frequent communication between agencies (ARACY, 2009).
- Tactical information sharing: a cooperative approach involves ad hoc communication between parties and a coordinated approach involves structured communications (e.g, project-based information sharing) whereas collaborative approach involves the sharing of information in a strategic way (ARACY, 2009).
- Pooled, collective resources: in a collaborative relationship participating agencies pool their resources in order to achieve their shared goals. For example, agencies may pool their funds to implement a program that, alone, they could not afford (see for example ARACY, 2010b).
- Negotiated shared goals: sustainable collaborations require participating agencies to adopt a shared vision and commit to collective goals (ARACY, 2010a).
- Shared power between organisations: in a collaborative relationship participating agencies need to “step back and let go” of their individual agendas (ARACY, 2010a). Trust is a critical aspect of this process (ARACY, 2010a).
Interagency collaborative activities could include:
- cross-training of staff;
- multi-agency working groups;
- common financial arrangements (e.g., cost-sharing of services);
- sharing administrative data; and
- joint case management.
Collaboration between agencies may also involve service users (e.g., parents and children). In a report on increasing collaboration between state and Commonwealth service systems to protect vulnerable children, Winkworth and Healy (2009) claimed that a “genuine” collaboration will involve parents and children and that parents and children are “essential partners in any effective collaboration” (p. 13).It is important to clarify, however, what role service users will play in the collaboration. They can function as a source of information for the collaboration in order to support collaborative decision-making or they can be part of the collaboration itself, for example, by participating in collaboration committees and meetings (El Ansari & Phillips, 2011).3 In the latter case, service users’ participation in an interagency collaboration could be part of a strategy to increase community capacity, social capital and community empowerment (El Ansari & Phillips, 2011).
3 The International Association for Public Participation have established a 'Spectrum of Public Participation' that provides a continuum of participation, with each level having a different goal and "promise to the public." This spectrum provides information about how service users could be involved in any decision-making process, see <www.iap2.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=5>