Institute for Governance and Policy Studies

Public Service Chief Executives commissioned Victoria University of Wellington, under the Emerging Issues Programme (EIP), to lead a project on more joined up citizen focussed services. This section will briefly background the project and set out the key findings. More details on the trends emerging from the literature review can be found here. The summary of the issues that emerged from the project can be found here. The Discussion Document produced as a result of the project can be found here.

What did the project do?

The project on Better Connected Services for Kiwis brought together academic and practitioner perspectives on what is happening on the ground in New Zealand. It drew on the experience of other administrations such as Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and on the public policy literature. The grounded theory research approach meant that we focussed on the practical experience of front-line staff and managers in the New Zealand state sector.

What is different about this project is that this is almost the first research in NZ about why interagency work actually happens on the ground. As one of the staff commented "Others have asked about what we did but no-one has asked before about why or how."

The project has reviewed the pre-conditions for more joined-up citizen/user-focussed services, the characteristics of areas where it occurs and factors influencing diffusion. The key outcome was an attempt to accelerate shared learning about collaborative working. The research phase included a literature review, intensive interviews for seven case studies and workshops both in Wellington and in the regions. These case studies were deliberately drawn from a range of locations and central government sectors including Integrated Case Management – Papakura, Recognised Seasonal Employers in the Pip Fruit Industry – Hawkes Bay, The Government Urban and Economic Development Office – Auckland, National Maritime Coordination Centre – Trentham, Strengthening Education in Mangere and Otara – Manakau, Autism – national, Mayors Taskforce on Jobs – national. The project adopted a grounded theory approach – we asked staff to describe how they worked together and why they did it. This meant engaging with practitioners about what their practice was on the ground in a range of sectors, locations and contexts including both policy and service delivery. The better connected services for ‘kiwis’ project lead by VUW is leveraging the link between the academic and practitioner worlds. The emphasis throughout the project is on generating a dialogue between the themes emerging from the literature and practitioner’s practical experience to promote learning. It complements the work underway in SSC on the development goals by focussing on systemic enablers and blockers to more citizen/user focussed services. See the latest Development Goals report here.

This project is the first original published research in NZ on what is happening at the ground level on interagency working. We think it is interesting work that reveals a huge amount about what's needed to manage for shared outcomes in complex policy settings - actually manage, actually do it, as opposed to writing prescriptive tablets full of long and visionary words, handed down from on high. This project has uncovered some really interesting stuff; evidence of really excellent work going on (in some cases) below (or only just above) the radar.

Excellent work that's going on despite a system that doesn't enable it; work that's pretty different from the 'normal' and 'accepted' approaches to public sector work. And because of that, if you want more people to work like this more often, then it's not going to 'naturally evolve'. CEs have a key role in enabling it joining –up to happen - and you're probably going to have to do that in a new way as well!


What did the project find?

What are the major learnings from the project? What are the factors that seem to be essential when problems are complex and the outcomes are shared?

· First, remaining focused on achieving the collective outcomes, which are often best defined along the way, rather than being clear from the outset. Don’t be distracted by the means, i.e. the paraphernalia of joining-up. Focus on the outcomes and do everything – but only what’s needed – to achieve them. A corollary of this is, let the ends justify the means; if the objective can be achieved entirely with, say, simple co-ordination, then that’s all that’s required. We should also add that practice, ongoing work and the systems and models that underpin them, should be always treated as action learning – not routinised, standardised procedures – and modified as know-how develops and circumstances demand.

· Second, a trio of roles (not necessarily single individuals), – the public entrepreneur, their guardian angel(s) and their fellow-travellers – form the core of this innovative learning networked way of doing things. Without people playing these roles, the conditions for achieving shared outcomes for complex problems won’t be present, and nothing else can follow.

· Third, co-production with clients is often necessary for dealing with complex issues. In many circumstances, there must also be a process of empowerment for clients to overcome the power imbalance and allow them to act proactively, as an ‘agent of change’. In other words, the people in this trio of roles realise that progress can’t be made in an outcome-oriented way unless the client is treated as a partner, a co-producer – a subject and not an object.

· Fourth, developing and implementing policy solutions for complex, whole-of-government (or sectoral) issues demands ongoing learning by doing to learn your way forward.

· Fifth, effective diffusion of these learnings can occur only via processes like the one described here, mirroring the collaborative processes across different levels of organisations.

· Sixth, success is difficult – working collaboratively is hard and it takes energy and commitment. It involves working on the edge and taking managed risks. It also requires managing the dynamics as the group goes through phases – initiating, working together and sustaining, while being supported and learning. (The material in the discussion document is organised around these group dynamics.)

Another key thing we have learnt from this project is that the problem of working together effectively to achieve results is a complex one - it defies attempts to produce simple cook book of key steps. But while each collaborative process is different, at another level they are all the same. What we observed was that people were crucial and a horizontally linked group of people needed to fulfil the key role roles: the public entrepreneur, their guardian angel(s) and their fellow-travellers. Clients also often have a key role to play in co-design.

This is a trimmed-down picture of the key learnings arising from the project that inevitably are general conclusions which may not hold in each and every case. A more nuanced and generalisable account is provided in the discussion document found here. If one stands back and reflects on these points, it quickly becomes obvious that the realities they point to are very different from the conventional picture of what it is to work and manage in the public sector. That was an important realisation for the team it was a real ‘a-ha moment’ – one of the critical conditions for progress that we’ve identified.

The research highlighted the way ordinary kiwis in the public sector work collaboratively to achieve some extraordinary results in seemingly commonsense, everyday ways. Joined-up government is not about throwing out everything we currently know and do. It is about adding new ways of working to the repertoire so that better outcomes for Kiwis can be achieved more often and in a wider range of circumstances. At the moment these extraordinary things are happening in spite of the system rather than because of it. Ordinary kiwis deserve better than that.

If you want to find out more about the project contact details are:
ips@vuw.ac.nz.