Developing interagency protocols and service agreements

Partnership or inter-agency agreements are documents that record the agreed terms and conditions of collaboration between separate agencies and/or sectors. The term 'agreement' is sometimes used interchangeably with guidelines and Memoranda of Understanding (MOU). There can be both legally binding and non-legally binding agreements. MOUs are non-legally binding agreements. A formal contract is legally binding.

Inter-agency agreements or protocols can serve a number of purposes:

  • clarifying roles and responsibilities
  • maintaining consistency of inter-agency relationships and practices
  • explicitly stating what agencies and/or sectors have committed to
  • providing a basis for negotiation of responses to a situation or resolution of differences between agency approaches, and/or
  • providing an agreed process for resolving inter-agency differences.


Inter-agency or partnership agreement

An inter-agency or partnership agreement is a document outlining the basis of a new relationship and the agreed objectives between partners.

Agreements can be developed at a statewide, regional or local level.

An agreement may be a broad, high-level agreement that documents the relationship between groups of agencies. For example:

  • state government and the non-government sector about their roles and responsibilities
  • local government and the non-government sector about community development activities
  • government and a consumer peak body about the interests of service users
  • peak bodies representing different interest groups identifying the boundaries of their constituencies
  • professional groups such as social workers, psychologists, welfare workers agreeing on inter-professional practices
  • universities and the non-government sector agreeing to provide learning and development pathways for community services workers
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the non-government sector or government about sustainable servicing practices to remote areas, or
  • the non-government sector and business about pro bono contributions and volunteers.

An agreement may also be a simple agreement between two agencies about specific aspects of their work. For example:

  • a homeless men's shelter having an agreement with the local integrated mental health team for responding to crisis situations involving their residents with mental health issues
  • a disability support service having an agreement with an accommodation service to access weekend respite care services for clients, or
  • a network of after-school care programs having an agreement about delivery and access of workers to a training program operated by one of the agencies.

Agreements should be contractually binding if there are consequences for partners for not complying with the agreed terms.


A protocol is the more detailed process by which inter-agency partners will work together. Protocols document how partner agencies will interact and what each partner can reasonably expect from the other. Protocols can provide legitimacy to relationships and processes already in place but have not been formally documented.

Protocols are a practical, hands-on way to outline specific processes and procedures between service delivery agencies.

Protocols are not usually contractually binding but are used to set agreed good practice standards that parties should meet.

Agreements and protocols can occur together. A partnership agreement might contain the general aims and commitments of the partnership and the protocols outline how agencies work together.

Some examples of protocols include:

  • a women's refuge having a protocol with a specialist immigrant women's support service on how referral and ongoing support procedures will include access to interpreters for women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • an aged care provider offering community options having a protocol with local hospital social workers and community health social workers regarding the way eligibility criteria and referral processes will operate, or
  • an out-of-home care network of agencies having a protocol outlining how each agency's role will operate in the continuum of care and referral processes between agencies.

Reasons for developing service protocols and agreements

The reasons for developing service agreements and protocols are many and varied. Sometimes it is in response to issues that are having adverse effects on partners. Other times it will be to embark on a new initiative or take action on a common goal.

Agreements are most typically developed to:

  • outline strategic priorities and planned commitments
  • provide guidance around allocation of resources
  • clarify roles and responsibilities
  • signify a commitment to part of a process such as an integrated service system
  • respond to new legislation or other compliance requirements, or
  • establish the principles and agreements for co-location.

Protocols are most typically developed to:

  • better co-ordinate local service delivery
  • share information about service users across organisational and professional boundaries
  • obtain priority access to services for clients in crisis or where high-risk circumstances exist
  • outline specific management and service arrangements for co-location, or
  • manage case management and coordination responsibilities for clients with multiple and complex needs where several agencies are involved. (Case management protocols cover the roles and responsibilities of the various agencies in client eligibility, access and referral processes, preliminary and ongoing assessment, delivery of care and support, ongoing care and support and exit planning.)

Formats for interagency agreements and protocols

If your agency is drafting an agreement or protocol, these documents usually cover a standard format. The following formats are provided as a guide to assist in the development process.

An agreement format covers principles for the agreement.

The types of principles that might be found in an agreement include a commitment to:

  • equity
  • diversity
  • interconnectedness
  • democratic decision making processes
  • open communication
  • co-operation
  • consistency of process
  • efficiency of processes
  • focus on client outcomes and quality of life outcomes
  • transparency and accountability, and
  • keeping stakeholders informed
  • parties involved and their roles
  • desired outcomes
  • achievement of desired outcomes or how the partnership agreement will be enacted (such as activities to be undertaken or procedures to be followed)
  • review processes and time frames
  • life of partnership agreement
  • status of the agreement (whether it is legally binding or not)
  • any terms the parties agree to abide by and any consequences for breaching the agreement
  • signatories and date.

