Several different models of integrated and shared service delivery have been adopted in both Australia and overseas. While the NGO sector has been collaborating and using the shared service model for many years, there are few detailed case studies of the implementation of shared and collaborative services and little literature on this topic related to the not for profit sector has been published. This report aims to contribute to our knowledge and understanding of this process and to provide learnings for the future development and implementation of MTSCs.
The co-location model used in the MTSC Pilots Project has been successfully adopted by a number of not for profit organisations around Australia and overseas. However, each of the possible co-location models involves a number of risks, challenges and barriers that need to be taken into account. These were clearly illustrated in the case studies of the MTSC pilots and included:
- Managing relationships and other human factors.
- Reaching agreement on the vision and the collaboration and governance models.
- Securing adequate funding, support and resources.
- Sustaining commitment and energy.
- Managing change and loss of leadership.
- Managing the building selection, development and design process.
- Managing communication and information sharing.
- Negative effects of the establishment process on normal service delivery.
The MTSC concept was clearly not well understood or supported by some local NGOs, and some staff and management committees of the consortiums in the three pilot sites. Some steering committees found it challenging to foster understanding and ownership of the concept and to encourage others to focus on the ‘big picture’ of cultural change towards collaboration and cooperation, and the potential long-term benefits. Scepticism, misunderstandings, anxiety and loss of trust can adversely affect relationships and the level of community and staff support given to the project.
A key issue for each pilot site was the size of the MTSC building, since this dictated the amount of space available and the number of agencies that could be co-located. Differences between the size of the partner agencies was an issue in the Mackay site but not in the other two pilot sites. Some of the factors in Mackay were ‘fear of takeover’ by the larger agency, ‘fear of loss of identity’ of the two smaller organisations, and a loss of trust between the agencies at one point.
Group discussion participants in the pilot sites suggested that, to be most effective and efficient, organisations that are co-locating in a MTSC need to meet the following criteria:
- Be complementary and have synergies between each other.
- A similar client base and demographics.
- Not be competing with each other.
- A similar philosophy and a common vision, goals and focus that brings them together.
- A community development focus.
- A community service focus and adopt a client-focussed model of service delivery.
- Ability to self-evaluate and shift to a model of sharing information and reflecting on process.
These outcomes were similar to that found in the literature and other case studies.
Several benefits of co-location were anticipated by the evaluation participants, including:
- Better accommodation and space.
- Improved financial savings and ‘economies of scale’.
- Access to more funding and capacity to take on larger projects.
- Organisational and governance improvements.
- Development of a ‘seamless’ referral process.
- Improved service delivery and client access to services.
- Increased skills and capacity building of staff and committee members.
- New or shared knowledge, understanding and learning.
- Broader perspectives and attitudes.
- Building strong relationships and linkages and improved support.
- Stronger capacity to advocate for clients and negotiate with government.
Several of these benefits had already been experienced in the three pilot sites.
In addition to the many sustainability and success factors identified in the earlier literature review (Lennie, 2007), success factors identified in the Pilots Project included:
- Involvement of credible and consistent local departmental staff in some regional areas.
- The strong commitment of many of those involved.
- Building good relationships and cooperation between the various parties involved.
- The active involvement and support of key departmental staff and agencies.
- Energy, flexibility and ability to embrace the new.
- When communication was clear and information sharing was effective.
- Holding visioning workshops, planning at the regional/consortium level, and use of fair decision-making processes.
- Providing resources and training to support the consortiums.
Developing and implementing shared and collaborative arrangements is a complex process that clearly presents many risks, challenges and barriers to success. The timeframe for the establishment of the MTSC pilots was much longer than anticipated. Delays in implementing the project created frustration, uncertainty, and loss of energy, commitment and confidence among many consortia members. Each organisation and community is unique and there is clearly no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this process. As NCOSS (2007, p.19) suggest, ‘the importance of relationships and trust cannot be overstated’ in the successful development of shared service arrangements. Cultural change towards collaboration and cooperation is not easy since it is often unfamiliar to those involved. Shared service arrangements often ‘grow ‘organically out of existing relationships and networks’ (NCOSS, p.19). However, as the outcomes of the Pilots Project evaluation show, taking the time to work through the change process during the establishment phase is vital to the success of the initiative. This requires motivation, strong commitment and leadership, open communication, and the maintenance of good relationships and trust between all those involved.
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