The idea for the Toowoomba MTSC emerged from various community service providers in Toowoomba, before the MTSC Pilots Project began. A major service provider, The Advocacy and Support Centre (TASC) had already talked about the idea for five years. TASC auspices seven services and already had a good track record in shared and collaborative services. It had some involvement with the Department of Communities and Disability Services Queensland, which held discussions with TASC about applying to be part of the MTSC pilot project. It was selected as the lead agent for the project in March 2006.
Consultations were later held with other service providers to look for synergies between potential partners. Strong synergies were been found between TASC, Toowoomba Older Men’s Network (TOMNet) and East Creek Neighbourhood Centre (ECNC). The Toowoomba Older Person’s Action Program (TOPAP) also expressed a strong interest in co-locating to the MTSC, and was included in the mix of partners. One of the management committee members, who had previous experience of shared service arrangements in Adelaide, thought the vision for the MTSC was a ‘great idea’. She felt ‘passionate’ about the concept and thought it made ‘common sense’ to share and collaborate with other service providers.
A public forum was conducted by TASC to explain the proposed project to the Toowoomba community. However, this did not go well since other local service providers did not understand or embrace the MTSC concept and were fearful of funding being taken from
them. This was seen as being due to the high level of competition between service providers in the area and their ‘narrow thinking’ about the concept.
Developing the collaborative and governance arrangements
A project consultant was appointed in May 2006 to assist the consortium with consultations and preparing a business case for the MTSC, submitted in June 2006, which listed the proposed partners as:
- The Advocacy and Support Centre, which specialises in community legal services, disability and tenant advocacy and community development services. TASC was nominated as the lead agency as it was the largest of the agencies and had experience in developing and maintaining other successful collaborative arrangements between community agencies. It also had a well developed management structure and administrative arrangements that it could share with the smaller three agencies.
- Toowoomba Older Men’s Network, which provides services to enhance social networks for older men in regional and rural communities through self-help peer networks that aim to identify and reduce episodes of depression and suicide associated with social and emotional isolation.
- East Creek Neighbourhood Centre, which provides programs that enhance the status and well-being of families, individuals, groups and community members, including those identified as isolated or disadvantaged, through information, referral, support, community education and skills development.
- Toowoomba Older Person’s Action Program, an organisation for older people which provides information and access to community resources and services, opportunities for interaction and building confidence in developing new relationships.
An interim management committee was established, comprising coordinators of each consortium agency. They originally decided on a governance model in which TASC would be the lead agency and would manage the MTSC. However, the final business case proposed that the MTSC would be managed by an incorporated association consisting of representatives of the management committee of each agency. The TASC representative would be the committee chair for the first twelve months to provide the "necessary stabilityrequired to establish the management structure". This committee aimed to seek incorporation and to develop a MOU. A draft mission and vision had already been developed which set out six specific aims for the consortium. A possible site for the MTSC had not yet been identified.
To decide on the collaboration and governance model, the committee conducted research into other models. This included researching Micah, a migrant and homelessness service centre in South Brisbane. Members of Micah talked to the committee at an early stage. They found this useful as they learned about the various issues that needed to be considered.
Initial work on a risk management plan was completed with the assistance of a consultant who facilitated several visioning, brainstorming and training workshops in early 2007. These sessions involved:
- Further development of the vision and mission for the MTCS and its aims and objectives.
- Deciding on the most appropriate model of service provision and the referral process.
- Developing policies and procedures.
- Training in change management.
Participants reported that these sessions were ‘very helpful’ in preparing for the move to the MTSC.
Committee members from TOPAP later found that the proposed MTSC did not meet their needs. They preferred a location in the CBD, required much larger premises for their functions, and had other needs which could not be met by the site. This delayed the
establishment process by about six months. They eventually made the decision to withdraw from the consortium in September 2007.
The incorporated association model of governance was later seen as "unwieldy, with too many layers of management’ so the consortium decided to go back to the original model in which the TASC management committee would govern the MTSC as the lead agency. This committee would be supported in their decision making by the separately incorporated management committees of TOMNet and ECNC. A draft MOU between the three partner agencies, setting out this new model, was completed in September 2007. In the final collaboration model, TASC will be the head leaser of the building, while TOMNet and ECNC will be the sub-leasers. Work on the building was expected to be completed in October 2008.
Consortium members ‘knew that the three organisations could work well together’ and found that the process ‘went smoothly’ in terms of their relationships with each other. Nevertheless, the major time delays in the development process, and the pressures they experienced related to immediate accommodation needs and funding concerns, meant that the consortium risked collapse at one point in 2007. However, their focus on the ‘big picture’ of cultural change towards shared and collaborative services helped to keep them going.
Participants in the group discussion considered that three organisations was a "comfortable number" for the consortium and provided a "workable model". They would like to permit other organisations to join them in the future, but not as permanent members of the MTSC. Their aim would be to provide incubation to support developing services in the area. However, this could only happen if they eventually moved to a larger building.
Challenges and issues included:
- Effects on local relationships. The project negatively affected relationships between TASC and other local service providers who did not understand the concept.
- Turnover in government staff. Unlike the Caboolture Pilot Project, the Toowoomba consortium did not have a dedicated Project Officer, and support was provided by various regional and head office staff of the Department. The turnover in staff made it difficult to maintain focus and continuity of the process, and time was required to brief each of the new support staff.
- Locating a suitable building. A potential site for the MTSC was identified at an early stage but was rejected due to its cost. However, the cost of purchasing and refurbishing this building was substantially less than the cost of the final site selected, which was considered to have a ‘limited growth potential’ and is not in the CBD. This was mainly due to the unanticipated rapid growth in the commercial real estate market and difficulties with finding a suitable building.
- Accommodation pressures and costs. Both TASC and TOMNet had to relocate temporarily for twelve months due to the significant time delays in the process which were "largely caused by external factors outside the control of government and consortium members". They had to bear the cost of these relocations.
- Lack of expertise. The TASC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) found it ‘very difficult’ to participate in meetings about building project management and design due to his lack of knowledge and expertise in this area.
- Impacts on staff relations and credibility. The time and effort required for the development process had a major impact on relations between TASC staff and the TASC CEO. The process created stress and anxiety for staff because his work was delegated to staff who lacked the skills to do it effectively. Staff were also promised that they would move from a small space to larger space but this did not happen in the expected timeframe. This affected the CEO’s credibility.
- Effects on service delivery. The development process took a large amount of time away from service delivery as it created an extra workload for committee members. Normal service delivery suffered.
- Lack of knowledge and funding concerns. The TOMNet management committee needed assistance with understanding the process and the changes that would result. Staff and volunteers involved in TOMNet also experienced stress and uncertainties regarding its future funding.
- Working out the governance model. The committee looked at several governance models but were still working out the final model due to having to give priority to dealing with funding and building issues.
Strategies used to address these challenges and issues included:
- Keeping the consortium going by focussing on their "strong commitment to the process", and "strong willingness to see it through", and their "belief in the model".
- Reflecting on the many benefits already gained, such as sharing IT expertise, professional development of the managers involved, and creating a "seamless" referral process.
- Developing a shared vision for the MTSC.
- Developing a MOU which set out the vision and mission of the MTSC, the principles consortium members would ascribe to (including those related to indigenous and disadvantaged people), the behaviours they would model, and actions they would take to support their vision and mission, governance arrangements, and other matters.
- Undertaking training in change management to prepare them for the move to the MTSC.
- Engaging a professional building project management company to take over the implementation task, previously undertaken by the TASC CEO.
- Appointing TASC as the project managers, therefore "allowing some time savings and cost savings".
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