An inter-agency protocol format covers:

  • background/ introduction
  • purpose of the protocol, including aims and objectives
  • parties to the protocol
  • the protocol's perceived benefits
  • principles that inform the protocol, such as committing to working together and open communication
  • the legal background or other important contextual information about compliance requirements
  • a conceptual framework or map which provides a whole of system diagram outlining the agencies involved in the protocol
  • participating agencies' roles and responsibilities
  • any structures or existing networks that have a role and what that role is
  • a set of procedures that provide practical guidance on how the protocol will be implemented
  • arrangements for monitoring and reviewing the use of the protocol and responding to any breaches or grievances
  • complaints procedures
  • attachments, including forms, legislation, check lists, flow charts and a glossary of terms.

Steps for developing protocols

There are some generic steps which can assist in developing inter-agency service agreements and protocols.

  1. Identify the need for and purpose for establishing a protocol.
  2. Check if there are existing protocols that are relevant or could be adapted and used.
  3. Identify who should be involved (government, non-government, and community players).
  4. Contact potential inter-agency participants and gain preliminary support for the proposal.
  5. Organise an initial inter-agency meeting to discuss:
    • why a protocol is needed
    • issues the protocol is trying to address
    • purpose of the protocol
    • who is involved
    • issues or barriers to protocol development.
  6. Establish a shared commitment to working together to develop the protocol.
  7. Develop a process such a working group with cross-agency representation to develop the protocol.
  8. Develop the draft protocol document for circulation and feedback.
  9. Finalise the protocol and distribute.
  10. Develop a working/steering group to oversee and support the process of implementation of the protocol including briefings and training to staff, staged implementation processes, mechanism for early detection of any problems, any addi-tional resources/other supports required.
  11. Implement the protocol.
  12. Establish a mechanism for regular monitoring and review the protocol.
  13. Revise the protocol accordingly.

Managing inter-agency differences

When implementing agreements and protocols it is inevitable that tensions will occasionally arise. This can be due to:

  • a lack of clarity about roles
  • professional and organisational philosophies
  • different expectations about priorities and ways of working
  • perceived power differences between partners
  • communication failures, and
  • varying degrees of commitment to the agreement or protocol.

The early recognition of problems and a shared commitment across agencies to deal with the problem are keys to resolving differences. Solving issues within the inter-agency group is the preferred approach. Only in extreme circumstances would the assistance of external mediators be sought.

Today (6 February) is Safer Internet Day (SID) - raising awareness of staying safe online. Celebrated in 130 countries, SID is a great opportunity to engage the community in understanding how to make the online world safe for all users. In 2018, the SID theme ‘Create, connect and share respect: A...
The NFP State of the Nation seminar roadshows are running across the country including locations in Queensland. Seminars will be held on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and in Cairns. Places are filling fast and the Brisbane event has already sold out. The seminars will share insights in to the...
Queensland Women’s Week recognises and celebrates the achievements of Queensland’s women and girls. Everyone has a role to play in creating a Queensland community that respects women, embraces gender equality, and promotes and protects the rights, interests and wellbeing of women and girls. This...
Super early bird registrations are now open for the 17th National Volunteering Conference held 20-22 June 2018 at the International Convention Centre, in Sydney. The conference theme this year is 'Ignite, Invigorate, Inspire'. The 2018 conference will provide a forum for not-for-profit, managers of...
The National Disability Services (NDS) released their flagship report the State of Disability Sector Report 2017 in early December. Alongside the report they have developed a helpful factsheet with key statistics from the report. The report is based on responses from more than 500 disability...
Health care and social assistance is already the biggest industry in Central Queensland. Planning for further growth requires a deep understanding of local needs and strong and strategic connections between organisations and sectors. The Rockhampton Women's Breakfast will focus on the need for...
The Queensland Government and the community services industry have co-developed the Partnering for the future: advancing Queensland's services industry 2017-25 strategy as a roadmap for proactively addressing changes and driving collaboration towards the industry's 2025 vision. To help your...
Elections are exciting and offer opportunities for real positive change, but how do you position your organisation to take advantage of these opportunities and avoid the risks? This webinar will discuss campaign and communications case studies from Australia and the UK and help you identify the...
Pro Bono Australia have launched Civil Voices, a survey to find out the social sector's perspective on the current state of advocacy in Australia. The organisation have said participation in the survey is essential for a holistic insight into the sector's ability to advocate on matters of public...
Crowdfunding is an increasingly popular method of online fundraising for individuals, businesses, not-for-profits and charities. Generally it involves an individual or an organisation setting a fundraising target online and then asking the crowd of the internet for donations to reach that target...


Are you looking for support in Queensland, or trying to find a service that meets your needs? Now you can search oneplace , the service directory hosted by the Queensland Family and Child Commission. oneplace is an easily accessible directory of community services to help Queensland families to get...
The collaboration decision support tool is designed as a resource to aid organisations considering entering into or forming collaborations to: (a) help to determine if collaboration is the most appropriate model (b) assess current capacity and capability to undertake collaborative action, and (c)...
The Community Resource Handbooks were launched by Volunteering Queensland on 12 May 2015. They consolidate the knowledge gained through Volunteering Queensland's community leadership work with more than 2,000 community groups over the past fifteen years. The handbooks are aimed at small to medium...
Information technology and online solutions can help your community organisation work better. ACOSS, Infoxchange and the Department of Communications have teamed up to bring you Digital Business Kits which give you the tools and information to do more online. Digital Business Kits are hosted on...
In March 2014, QCOSS produced the Rethinking Resources: Case Studies of Financial Resilience from Community Services report, in which community organisations from Queensland share how they are working to increase their financial sustainability. The strategies they employ include social enterprise,...
A series of workshops were held across Victoria in 2008 to investigate community partnerships. Participants strongly reinforced the need for partnerships between community sector organisations and government programs across Victoria to support improved integrated service delivery and enhanced...
This is a very simple and easy to use toolkit that is filled with templates and guides to support your organisation to develop innovative and collaborative ways of working together. From developing a value statement, stakeholder engagement, business planning, SWOT analysis and many more. The...
This conversation explores Western Australia's experience in developing its "Delivering Community Services in Partnership Policy". Rebecca Brown, Deputy Director-General, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Western Australia, Chris Hall, Chief Executive, MercyCare WA and Irina...
This guide looks at client-focused service integration . Options and resources are provided that can assist organisations even without structural change to or between the service providers (government and non-government) involved. Other resources such as the Planned Support Guide provide a case...
This document outlines the the issues and factors you need to think about when working in partnership or merging with other organisations. Download the Collaborative working and mergers document here .
This Research to Practice Note aims to improve understanding of effective interagency collaboration in a shared approach to child protection context and provides a brief overview of the relevant literature in this area. You can access the document here .
What do you need to succeed?
Shelley Dunlop, QCOSS

Community Door hosts a number of useful tools and resources that can assist you with service delivery. These are all free and available for anyone to download. A few of the most popular tools are highlighted here.


The Womens Centre Cairns is a proudly feminist not-for-profit organisation that provides services to women and children at risk of domestic violence and homelessness. Drawing funding from the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services and Department of Housing and Public...

Tiffany Tento, Queensland Council of Social Service

National Reconciliation Action Week (27 May to 3 June) is celebrated in Australia each year, in commemoration of two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey – the anniversaries of the successful 1967 referendum and the High Court Mabo decision.

This year’s theme is ...

Shelley Dunlop, Queensland Council of Social Service

You may have seen the Network Spaces tab at the top of the Community Door site. You may even think Network Spaces is actually Community Door, a common assumption since the whole of Community Door used to be that green colour.

So what is Network Spaces and why would you want to use it?...

The Social Benefit Bond Program, Queensland Treasury

The competitive tender process for the Queensland government's new Social Benefit Bonds program has recently been launched, and the Invitation for Expressions of Interest (EOI) documents are available via...

Jim Haywood, Centacare Brisbane

At a time of significant disruption in the community services sector, many organisations are rightly focused on defining their inventory and consolidating their market position. The idea of collaboration or partnership in an increasingly competitive market seems nonsensical to many agencies....

Ring of paper children including some in wheelchairs
Kristian Schader, Calxa

With the impending roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) looming large in Queensland, some Not-For-Profit service providers in the Townsville region are expressing a feeling of isolation and of being somewhat disconnected.

Responding to this need, Calxa...

Human Rights for Queensland
Aimee McVeigh, A Human Rights Act for Queensland

If a government is required to consider human rights while making decisions, a transparent dialogue with the people is created – the people can see their government cares about their rights.

When MP Peter Wellington supported the Labor Party to form government in February, they agreed to...

Darren Smith, Breaking New Ground

A new chapter in the story of the not-for-profit sector is being drafted. How do small to medium organisations ensure they're written into the script?

The not-for-profit sector has already experienced significant change and uncertainty over the last few years:

  • ...
Kylie Hogan, National Disability Services

The Community Services Industry is facing a myriad of reforms and challenges now and into the future. 

Challenges such as an ageing population, workforce shortages, sector-wide reforms, technological advances and economic uncertainty are making it more important than ever for...


See videos from StudioQ related to this topic

Share or Print